Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
March 23, 2012
What happens when your life spirals out of control? You might be abducted by robots, forced into prostitution or faced by an angry lynch mob.
All three occur in local productions. But only one will disturb, unnerve and haunt you.
The musical, “Parade” is based in fact, a miscarriage of justice steeped in redneck racism and anti-Semitism.
In 1913, Leo Frank was the superintendent at a pencil factory in Atlanta. As an educated New York Jew, he was considered an alien. So when a 13 year old female employee was brutally murdered, he was the logical scapegoat. The evidence was flimsy, the prosecutor bribed the witnesses, and yellow journalism ran rampant. Frank was sentenced to death.
But his wife took up the fight, convincing the governor to re-open the case. Leo’s sentence was commuted to life in prison, infuriating vigilante townsfolk, who kidnapped him from prison and strung him up.
It was a horrific event – which makes for a thrilling musical. For the San Diego premiere, Cygnet Theatre artistic director Sean Murray has marshaled an outstanding design team and a masterful cast, backed by an impressive 8-piece orchestra. The gut-wrenching first act is flawless. The production loses some emotional steam in the second act, and ends with an enigmatic last gasp that steals focus and leaves the audience puzzling over its meaning rather than concentrating on the intense, multi-layered complexity of the story.
Jason Robert Brown’s music is intricate and exciting, and Alfred Uhry’s book is terrific. Love almost conquers all for Leo and Lucille, marvelously portrayed by Brandon Joel Maier and Sandy Campbell.
Love is elusive and oceanic in “Anna Christie,” a Pulitzer Prize winner by Eugene O’Neill. It’s 1910, and Anna returns to her father, who left her 15 years ago, in the care of Midwest relatives who destroyed her body, soul and reputation. Ready to make a new start, Anna falls for a gruff, coal-shoveling sailor, wonderfully inhabited by Austin Durant. It’s not smooth sailing for this poor, damaged gal, played a tad too 21st century by Jessica Love.
The Old Globe production is beautifully designed, with billowing fog and sound that sweep us out to sea.
Jane is swept away, too… only she’s abducted by robots, in Elizabeth Meriwether’s “ Heddatron .” ion theatre created five scene-stealing metal bots that tranpsort pregnant, suicidal Jane to the Ecuadoran rain forest, to perform “ Hedda Gabler .” Meanwhile, the creator of said classic, dour Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, is hilariously tormented by his wife, his maid and his rival, Swedish playwright August Strindberg.
It’s a wacky mashup and a technically demanding wild ride, amusingly but unevenly captured by director Claudio Raygoza and his game ensemble.
A slice of history, a seductive sea, and robots run amok. These shows prove that theater is larger than life.
“ Heddatron ” runs through March 31 at ion theatre, on the edge of Hillcrest.
“Anna Christie” continues through April 15, at the Old Globe’s White Theatre, in Balboa Park.
“Parade” marches on through April 29, at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.
©2012 PAT LAUNER