KPBS AIRDATE: May 7, 1997
Four years ago, local writer-director Tom Vegh staged his first play, “Friday Night Refugees,” at the Ruse/Marquis Theatre. He’s still obsessed with addiction and recovery, homosexuality and hope, but he’s come a long way, Baby. While his earlier work was long and overly on-the-nose, his latest creation, “Cafe Depresso: Where Prozac, Caffeine and Black Leather Converge,” is sharp, inventive, intense and very funny. The dialogue is snappy, the topics often brutal, but there are lots of laughs, and Vegh the director is even more imaginative than Vegh the writer.
You wouldn’t think that a piece about depression, suicide, bulimia, AIDS and S&M homicide would be hilarious, but it often is. An earlier version, “Desperate Intimacy,” was directly inspired by the vicious 1991 Mission Hills murder of Lance Penny. But Vegh moved away from the courtroom drama, and framed his ideas in an entirely different way, though he retained the appalling trial transcript excerpts, here in stranger-than-fiction video format.
He works the homicide in via group therapy, where the prime murder suspect is an missing group member with bipolar disorder. Meanwhile, we meet the AIDS-infected lesbian, the bulimic realtor, the horny gay guy and the angry techno-geek, plus assorted other weirdoes. The cast is very effective — in their earnest and their humorous moments.
Vegh uses highly creative directorial approaches to a suicide, an experimental, memory-erasing brain technique, and an uproarious, interactive cyber-sex machine. There’s a whole lot happening here, and though it’s not always crystalline, it’s consistently fascinating and energizing, despite the gravity of its subject-matter.
Now, there’s also more than meets the eye in Oscar Wilde’s lesser-known 1893 comedy of manners, “A Woman of No Importance.” Wilde was forever satirizing the British nobility, with a stage-ful of upper-class dandies and dowagers. Like his famous novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” written two years earlier, this piece has a profligate central character, a man of sensual indulgence and moral indifference. And there is the usual panoply of epigrammatic wit, and more than the usual derogatory comments about women and marriage, but setting the play in 1912 instead of 1893 has added the extra resonance of the impending Suffrage movement, Jazz Age and World War. It was a wonderful choice.
So are most others of director Robert Smyth and his Lamb’s Players designers. Mike Buckley has created a magnificent set: simple, elegant, and gorgeously lit. Which only serves to highlight Jeanne Reith’s splendidly creamy costumes. Lest you think this is all about appearance, the cast is often as good as they look. As Mrs. Allonby, Rosina Reynolds is equal parts regal, cynical and seductive, a perfect Beatrice-and-Benedick match for the blasé roué of David Cochran Heath. As the ingenues, Nick Cordileone and Cynthia Gerber are charming. Saundra Dubow has a ball as one of those Wilde dowagers, and Deborah Gilmour Smyth is at her best as the anguished and abandoned Mrs. Arbuthnot.
The production is a gem: it sparkles, it shines; it has both depth and clarity. In a stunning setting.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1997 Patté Productions Inc.