Theater Review: THE CONFESSION OF LILY DARE (New Conservatory Theatre Center)

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by Chuck Louden on May 23, 2023

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


New Conservatory Theater is finishing their exciting 2022-23 season with actor, playwright and drag performer Charles Busch’s The Confession Of Lily Dare. The show is set during the era of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, when the city had a Red Light District filled with dance halls, saloons and brothels. The play is also an homage to Hollywood’s pre-code films (the late 1920s and ’30s). Defying the rules and norms of the day for women, these tough, self-sacrificing broads stood up against the establishment. Barbara Stanwyck, Betty Davis and Joan Crawford made their careers by playing these strong women. Lily Dare is clearly based on these heroines.

Marie O'Donnell and J. Conrad Frank

No Bay Area actor is better-cast for Lily Dare than local favorite and drag chanteuse J. Conrad Frank (better known as alter ego Katya Smirnoff-Skyy, who has had a cabaret show for nearly 18 years at Martuni’s piano bar every Sunday night, and is a regular featured performer at Club Oasis). A skilled performer, Mx. Frank, with that statuesque figure, glowing red hair, bright and colorful outfits, and strong European accent, commands the stage at all times. Lily is introduced as a down on her luck character arriving in San Francisco and reuniting with long-lost relatives. As most of these stories go, through charm, ingenuity and just plain luck and circumstances, Lily manages to rise above her situation and seizes the day. Her rise (and fall) and personal sacrifice keep the story moving, and — given the campy dialogue and sexual innuendo — you’ll be rooting for plucky Lily to seize the day.

J. Conrad Frank and LaMont Ridgel

Most of the effectively delightful supporting actors play several roles. Every show needs a villain: Lamont Ridgell as the duplicitous and conniving Casino Lambert is excellent. He keeps the other characters guessing as to his intentions throughout the show. Sakura Nakahara as Emmy Lou — prostitute and confidant of Lily — offers terrific comic relief to balance out the high drama. Adam KuveNiemann is a riot as Mickey, the gay piano player whose comical style of playing the piano is worth the price of admission. The remaining two supporting cast members, Marie O’Donnell and Kalon Thibodeux, have the hardest tasks with each of them playing no less than four different roles.

Adam KuveNiemann and J. Conrad Frank

Local director Allen Sawyer has been staging shows in San Francisco for 30 years, including three other plays by Charles Busch. This seasoned veteran knows how to have his actors enter a room with great theatrical effect as well as comedic exits, dramatic pauses, and moments that keep the laughs coming. David Glamamore’s designs and Ruby V Sogliuzzo‘s costumes are spectacular, especially Lily’s many outfits that mash-up the 30s with Victorian style — her new changes nearly steal the show every time that she makes an entrance. Deon’s wigs are spot on and help distinguish the many supporting characters.

J. Conrad Frank and Sakura Nakahara

At 105 minutes, this fluffy romp  — billed as a “Dramaturgy” — plays out like an old film noir story. Characters come and go, lives are transformed and it all ends with surprises. Most fun of all is Frank’s performance — it’s one for the books.

Adam KuveNiemann, J. Conrad Frank, and Sakura Nakahara

photos by Lois Tema

The Confession of Lily Dare
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave. in San Francisco
ends on June 11, 2023
for tickets, call 415.861/8972 or visit NCTC

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sakura Nakahara October 15, 2023 at 3:25 pm

Thanks so much to Chuck Louden for such a generous and kind review of our show, The Confession of Lily Dare. It means so much that it was enjoyed.


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