Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
May 24, 2013
Beware: There are ghosts and great, green lizards about. Phantoms and apparitions share space with sly humor in three productions. Despite stylistic differences, each of the plays draws a blurry line between reality and fantasy. All concern alienation, mis -communication and coping with change.
The newest, and least satisfying, is “Be a Good Little Widow” at the Old Globe. A ditsy, juvenile newlywed loses her husband to a plane accident. She has a disturbing dalliance with his assistant before and after her spouse’s death; and she has to deal with his snooty, judgmental mother. And his repeated revisits.
Bekah Brunstetter’s piece thinks it has more to say than it does. Every dramatic moment is undercut by snarky comical jabs. The one-dimensional characters are not that interesting. Under the direction of Hal Brooks, Christine Estabrook is spot-on as the stiff-necked Yankee mother-in-law, but Zoë Winters uses her toothy smile to excess, and her Melody is persistently annoying. The Globe staff hands out tissues at the exit, but why? In this contrived sitcom, it’s hard to generate sympathy, let alone tears.
Sympathy, horror, laughter, gasps. A full range of emotion is engendered by Rajiv Joseph’s deeply moving 2009 drama, “Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo,” set during the Iraq invasion. The tiger dies early, but he haunts the play, trying to figure out the meaning of life. Everyone here is lost and haunted, from the soldiers to their interpreter, Musa, gifted former gardener to Uday Hussein, Saddam’s son, who comes back to plague Musa, with the bloody head of his brother in hand. Death and destruction are everywhere — as are existential questions about the madness of war.
The multi-layered play features muscular, poetic writing and intriguing characters. Indomitable ion theatre has done it again: taking on a challenging piece of theater and making magic in its tiny space.
Claudio Raygoza directs with skill and wit, and he’s terrifying as Uday . Jake Rosko and Evan Kendig are completely credible as the misguided Marines; Brian Abraham is heartbreaking as Musa, torn between languages and loyalties; and Ron Choularton perfectly captures the ragged spiritual angst of the philosophical tiger. The set, lighting and sound design are wonderfully evocative.
Sand also rings the set of “Seascape” at New Village Arts. Edward Albee’s tricky, 1975 Pulitzer Prize winner is absurdist, comical and cautionary. It’s all about evolution – of the species, and a marriage. In searing Act I, a retired couple confronts aging and their disparate desires. In Act II, along come two human-sized, English-speaking sea lizards. Communication breaks down further, but new alliances are made.
Kim Strassburger directs an outstanding quartet: Jack Missett and Dana Case, thoroughly believable as the retirees. Justin Lang and Amanda Morrow, in Shirley Pierson’s fantastic costumes, superb in their moves, sounds and curiosity as the reptiles.
Change is inevitable. How we deal with it is the stuff of drama.
“Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo” runs through June 1 at ion theatre, in Hillcrest.
“Be a Good Little Widow” plays through June 9 in the Old Globe’s White Theatre in Balboa Park.
“Seascape” continues through June 9 at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.
©2013 PAT LAUNER