Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
March 7, 2014
Losers are on the loose. Settled or not, straight or gay. There are foursomes in two plays that are not particularly likable, certainly not enviable, and all are on a decidedly downhill slope – either in their employment, their relationship, or both. As Sharon puts it in the Pulitzer Prize finalist, “Detroit,” “”When you’re at zero, anything can happen.” In “Detroit” and “Boys and Girls,” all four protagonists end up at zero. And it’s not clear that something, or anything, will happen. That’s the intriguing part of both these plays; nothing is wrapped up neatly at the end. It leaves a lot to audience imagination.
But I cannot for the life of me understand how Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit” got to be a Pulitzer finalist, or an Off Broadway Obie Award winner for Best New Play of 2011. It’s sophomoric and shallow, while thinking it’s thinking big.
The characters, especially as played at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, are cartoonish. That’s not to say the performances aren’t compelling. But under the direction of Sam Woodhouse, they’re ridiculously extreme. So when the over-amped junkie, Sharon, engagingly but hyperactively played by Summer Spiro, actually spews some words of wisdom (and she might be the only character who does), it’s nearly impossible to pay attention to her. As her mate, fellow addict Kenny, Jeffrey Jones gives little indication of how he feels about anything – his release from rehab, his lack of possessions, his future, or his interactions with their seemingly solid, middle-class neighbors. Steve Gunderson’s Ben is a credibly lost soul, laid off and rudderless. As his wife, Lisell Gorell -Getz is a melodramatically neurotic alcoholic. Can we care when everything is lost at the end? There have got to be more interesting takes on the state of our republic.
One of them is “Boys and Girls,” at Diversionary Theatre. Here we meet two gay couples, one male, one female. The women share a child. The men share conflict and extreme ambivalence. As the title suggests, all are terminally immature and generally irresponsible. But they keep talking about doing “adult” things. They’re not capable, but they’re striving. And each of the relationships is captivating, in its own dysfunctional way.
The gals, desperate for a father-figure for their young son, ask Reed to move in, but he’s busy obsessing about his alcoholic ex, and OCD Shelly is paranoid, and jealous of Bev’s relationship with Reed. It’s a pretty delicious, if disheartening, portrait of the next stage in gay rights and liberation. Shana Wride nimbly directs an excellent cast, who master Tom Donaghy’s halting, overlapping dialogue, an authentic representation of a near-total breakdown in communication. The design elements are noteworthy, and the evening overall is dramatically satisfying.
Some pictures of the present are more sharply focused than others.
“Detroit” runs through March 16, at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in Horton Plaza.
“Boys and Girls” continues through March 23 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.
©2014 PAT LAUNER