Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: NOVEMBER 27, 2009
The Devil can take many shapes and forms. Right now, he’s appearing on local stages as a dapper gentleman and a gun- totin ’ bank robber – in “The Seafarer” and “Bonnie and Clyde .” The gentleman showed up for a one-night stand; the outlaw was part of a four-year blitz.
They were only 20 year-old kids when they met, 24 when they died, their fatal attraction and Wild West killing spree ending when Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed and gunned down in 1934. It was the middle of the Great Depression. Clyde , seemingly born a bad seed, had done prison-time; he always thought the system was against him. With poverty, unemployment and foreclosures sweeping the country, many Americans felt put upon, taken advantage of. That made them highly receptive to the colorful young rebels, who seemed to relish sticking it to bankers and cops. They became celebrities, icons. And ever since, they’ve been the subject of films, songs and stories galore. Bonnie Parker herself, formerly a high school honor roll student, a good girl gone bad , you might say, even wrote poems about their escapades, which were hungrily published by rapacious media hounds.
Now along comes “Bonnie and Clyde ,” the musical, created by an impressive team of veteran theatermakers, who swore their intention was to tell a gritty, true-to-life story. They weren’t going to romanticize the deadly pair at all, basing their show on Bonnie’s writings and other family memoirs. But there we are, rooting for the fugitives, hoping the sheriff and his henchmen don’t get the desperadoes. And then we catch ourselves, but we’re already caught up. And why not? They’re young, sexy, passionate, defiant, and played by very talented, engaging performers.
The world premiere musical is beautiful in its spare design and sepia tones. The songs, ranging from country waltz to gospel, are appealing and well sung. The small band sounds great. But there’s something of a vacuum at the core: What, exactly, is this show about? What’s the angle, the takeaway? For it to move on to greater glory, for which it has considerable potential, it needs to be shorter, less repetitive, and about something bigger than the love of two bedeviled criminals.
Now, you’ve heard that The Devil will have his due. That’s pretty much what brings urbane Mr. Lockhart to a squalid house north of Dublin on Christmas Eve. He’s come to collect a debt, or more specifically, a soul. There’s a whole lotta drinkin ’ goin ’ on. And a tense, edge-of-your-seat, do-or-die poker game. A terrific ensemble brings crackling comic life to the chilling 2006 drama, “The Seafarer.” The dialects are heavy, and so are the descriptions of a hellish afterlife. This is one creepy tale, but it ends with a glimmer of redemption.
Eventually, the Devil always has to cash in his chips. Might as well surround him with music or laughter.
“The Seafarer ” runs through December 13 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in Horton Plaza .
“Bonnie And Clyde ” continues through December 20 in the Mandell Weiss Theatre of the La Jolla Playhouse.
©2009 PAT LAUNER