Theater Review: DIRTY WHITE TESLAS MAKE ME SAD (Magic Theatre World Premiere)

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by Chuck Louden on March 7, 2024

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


Theatres took a big hit after COVID. Many lost a third of their audience. Now, regional theatres — those that haven’t shuttered — are turning to a new audience. One that represents the burgeoning diversity across racial and sexual lines. Whether you think that the “woke” conversation has gone on too long — or not long enough — isn’t the point. The point is that theatres need to look at building and retaining future subscribers.

Anna Marie Sharpe
Guillermo Yiyo Ornelas, Anna Marie Sharpe, Jamella Cross

San Francisco’s Magic Theatre is doing this by cultivating new works and playwrights, and they’re dedicated to featuring more people of color — onstage and off. The latest show, Dirty White Teslas Make Me Sad, is the first live production by local writer and poet Ashley Smiley.

Tanika Baptiste, Anna Marie Sharpe
Juan Manuel Amador

Collaborating with Campo Santo, a performance group by and for People of Color, Teslas is presented in a unique style of spoken word, rap and poetry. It’s the story of Naima (understated but effective Anna Marie Sharpe) a young Queer Afro Latina from the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco. She and her mother “Moms” (Tanika Baptiste), victims of displacement and regentrification, are forced out of their home by ridiculous rents.

Guillermo Yiyo Ornelas, Jamella Cross, Lauren Andrei Garcia, Jessica Marie Recinos
Lauren Andrei Garcia, Jessica Marie Recinos, Guillermo Yiyo Ornelas, Jamella Cross

The show opens two days before their move. Naima is sullen and angry, seemingly in denial about the family situation, avoiding packing — which pisses Moms off to no end (Baptiste gives a riveting performance and commands the stage in every scene she’s in). Naima drives for Uber, distracting herself and staying busy. After her car is broken into (yet again), she seeks solace from her “Unc” Pappadeaux (suave and sophisticated Juan Manuel Amador), who gives her an “assignment”of a driving gig to help her earn a little cash. Not really sure what she’s getting herself into, she encounters a street tough crew consisting of Brüt (Movement Director Jessica Maria Recinos), Koldkutz (Guillermo Yiyo Ornelas), Caesar (Lauren Andrei Garcia) and BabyGurl (Jamella Cross). Giving herself her own street name “Sloosh”, Naima tries to blend in and go along for the ride (no pun intended).

Tamika Baptiste

It’s a story with a strong message, told in a unique form of storytelling that is more phantasmagoria than narrative. Intense even with humor, is this foreshadowing or a cautionary tale about the future of San Francisco residents being displaced from what has been their home for generations? “Dirty White Teslas” has several metaphorical meetings. The obvious one being a symbol of white privilege and new money spreading all over the city. It’s also the code sales name of fentanyl pills which are sold on the street and slowly killing off San Francisco residents.

Jamella Cross

Director Raelle Myrick-Hodges has her rough and raw performers deliver their lines in the form of the written word, speaking their truth and expressing their rage about trying to survive in a city that seems intent on forcing them out. On Tanya Orellana‘s giant, curved, white-walled set, Joan Osato‘s continuous rapid screen projections of the streets of San Francisco keep the action moving at a vigorous pace, aided by Alejandro Acosta’s vivid lighting. Afatasi the Artist’s costumes create colorful streetwear that effectively express the characters’ personalities.

Lauren Andrei Garcia

Some may hear of this show and think, “That’s not my cup of tea.” While this one-act 90-minute show attracted a very diverse and more of a younger crowd — its targeted audience — it speaks to young and old alike. It’s rough around the edges, but I recommend it.

Lauren Andrei Garcia

photos by Jay Yamada
poster design by Osige Creative

Dirty White Teslas Make Me Sad
Magic Theater Company and Campos Santo
Fort Mason, 2 Marina Blvd., Building D, 3rd Floor
Wed-Sat at 8; Sun at 4
ends on March 17, 2024
for tickets ($30 to $75, your choice, all seats GA), call 415.441.8822 or visit Magic Theatre

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