A crazy homeless woman goes on a journey to tell her life story and in the process we learn more about San Francisco and ourselves in a humorous and poignant way. Former Second City actress and Karen Hirst gives an amazing performance as Sunshine the Homeless Lady and plays four other fascinating characters in Absolutely San Francisco, a one-woman musical comedy that’s about lost love and the San Francisco experience. The engrossing book and catchy lyrics by Producer Anne Doherty will make you laugh and cry while delving into the historical, political and emotional underpinnings San Francisco.
Directed by signals from the looming Sutro Tower, Sunshine embarks on a cable car ride where she meets a hippie billionaire, a Chinese shopkeeper, an Indian engineer, a gay wine merchant, and a black woman who is a cable car conductor. Hirst's rapid transformation into these various characters is brilliant. The plot – which revolves around Sunshine as she tries to make a permanent home out of the bow-and-arrow sculpture on the Embarcadero called "Cupid's Span" – twists and turns on an unpredictable comic journey that ultimately unites the highly distinct characters and heals their wounds.
From the moment you walk into the theater, you feel included in Sunshine's post-1960's world. Tie-dye panels flank a projection screen that displays bright photographs and videos of the city as a built-in rotating set. When Sunshine needs to become another character, she draws a prop or hat from her elaborately decorated shopping cart, but she really doesn’t need the props, because quickly into the show we know who Hirst is playing just from her body language, dead-on accents and facial expressions.
Absolutely San Francisco evolved over a six-year period from a little review performed at the San Francisco Theater Festival titled, “What's Newsom?" That show was Doherty's playful comment on the city's near-romantic love affair with handsome, newly-elected Mayor Gavin Newsom. In it, Sunshine was seeking "Gavin" with the intent to marry him. The review was so popular that Anne, through Not Quite Opera Productions, commissioned local composers to expand on her core material and explore the lives of "typical" San Franciscans through song. The result: a four character, four-actor review that revolved around the passion for love and freedom that makes San Francisco a unique haven for the rich, the destitute and the dreamer. With direction, book and a quarter of the songs by Doherty – and Hirst as Sunshine – the 2006 Absolutely San Francisco sold out most of its five-week run.
But the show kept speaking to Anne and she couldn’t shake the messages within it, she said. “As one whose life path had been shifted for some years by severe rheumatoid arthritis – a disease I overcame through meditation and holistic modalities – the conflict between material impermanence and the tenacity of lifelong dreams had a deeper resonance with me,” Doherty explained. “So, while maintaining the “San Francisco Dream” theme, I decided to make the show about how Sunshine's wounded heart prevents her from making a permanent home – all wrapped up in songs and characters that, as one audience member quipped are “…so clever, so catchy… so good
Absolutely San Francisco celebrates the uniqueness of the city, Doherty said. “San Francisco is just really different than anywhere else. I’ve lived in Chicago, London and Los Angeles, but there is no place San Francisco. So, I started asking myself why? How are we so different? And I decided that my next project would be my attempt to answer that question. Just like Sunshine says, “Nobody else in the USA does anything like they do here.” We’re a very unique city in many ways, and some of these differences are very positive. Absolutely San Francisco is my way of sharing what I’ve learned about what makes this city and its people so different.”
Although a good number of locals come to see the show, Absolutely San Francisco is marketed to tourists as well, because while it’s a funny and emotional story, it also provides out-of-towners with a quick tutorial on the real facts about the sights and political players in the City by the Bay, Doherty said.
“My son calls San Francisco a theme park for tourists, because they go through the same rides each time, to the wine country, to the wharf, to Alcatraz and on to the cable cars. So, they never get to see the real city, and for that reason they’re not aware of what’s really going on. So, I thought it would be a great show for tourists, to understand what’s really happening in this city, and for locals to celebrate what we’ve got here, because the show is a tour of San Francisco in a way.”
Absolutely San Francisco takes place at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason St., on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 pm though 12/18 (except 10/29 and 10/30) - For tickets, call 415-992-8168 or go to www.absolutelysanfrancisco.com. General Admission $28. Group Sales call Linda Graham at 415-346-7805