Review: ‘Extreme Acts’ explores why people choose to live on the edge  

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on in the minds of those who pursue particularly physically challenging sports—or equally physically challenging performance art —longtime local playwright Lynne Kaufman explores the topic in her latest play, “Extreme Acts.” 

Over the course of an hour-long one-act, which comprises direct narration to the audience and two-person scenes in between short blackouts and lightly choreographed dancerly interludes, the main character, Sophia, traces her life as a performance artist on the final night of her career.  

In her most recent act, each day she’d been sitting motionless for hours, maintaining direct eye contact across a table with audience volunteers. That’s way harder on the body, apparently, than you’d suspect. 

But before this final act of her career, she’d done even scarier things. She shows us how she played Russian roulette with knives, enticed audience members to hurt her, and more. 

When she met her soulmate, Jasper, an extreme jumper who flew from heights “like a bird,” she says, everything came together in her lonely, scary and very successful career: “I have never been with a man who lets me be all I can be,” she exults.  But things went wrong. 

As Sophia, Arwen Anderson — a slender figure all in black with a long blond braid — is just as intense, as wired, as go-for-broke-no-matter-what, as is necessary to create a character living on the edge. Her direct address to the audience is so piercing that you might feel uneasy, wondering if this is going to be one of those plays requiring audience interaction. It’s not, thankfully. Anderson never fails to make Sophia’s risk-prone choices believable.   

And so does Johnny Moreno in a smaller role as black-clad Jasper, a man who’s driven to endure physical pain—to a point.   

Directed elegantly by Molly Noble and played out on The Marsh’s tiny stage, which is empty except for a long table and two chairs, the actors find room to work their way through various physical exercises as they develop and hone their two-person act.  

Kaufman packs a lifetime into one hour: what drove the characters toward their lives’ choices; the physical agony each experienced; what pulled them apart, and why Sophia keeps going even after she loses Jasper. 

This play is full of potential and deserves more exploration. It’s too short, the characters’ storylines too briefly suggested, to be fully satisfying. While it’s basically Sophia’s story, it feels unbalanced—more Jasper, please!  

And the end, too, needs further development. As it stands, it’s abrupt and not very convincing. Kaufman has the chops to turn this into a deeper, more powerful examination of what drives a man and a woman to risk their lives for a dream.  

“Extreme Acts” continues through June 2 at The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco. Tickets are $25-$100 at   

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