KPBS AIRDATE: May 17, 2002
Sometimes there are secrets you keep even from those you love. Behind the scenes, actors harbor hidden talents and deep-seated dramatic ambitions. And onstage, there’s a skeleton in every family closet.
In the San Diego Actors Festival, local artists get to stretch their wings and fly with their fantasies. Actors who’ve always wanted to write or direct or even produce, have their day in the sun. This year, the 12th annual Festival began with a bang — the strongest evening of theater I’ve ever seen in one night at the Festival. Usually, there are some powerful pieces and some clunkers. But the opener boasted first-class writing, acting and directing — with whimsical, but heart-tugging new works by Dick Emmett, Laura Bozanich and Zan Aufderheide, the latter two performing their own material with considerable panache. Impressive acting was also demonstrated by the ever-credible Sally Stockton and Linda Castro, as well as newcomers Dane Marc Button and Neil de la Giroday, well directed by Christina Coffey and Gayle Feldman-Avery. In all, this year’s Festival comprises 7 programs, 29 plays, 19 of them new, and the involvement of more than 100 local actors. It’s uniquely San Diego and completely unpredictable. And it isn’t a secret any more. You can still catch three programs this weekend, including the fun & funky Kids’ Night Out.
Now if you really like to be emotionally blindsided and intellectually stimulated at the same time, you won’t want to miss the reprise production of “Before It Hits Home,” presented by the Community Awareness Project of San Diego, and sponsored by the California Endowment. Acclaimed playwright Cheryl West has won multiple awards for this hard-hitting, gut-wrenching family drama that concerns AIDS in the African American community. But how one particular (and quite humorous) household deals with its very personal crisis could be any family, any culture, anywhere.
Director Floyd Gaffney, UCSD professor emeritus, has tightened his production, though the pacing and scene changes could be significantly speedier. But the cast is power-packed — with knockout performances by Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson and TJ Johnson as the heartsick parents, Grandison Phelps IV and Brandon Kelley DeShazo as their son and grandson, Deborah Branch very funny as a busybody aunt, Monique Gaffney appealing in 2 disparate roles, and center stage, Jacques C. Smith, charismatic UCSD grad, fresh from his Broadway run in “Rent,” as the freewheeling musician who’s forced to pay the piper. The play has all the anger and angst the epidemic engenders, and it serves as a potent wakeup call that no citizen of the world can afford to ignore.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc