Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
June 8, 2012
When you go to see a play or a movie, people always ask what it’s about. You probably describe the characters and the plot. But for me, that’s not enough. I always want to know what it’s really about.
Two world premieres just opened, and frankly, I couldn’t tell what either of them was really about. What’s the message, moral or takeaway? In both plays, the characters are colorful and eccentric; the crackling dialogue is often laugh-out-loud funny. But beyond a glancing issue or two, there isn’t much to talk about.
“Coming Attractions,” by L.A. playwright Zsa Zsa Gershick , is set in a Palm Springs motel where high-profile Hollywood types indulge their closeted sexual proclivities with impunity and without prying eyes. The place provides a family of sorts which, like biological ones, is both supportive and dysfunctional.
The rest stop’s heyday was the 1950s. Now it’s the ‘70s, and the old gang is back, reunited by the sudden death of the owner, queen of the ‘Lavender Ladies.’ She puts in a post-mortem appearance, and as a drug-fueled hallucination, homophobic singer/activist Anita Bryant also shows up repeatedly – and hilariously.
The generations clash, the older guests obsess about aging, death and their long-lamented past. Secrets are revealed. The importance of friendship and love is underscored. It’s nothing we haven’t seen or heard before, though it may be more clever .
Moxie Theatre has assembled an outstanding cast of seven, who nail the captivating but often stereotypic characters. Jo Anne Glover and Jennifer Eve Thorn direct with energy and humor. Jeannie Galioto’s costumes are a hoot. There’s a lot of talent and effort here, but the result feels over-long and underdeveloped.
Same goes for “Brilliant Mistake,” written and directed by New York-based playwright Suzanne Bachner . Culminating the year-long Ensemble Project at New Village Arts, the show was derived from interviews and improvisations with all 14 ensemble members.
The central character, Cam, is looking for his birth mother, with the help of the best Finder in New York. She’s a self-proclaimed slut, though he shows absolutely no interest in her breast-bearing bravado. As she delivers on her parent-finding promise, we meet a motley assortment of damaged oddballs, gay and straight, innocent and malevolent, acquiescent and angry. At the end of the first act, we learn how these disparate whack-jobs interrelate. In the second act, couples come together, skeletons come out of the family closet, someone is disappeared and it all ends with a wedding. But some of the stories remain ambiguous or incomplete. Except for the vagaries of love and family, there isn’t a unifying theme. But the excellent cast makes it great fun.
You might get a kick out of both these shows. But if you want to know what they’re really about, don’t ask me.
“Brilliant Mistake” runs through June 20 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad.
“Coming Attractions” continues through July 1 at Moxie Theatre in the Rolando area near SDSU.
©2012 PAT LAUNER