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A CurtainUp San Francisco Review
The Ballad of Pancho and Lucy

by Scott Sherwin

In keeping with the spirit of the production, Intersection for the Arts committed something of a crime in the marketing for the world premiere of The Ballad of Pancho and Lucy. Billed vaguely as "a new play with live music" that was " inspired by newspaper accounts of a Latino Bonnie and Clyde couple who went on a crime spree in the late 80s and early 90s robbing Mission District bars and nightclubs" the show sounded a little noirish but not spectacular.

Learning that writer/director Octavio Solis, whose reputation as "serious" and "dark" precedes him, had "worked with the ensemble and design team to develop the play by visiting original neighborhood locations…and re-imagining the seedy late-night stories, songs, heartbreaks and crimes that brew in the underworld" gave the play the ring of one of those sincere projects, dripping with sentiment and packed with mournful, clichéd ditties about days gone by. An apt fit for Intersection for the Arts' 40th anniversary.

I was absolutely wrong in my assumptions. Which brings me around through the backdoor to the marvel of The Ballad of Pancho and Lucy. It is not at all what I expected, or, to paraphrase one of the characters you'll meet during the show, a pre-op transsexual called Eight-Ball Erm, "Au contraire, bitches"!

The Ballad, is nothing if not hilarious. In fact, it's super hilarious. It is full of richly drawn, comic singularities. Not unlike The Simpsons what you've got here is a gang of superior actors --thicker than thieves, locked in mutual admiration -- tackling several roles each to render a wild collection of the most familiar characters you've never met. Take, for example, the appearance of suicidal, lovelorn cop/ventriloquist Orville Spudman and his potty-mouthed cop/dummy, Tiny Smalls. Performed by the stellar Danny Wolohan, the pair is a hundred times funnier than they sound.

Cast members are listed only as "ensemble," with no mention of their individual roles. This is admirable in a way, though it is confusing for those who'd like to know who is playing who. Furthermore, it makes my desire to call particular attention to Mr. Wolohan and the sheepishly magnetic Ms. Dena Martinez -- who reminded me in equal measure of Tracey Ullman and Steven Tyler -- and played a crusty male drunk for much of the show --s eem a bit unfair.

The music is equally Simpsons-worthy. I give it four Homers. If these Campo Santo cats decide to record a CD of the show, it'll be the first theater soundtrack heard blasting simultaneously out of a sixteen-year-old cheerleader's cell phone, a middle-aged lesbian poet's apartment and a late-twenty-something straight man's automobile. That's how profoundly humorous and catchy the songs are. The band also rocks.

Getting back to the original vision of the play. It still holds true, of course, which is why the marketing crime is a minor one. We do come to see the legend of Pancho and Lucy played out according to varying accounts in Erika Chong Shuch's exceptional choreography and set designer James Faerron's nifty bar-on-wheels Mission District watering holes, all within one intimate space.

The simple lesson that tales are juicier than reality is fully hammered home by the final number. But by that time you've laughed so hard and grinned so often you could care less what the point of it all was. If Intersection for the Arts can be accused of committing a second crime, it's that The Ballad of Pancho and Lucy only runs for 3 ½ weeks! For all that went into the making of this amazing new show that's a major felony.

Ballad of Pancho and Lucy
Written and directed by Octavio Solis
Original music by Beth Custer
Movement direction by Erika Chong Shuch
Cast: Catherine Castellanos, Donald E. Lacy, Jr., Delia MacDougall, Dena Martinez, Jim Sanchez, Danny Wolohan.
Live music performed by: Darren Johnston (replaced by Henry Hung on 10/30/05), Andrew Higgins and Rob Reich.
Set design: James Faerron
Lighting design: Jim Cave
Costume design: Suzanne Castillo and Lucy Karanfilian.
Props: Jennifer Orr
Video/photography: Jeff Fohl
Running time: approximately 90 minutes, no intermission.
Dates: October 26 - November 21, 2005
Thurs.-Sun. @ 8 p.m.
Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia St. (between 15th & 16th), San Francisco, CA (415) 626-3311
Tickets: $9-$15 sliding scale.
Reviewed by Scott Sherwin on 10/30/05.

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