Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: SEPTEMBER 3, 2010
A theater production is like a jigsaw puzzle. There are myriad little pieces that have to fit together just right, in order to form a compelling picture. There’s the text, casting, direction, design, performances, pace and timing, character development and innumerable unseen details.
Alas, a less-than-perfect final image emerges in two local productions, both Asian-themed and well-intentioned.
“BFE” is the short-form of an off-color colloquial expression about being stuck in the middle of nowhere. It’s also the title of a 2005 play by Julia Cho, an overstuffed tragicomedy about the blonde bombshell beauty myth and the agonies of teenage insecurity, outsider status and low self-esteem.
Panny comes from a delusional, dysfunctional family. Her mother, an alcoholic, narcissistic agoraphobic, offers Panny plastic surgery for her 14th birthday, so she can “fix” her bridgeless Asian nose or slanted eyes. Panny’s devoted uncle Lefty is something of a geek, socially inept and fixated on his tiny Dungeons and Dragons figurines. Each of these lonely, pathetic characters gets an unsuccessful or inappropriate love-interest. But hovering over all is a serial killer who, like most everyone else in Panny’s suffocating universe, prefers blondes.
Asian American Repertory Theatre chose “BFE” for the first production of its one-year residency at the La Jolla Playhouse. It’s a complex piece, filled with cinematically brief scenes and frequently-changing locales. Instead of using different areas of the vast stage at the Shank Theatre on the campus of UCSD, the director and designer created huge, movable abstract set-pieces, which are bulky, cumbersome and significantly slow down the action in what should be an intense, fast-paced comic drama. Some scenes should play a lot funnier, which would be helped by a consistent level of talent and articulatory clarity.
Same goes for “ Mozu ,” a world premiere by local Steven Oberman , produced under the banner of his TAFFE Productions, Theatre Arts for Fun Education. This is a musical in which several cast members can barely sing. The plot, inspired by a documentary about Japanese snow monkeys, is also about one young female’s misguided self-perception. The play is supposed to focus on one macaque with deformed hands and feet, and how she adapts to her disability. But Mozu’s story is dwarfed by the bigger issues of troop behavior, struggles for dominance and the value of group cohesion. The lessons and morals are very direct and explicit. The music, lyrics and humor, though sophomoric, would be better served by a more uniformly capable cast. The production values are outstanding, though: beautiful Japanese set, costumes, makeup and wigs. The show, pared down to a brisk 60 minutes, would seem to be most suitable for schoolchildren.
There are effective elements and performances in each show. But in these puzzling productions, some of the pieces just don’t fit.
“ Mozu ” runs through September 12, at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights .
“BFE” continues through September 19, at the La Jolla Playhouse on the campus of UCSD.
©2010 PAT LAUNER