Joan Baez and Voronin

My mother and I arrived early to see Teatro ZinZanni's latest incarnation, "Maestro's Enchantment." Too early actually, for the Spiegeltent hadn't even opened. Instead of waiting, we decided to walk down the Embarcadero for a drink at the place formerly known as Houston's, the current name of which I can never recall. Hillstone, perhaps. I used to frequent no-longer-Houston's with friends, but during the past couple of years it fell off my radar as that circle splintered and later it seemed that whenever I went there with just one person the night always ended poorly. Perhaps it sets off some strange metaphysical reaction in me when I walk through the door leading to ineluctable drama triggered by the smell of burning wood and roasting pork chops, which then combusts once the third Manhattan is served. The drinks there have always been excellent and still are.

The Reverend Brown once had an unforgettable birthday dinner there. I brought the woman from New Orleans with me and was surprised to see the Southern Belle arrive 10 minutes later for I'd only brought a date because I was under the impression the Belle wasn't coming (though it had been at least a year since we parted ways). Needless to say, the introductions were uncomfortable and we ended up sitting at opposite ends of the huge horseshoe-shaped booth, with the Belle seated next to my mother (naturally) on one side, the woman and I on the other.
Seated next to us were the General and his own Femme Fatale- whom I'll call Natasha- with the Elder Swede next to them. The Swede was in rare form that night, interrogating the General and Natasha about their most intimate relations, or lack of, fueling the already-present tension to the point where it finally erupted all over the table, which only encouraged him to further extremes. The Swede loves to provoke and beyond the pale is his natural starting point. I thought it was going to come to blows, but it didn't because while the General was obviously angry, he managed to maintain his temper if not quite his decorum. The two of them, both close friends, have never been at the same table since. Natasha eventually disappeared from the scene, as did the woman from New Orleans. As a group we have never returned and now that I think about it I can trace the beginning of the place as a site for ineluctable drama to that very night. GG and Penelope- I'm sorry, I hadn't realized the place is haunted.
And so it was on this night as well, as my mother and I sat at the bar having a conversation which led to an underlying tension lasting between us through the evening, and it was a long one. We made our way back to the Spiegeltent where we met some interesting people at the bar, chatted for a bit, then took our seats at a table where some lovely people whose interests and vocations are musical were already seated. The lights went down and the three hour show began.
I took my mother to see this because I knew she'd enjoy seeing Joan Baez perform. As Baez strode to the center of the tent, with a lone spotlight upon her, and began to sing, I watched her in profile, marvelling at her presence and grace. Her voice was slightly rough, but it added an air of mystery to her role as Madame ZinZanni, the lover of the Maestro (master magician Voronin) of the title.

Unlike the last two TZ productions I've seen (Caliente and A License to Kiss), both exuberant romps, Maestro's Enchantment has a dark tone around the edges, despite the presence of the circus acts, comedy routines (led by former Ringling Brothers clown Peter Pitofsky), an extremely talented contortionist (Svetlana), and a tremendous opera singer (Kristin Clayton). The cast also includes the gold medalist acrobat Bianca Sapetto, comedic trapeze artists The Collins Brothers, the juggler Sergiy Krutikov and magician Brandon Rabe. As usual with Teatro ZinZanni, the talent in the tent is formidable and of the highest caliber- it's amazing what these performers can do. I suspect the darker tone may have something to do with the Russian influence of the cast, but perhaps that's because I've read too much Russian literature (if such a thing is actually possible) and I listen to too much Rachmaninoff and Shostakovitch.

Despite the presence of Baez, the show is clearly Voronin's. A veteran of more than 20 ZinZanni productions, he owns the stage with his incredible magic tricks and mysterious persona. He and Baez have an alluring chemistry between them which hints at a brooding, dark romance. It will be interesting to see how that chemistry between the characters changes once Melanie Stace takes over the role in August. The show continues through Oct. 9th. For tickets call ZinZanni at 415 328 2668 or go their website.

As for my mother and me, when we exited the tent and searched for a cab, a sense of exhaustion settled in between us. She has her concerns, I have mine, and some of them overlap with neither of us quite sure what looms ahead. But she's a good date.
All photos by Mark Kitaoka