KPBS AIRDATE: January 26, 2007
Absent passion is unfulfilling anywhere, but it’s particularly unsatisfying in the theater. If there’s a romance onstage, you want to believe in the infatuation; if the obsession is less personal, you want it to absorb you as much as the character. Alas, in two new plays, we are not aroused – either by ardor or enthusiasm.
In “Ace,” the West coast premiere musical at the Old Globe, three generations of men are fanatical about flight. The father and grandfather fulfill their fantasies by going off to war, each leaving behind a pregnant wife. The offspring will never see their fathers. The men play out their destinies as fighter pilots, but their wives make all the sacrifices.
In this sentimental and repetitive story, by Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker, the women are harridans, frumps, nutcases or inept housewives. The centerpiece is 10 year-old Billy. It’s 1952; he’s parent-less and troubled. His father disappeared before he was born, his mother’s been carted off to a loony bin, and he’s been kicked out of multiple schools. No amount of affection – from a foster family or a geeky female classmate — can reach him. But once he gets his hands on a Flying Tiger model airplane, a stranger begins to appear in his dreams. Ace takes Billy time-traveling, so he can finally understand his past. The outcome is predictable; Oberacker’s music is anthemic but forgettable. The direction is surprisingly static. The show never fully takes flight. But the kids are fantastic: the local pair and the two mega-talents who’ve been with the project since it was launched in Cincinnati and St. Louis . Young Noah Galvin practically carries the whole show; he’s unaffected, and simply terrific.
This is an odd time in our history to be singing about the thrill of combat. The musical could have made some acute comments on those left behind to grieve. But the writers chose a more airy route, which for me, left the show grounded.
Obsession takes a sexual turn in the American premiere of “Happy Endings are Extra ,” written by South African Ashraf Johaardien. Set in Capetown, 2003, the play concerns sexuality and dishonesty. The warped triangle at its center features a confused, bisexual man, a seductive male prostitute and a frustrated fiancée. Sounds like a recipe for carnality. But despite some lyrical and provocative language, even a hint of nudity, there’s a remarkable lack of eroticism here. These aren’t likable or sympathetic characters. And the dramatically astute could see the surprise ending coming. So without sensuality, sympathy or shock, what exactly are we left with? Earnest but non-erotic performances that leave us as empty as the souls of these three misguided misfits.
There’s just no satisfaction in feeling dispassionate about someone else’s passion.
©2007 Patté Productions Inc.