Thursday, May 12, 2016

Don’t Miss “A Hand of Talons“

Stephanie Kim-Bryan in A Hand of Talons (John Ulman)
A Hand of Talons
Pork Filled Productions
Through May 21, 2016

The third time’s more than the charm! Ms. Maggie Lee has written three steampunk plays all set in the same “universe” and the third installment, A Hand of Talons, is now on stage at Theatre Off Jackson, produced by Pork Filled Productions.

Lee’s world includes magic and spicy Asian women who kick things and hit things and shoot things, if they need to. In this iteration, three scions of the Yao family are being threatened with expulsion from the larger Yao clan, and must put aside their differences to save their control of their portion of the world.

In the San Francisco-style port city of New Providence (well, it could be Seattle, too, but it feels more like San Fran to me), Wilhemina Yao (Stephanie Kim-Bryan) runs a popular saloon, and her brother Anders (Sean Schroeder) won’t share his shady doings with her, while they’re both a bit wary of older sister Delphine (Mariko Kita) who is the current Yarrick (leader) of their clan.

The story is not connected to the other two plays except very tangentially, so there is no fear of not knowing something to start with. There is mystery, plotting, heroics, misdirection, betrayal, loyalty and choosing family over personal desires. It’s a big canvas writ small within a nuclear family.

Amy Poisson directs, as she has for the other plays, and with committed cast including Ben Burris, Tim Gagne, Kenna Kettrick and Abhijeet Rane, she plays up the fun, but leaves plenty of room for more sober considerations. A favorite character, this outing, is the practical, doubting, and fiercely loyal Bernie (Bernadette) Martillo, who helps run the bar. Jenn Ruzumna sticks the landing in her characterization.

Lee is clearly gaining mastery of her dialogue and characters and part of the real enjoyment of this outing is the full blown character of Wilhemina. Kim-Bryan exercises lots of acting technique as she ranges from giddy young woman, care-free and sexually casual, to discovering how her family protected her and what price they have paid. The transition for her eventual need to choose to take the reins of the family dynasty is credible and clearly earned.

The other characters are well-fleshed out, even if they are small roles. The rules of the world are firm, the reasons things happen make sense. Sometimes all of that is difficult to achieve, and the fact that Lee can do this allows the audience to relax in capable hands.

Tech support here is also grand. A gorgeous scene design by Brandon Estrella gives us a beautifully rendered Asian-style back-of-the-bar living area where all the action takes place. The steampunk need to wind up the electrical lights is nicely enhanced by Tess Malone. Costumes are a delight, with a small “shrug” above corseted sleekness (by Jocelyne Fowler). Sound is understated but crucial by Joseph Swartz.

This is a really fun evening and a strong contender for awards time. It represents the best of what small theater productions can achieve. Don’t miss it!

For more information, go to or or call 800-838-3006.