Chimney Sweep

As a queer POC, El Beh finds pleasure in enjoying ‘Mary Poppins’

ON STAGE El Beh, who plays the title role in Mary Poppins of the San Francisco Playhouse (through January 12), never thought of playing the no-nonsense nanny who blows her parrot-headed umbrella and the Banks family in Brings shape.

They got the role when Susi Damilano, the director, came across her on the street and asked Beh to just take on the role. Beh, who, in addition to singing, dancing and acting, also teaches theater and small children movement and music to middle school students, decided to do it. Part of the reason was representation.

“It really meant something to me to have a strange colored person in that role,” they said. “I’ve been thinking about my kids seeing this and how much that would mean, so I thought I can’t walk away from it – I have to be brave enough to think about it. My social justice has to match my art or it’s just not worth it. And I’ve decided that it is. “

From the SF Playhouse production of ‘Mary Poppins’. Photo by Jessica Palopoli.

PL Travers wrote a series of books about Mary Poppins, the nanny who joined the Banks family after two children, Jane and Michael, evicted their other nannies. Her father works in the bank and has little time for his children during the play – her mother used to be an actress, but is now trying to meet her husband’s high demands on the house and children.

Mary Poppins, who has a high regard for herself and sniffs a lot to signify disapproval, takes the children on magical adventures. Bill English, co-founder of the Playhouse with Damilano, writes in the program that the books have attracted unexpected fans like Sylvia Plath and TS Eliot. According to English, the Australian immigrant Travers wrote the books as a commentary on the lessons: Mary Poppins teaches empathy and compassion for the poor.

Beh’s first encounter with Mary Poppins was in the Disney film starring Julie Andrews (whom Travers allegedly hated) when she was very young. They liked it but weren’t swept away. But they found it rich and interesting to play the role of the enigmatic nanny.

“She is single-handedly dismantling patriarchy in this world,” said Beh. “And she doesn’t tell them fascistically how to do it. There is one line that I love that you can play your tongue on the cheek, but I think it’s absolutely her truth: when you go to the bank and Michael says she put it in her dad’s head, says Mary: “The insolence! I would never put ideas in anyone’s head. “I think she’d be horrified at the idea of ​​putting ideas in someone’s head – she could guide them, but you have to get to it yourself.”

Breaking down patriarchy is exactly what Beh expects from her art, and Mary Poppins does it in a loving way, they think.

“I alternate between being able to do this work through love – and feeling like ‘burning everything down’. It’s good to sit with it and do it through love, and I’ve burned it all down to the mood for a while, ”they said. “The thing about love is that it lasts longer. She does real moderation, so the other characters join in on their own. “

From the SF Playhouse production of ‘Mary Poppins’. Photo by Jessica Palopoli.

Beh finds a lot of joy in the role. For one, there is the reaction of children in the audience. Then they can play with their best friend, Wiley Naman Strasser, who plays Bert, the chimney sweep who dances across the rooftops.

Beh’s numerous productions include Black Rider, Our Town and Hamlet at the Shotgun Players, Into the Woods and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at the Playhouse, playing the cello and singing in Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music. Beh grew up singing and dancing – and her mother made sure they see plays from a young age. It was her theater studies at UC Berkeley that made her choose this as a career.

“That’s where I learned how my art changes the world,” said Beh. “And what it could do as activism.”

MARY POPPINS: THE BROADWAY MUSIC
Until January 12th
San Francisco Playhouse
Tickets and more information here

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