Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
September 28, 2012
Tell me, which is more obscene: the expletive-laced 1984 play by David Mamet, or what the U.S. Government did to some of its own citizens during World War II?
F-bombs fall like hailstones in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” Mamet’s timely exploration of Men at Work: in this case, ruthless, sleazy, dog-eat-dog Chicago real estate salesmen, struggling to survive in a hyper-competitive office hothouse.
A not-so-subtle “Jaws” poster – a faded shark — looms over the wonderful set at the La Jolla Playhouse, in this excellent production. Christopher Ashley directs a first-rate multi- culti cast, though the verbal pace might be a tad slow for Mametspeak , and it’s odd having an African American playing the obviously Jewish George Aaronow , who bemoans the ‘ mishegas ’ in the office.
Still, thirty years after it premiered, the often comic drama proves prescient, a pitch-perfect reflection of our recent financial meltdown. In this food chain of predators, sometimes even bottom-dwellers make a killing.
Meanwhile, there’s a killer musical across town, a world premiere at the Old Globe with even darker historical implications.
“Allegiance” is about the reprehensible aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, when Japanese Americans were shipped off to internment camps in the most desolate areas of America. An arresting exhibition at the Museum of Man annex shows how San Diego’s Japanese Americans were affected.
The new show, a poignant story of family, love and patriotism, is loosely based on the life experience of film and TV icon George Takei, of “Star Trek” fame, who spent time in the camps as a child.
Composed by Jay Kuo , with book by Kuo , Marc Acito , and Lorenzo Thione , the musical makes the political personal. The focus is on one family, the Kimuras , long-time artichoke farmers in Salinas. It’s a haunting memory play, bookended by bitter Army veteran Sam, grimly played by Takei.
He looks back on his time at the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming, where his ambitious younger self becomes a leader, falls for a Quaker volunteer nurse, and falls under the spell of Mike Masaoka , the only true historical figure in the piece, still controversial in the Japanese American community.
Instead of just retelling history, the musical homes in on the fascinating internecine conflicts, between those who choose — or refuse — to fight for a country that incarcerates them. Historical events are marvelously suggested with lighting, sound and projections.
It’s all about loyalty – to family, culture or country.
Under the crisp direction of Stafford Arima , the cast is outstanding. Takei provides heart and humor as the immigrant grandfather, Tony winner Lea Salonga is in superb voice, and there are other standout performances from Telly Leung, Paul Nakauchi and Michael K. Lee.
Kuo’s music, blending Eastern and Western rhythms, is pleasantly unpredictable, if not especially memorable. The orchestrations are magnificent, and exceptionally played. The book could use tightening and deeper character development. But an important American story has found its voice in this heart-rending musical.
“Allegiance” runs through October 21, at the Old Globe in Balboa Park.
“Glengarry Glen Ross” also continues through October 21, at the La Jolla Playhouse.
©2012 PAT LAUNER