THE SAN FRANCISCO MIME TROUPE & WRITER MICHAEL GENE SULLIVAN; CELEBRATE A GENGHIS KHAN ODYSSEY
THE HISTORY BOOKS NEED TO BE RETOLD AS OUR GEN Z VIDEO GAME YOUTH
MEET A HISTORIC ROLE MODEL THAT CHANGES STEREOTYPES
The San Francisco Playhouse opens their 19th season with the world premier of a new brilliant comedy. THE GREAT KHAN is now live on stage or streamed through November 13th on the Post street stage. Written by the San Francisco's Mime Troupes, Tony honored Michael Gene Sullivan. “I wanted to write a drama about growing up Black in a ‘Land of the Free’ founded by slave owners, but I also wanted to write a comedy about someone struggling to squeeze into a stereotypical mold created by those that hate them,” said Sullivan. The SF Mime Troupe also co-produced this play and it truly has that SFMT edge.
Director Darryl V. Jones says “this play is about three young people - in the process of growing and questioning what's in history books - this play is so timely because of what we just went through including the Asian racism - we have to get this right and retell stories that empower our youth with better role models.” Bill English, SFPH Artistic Director says “As we searched the world for a play to open our 19th Season that would look unblinking into the face of racism and shed light on the maelstrom of our splintered nation, we needed look no further than Bay Area legend Michael Gene Sullivan.”
Sullivan’s THE GREAT KHAN is all about false roots and lies and the reality about living as black youth. His plays always tell harsh stories that present topics that fight the system. Sullivan’s has always been a powerhouse creating his characters on the reality of this generation. The story unfolds in a teenager's room where a kid just wants to play video games. Jayden, played by the truly authentic Leon James, is thrust into hero mode when he defends another teen who was being mugged and sexually assaulted. Jayden's mom Crystal played by the terrific Velina Brown moved her son to safer ground to avoid bullying and the threats he was getting from the boys who attempted the rape.
The outspoken teen girl Ant played by the riveting Jamella Cross also bullies Jayden in a series of late night visits, reminding him she did not need any help from a nerd vidiot. Ant is very insistent “Like I need saving” she yells and forces Jayden to promise to say “no one helped her.” Standing tall in his handsome onesie nightgown, Ant crawls out through his window. She makes about four more visits and the friendship is easy to spot.
Back at his new highschool Jayden is one of only two Black students and he is awkward by the limited diversity. His history teacher Mr. Adams is played by local favorite Adam KuveNiemann. Jayden turns the table on Adams and challenges him to name 20 Black history influencers. Very funny scene, but still in the end Adams assigns Jayden to do a paper on Genghis Khan. The smart Geo-Ming, a classmate played by the superb Kina Kantor, teams with Jayden to work on the last minute report. They are very funny together and Ming gets a number of solo monologues to place Khan in modern times.
As the first act closes the story shifts to a bonus bout of history. Jones' direction is sensitive to the issues of young diverse American youth, and the harsh information platforms that teens learn all their misinformation from. The story is fast as Jones moves his actors in and out of windows, closets and classroom doors. The second act Jayden is confused by the Great Khan and as he tries to understand the historic icon, a huge surprise comes through his now famous bedroom window. “Temujin” , the birth name of Khan, is all about understanding Jaydens video games. Icon Khan is played by an ominous grand Brian Rivera. The young teen riffs with the huge man and as the visits become regular Jayden understands about being Asian, Black or any outsider that stands up to the American Dream.
The company is stellar and at 19, Leon Jones heads this cast. His is a gifted new talent that presents this nerdy teen and all his young rage. Velina Brown who is flawless as his mom - reminds him a number of times about his teenboy stink as she encourages him to shower. Jamella Cross has an amazing arc as a girl faking her bravery while falling for a boy and his video games. Rivera is charismatic as The Khan, commanding the stage in every one of his scenes. Kantor and KuveNiemann bring that brilliance to Sullivans script and words.
The set designed by Richard Olmsted shows off a classic teens room, still boxed up after their move. But the pull out classroom set is clever and full of easter eggs about this story. The costumes by Kathleen Oiu are mostly centered around the grand look of Rivera and Jones night wear as he hosts his visitors - Hoodies come into play - including one huge enough for Khan himself. The lights fit the mood as each new character enters and of course Khan’s entrance is the highlight of Kurt Landisman design matched with Teddy Hulsker’s projections. Powerful swords and video game schwag are part of April Ballesteros prop design. Wonderful ancient sounds from Anton Doty music score, and stage manager Vanessa Hill kept this brilliant six member cast in motion.
This new play is not about a confused teen, it’s about a boy, the lost kid who wants to find himself in the fake history he is forced to learn. Sullivan, without overstating it, gives us a glimpse of that racism in all of us. The humor is powerful, the dialogue authentic. In the final scene Jayden says “Who am I - I am just a boy”. THE GREAT KHAN runs through November 13th, 2021, at San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:00 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m., with matinees Saturday at 3:00 p.m. The show is also available to be streamed. Tickets are $15-$100, available at www.sfplayhouse.org or by calling the box office at 415-677-9596.
San Francisco Playhouse and the San Francisco Mime Troupe Present
THE GREAT KHAN
By Michael Gene Sullivan
Directed by Darryl V. Jones
A New Play Network Rolling World Premiere
By Michael Gene Sullivan and the San Francisco Mime Troupe
THE CAST: Velina Brown, Jamella Cross, Leon Jones, Kina Kantor, Adam KuveNiemann. and
Brian Rivera* as Temujin
MUST CLOSE – November 13, 2021
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 P.M., Fridays at 8:00 P.M., Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 P.M.,
Sundays at 2:00 P.M.
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post St., San Francisco CA 94102
TICKETS: For tickets ($15 - $100) and more information, the public may contact the San Francisco Playhouse box office at 415-677-9596, or online at https://www.sfplayhouse.org/sfph/2021-2022-season/the-great-khan/
All photos by Jessica Palopoli.