Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
April 5, 2013
What happens when people are confined in claustrophobically close quarters? They either go crazy – or break free. Permutations of constraining situations are playing out on local stages.
The most extreme case is “Grey Gardens.” Based on the chilling 1975 documentary by Albert and David Maysles , it’s the true tale of the Bouvier Beales – cousins to Jacqueline Kennedy and Lee Radziwill – a deeply dysfunctional mother-daughter pair who lived together for decades in a squalid Long Island house filled with cats and rabid raccoons. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright thought it would make a good musical. And it does – as amusingly off-kilter as its subjects.
Scott Frankel’s pleasant score is enhanced by Michael Korie’s quick-witted lyrics. ion theatre is ideal for this quirky piece about two insanely symbiotic former socialites who fancy themselves artistes. The action moves from 1973 to 1941 and back again. In the first scene, we see how the monstrous mother, Edith Bouvier Beale, made sure that her pretty “Little Edie” wouldn’t marry a Kennedy – or anyone else. Thirty years later, all hopes of separation are lost.
Kim Strassburger sharply directs an excellent cast, headed by riveting Linda Libby, musically gifted Charlene Koepf and frighteningly aged Annie Hinton. Charles Evans is wonderful as two different characters of divergent classes. Though creativity and humor course through the show, it’s a very unsettling story.
No positive outcomes in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” either, adapted by Dale Wasserman from Ken Kesey’s brilliant 1962 novel. Randle P. McMurphy is a phenomenal character, a hyperkinetic free spirit who wrangles his way into a psychiatric hospital to avoid prison. With endless energy, he rallies the other patients to rebel against the oppressive Nurse Ratched . At New Village Arts, Claudio Raygoza helms a superb cast, each creating a truly disturbed, unnerving character.
Jeffrey Jones is magnificent as McMurphy , who’s relentless in his battle against institutional tyranny. As the overbearing and destructive nurse, Kristianne Kurner is more benign and less sadistic than the role is written. Otherwise, the production is marvelous.
There’s also a minor misfire in the Old Globe’s exhilarating new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 classic, “A Doll’s House,” co-created by Scandinavian drama expert Anne-Charlotte Harvey and ace director Kirsten Brandt. The dialogue and characterizations are crisp, clear and contemporary. The cast is exceptional, anchored by Gretchen Hall’s dazzlingly nuanced performance as Nora, the ‘little bird’ kept in a gilded cage by her condescending husband, splendidly inhabited by Fred Arsenault.
It’s the sound that undermines the production: that repetitive rolling of waves, riffing on just a few lines about “being adrift.” And the final moment, the powerful slamming door — when Nora walks out — is blunted by a bit of dialogue that weakens the iconic ending.
Still, a trio of delectable dishes; definite food for thought.
“Grey Gardens” runs through April 20 at ion theatre, on the edge of Hillcrest.
“A Doll’s House” plays in the Old Globe’s White Theatre, through April 21.
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” continues through April 21 at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.
©2013 PAT LAUNER