Pat Launer on San Diego Theater
By Pat Launer , SDNN
July 15, 2010
THE PLAY: “The Madness of George III,” the only non-Shakespeare part of the Old Globe’s Summer Shakespeare Festival
When a film version was in the works for Alan Ben nett’s marvelously imaginative and disturbing 1991 drama, “The Madness of George III,” about Britain’s 18th century monarch, there was a serious concern that if American audiences saw “George III” in the title, they’d think it was a sequel, and would be unlikely to attend, assuming they’d missed the first two parts. Ah, those wacky English; still don’t trust the Colonies! But they got their way; the 1994 movie was called “The Madness of King George.”
The United States was famously formed during George’s reign, and if Ben nett can be believed, that loss stuck in his craw for life. But he had plenty of other problems during the 1780s when the play is set. (Side Note: George died in 1820, at age 81. He was monarch for 59 years, longer than any of his kingly predecessors. Only his granddaughter, Queen Victoria, exceeded his record, though Elizabeth II has lived longer).
The Whigs and Tories were at each other’s throats. It was Fox against Pitt, father vs. son. George’s overweight, overindulgent eldest offspring, the Prince of Wales (fat-suited Andrew Dahl) was aligned with Whig leader Charles Fox (Michael Stewart Allen), aiming to wrest power and be declared Regent. George was advised by his austere Prime Minister, William Pitt (outstanding Jay Whittaker, the most versatile performer in the whole Summer Festival). The problem for all was , the King seemed to be losing his mind.
Two centuries of conjecture have reflected on the possible causes of George’s blue urine, coupled with his ranting, raving and rambling (during Christmas 1819, in the last weeks of his life, he reportedly blathered incoherently for 58 hours straight). The general consensus has been porphyria , a genetic neurological disease. But a recent paper by two Englishmen, published in the March 2010 issue of the journal History of Psychiatry, claims otherwise. The debate, like the King himself, rages on.
Though the play has an upbeat ending, King George actually descended further into lunacy and delirium toward the end of his life, and never regained his sanity. But during the 1780s, the Regency Bill authorizing the Prince of Wales to act as Prince Regent actually was passed in the House of Commons. Fortuitously, George recovered before the House of Lords could vote.
And so – or, “what what !” as the King would say – he kept his crown. But he descended repeatedly into the depths of mental illness, and was treated by all manner of self-serving medical quacks. The smart, witty play provides not only a history lesson about leadership and governmental machinations; it’s a metaphor for an unhealthy political system and a broken medical system.
Adrian Noble, artistic director of the Globe’s Summer Shakespeare Festival (already invited back for next year), helms a magnificent ensemble, centered by Miles Anderson’s sensational performance as the King. He is by turns tender, furious, foul-mouthed, contrite, impatient and mad as a hatter. Spectacular work. All those around him are excellent, too, especially Emily Swallow as his Germanic Queen Charlotte, the aforementioned Whittaker as his chief adviser, and Robert Foxworth as Dr. Francis Willis, the only physician who achieves any results, but it’s through a highly unconventional, rather punishing treatment. Though the acting is superb throughout, the repeated ceremonial posing and door-closing becomes tiresome over time.
The set ( Ralph Funicello ) is backed by a wall of mirrors (it’s all about appearances and self-aggrandizement in court), and the costumes (Deirdre Clancy) provide the pomp and ceremony to match.
Some of the mad scenes are unsettling. But one of the delicious moments of the evening comes when the King (Anderson) and the Doctor (Foxworth), in an effort to keep the ruler’s emotions in check, read “King Lear” (“I had no idea what it was about,” claims Dr. Willis, surprised by the story of another mad monarch). That moment is priceless; it’s Foxworth who plays Lear on alternating nights. Noble certainly knew what he was doing this summer. The three-play cross-referencing is a piece of planning genius.
THE LOCATION: The Old Globe’s Festival Stage in Balboa Park . (619) 234-5623 ; www.theoldglobe.org
THE DETAILS: Tickets: $29-$78. “George III” runs in repertory (on selected evenings, Tuesday-Sunday), alternating with “The Taming of the Shrew” and “King Lear,” through September 24
Bottom Line: BEST BET
That’s Funny; you don’t look Shrewish!
THE PLAY: “The Taming of the Shrew ,” the comic relief in the Globe’s Summer Shakespeare Festival
Shakespeare’s most knotty comedy (one of his so-called ‘problem plays) originally began with an Induction, a framing device that offers the action as a kind of historical diversion for a drunken tinker. It’s usually omitted. Here, under the direction of Ron Daniels (former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s experimental theater, The Other Place, at Stratford-upon-Avon ), it all starts with the players in the audience (audience members even sit onstage), then ridiculing the obligatory cellphone announcement. The young men come up to the stage for chest-bumps and (an overlong) dance. These guys, attractive and spirited as they may be, make repeat dancing/cavorting appearances that wear out their welcome. But the mood of the production is set even before that. The first thing we see is the title of the play, screamed out in neon lights, with the final ‘W’ slightly askew (hint, hint). Later, it’s righted. The message is clear; this isn’t gonna be your Gradma’s “Shrew.”
There are a few other excesses in the production. There’s a good deal of silliness, and there’s a marvelous cane horse, strapped on a man and able to do all manner of things (from wiggling its ears to dropping a load. Potty humor not welcome here). But where it’s most important, Daniels gets it superbly right.
His central lovers, the opportunistic Petruchio and the harridan Katherine, are magnificent together. What has made this play a ‘problem’ for four centuries is the apparent misogyny of its conceit.
Petruchio has come from Verona to “ wive it wealthily in Padua .” He hears about the well-heeled Minola daughters, the fair and docile (if vapid) Bianca and the hellion Kate. Their father, Baptista , will not marry off the younger sib, who has many fawning (and identity-swapping) suitors, until the elder is wed. That’s a tall order for any man in town; they’re all cowed by the hellcat with the whip-sharp tongue. But the swaggering braggart Petruchio is undaunted.
When he first meets Kate, we see instant chemistry, and for nearly every minute they’re onstage together, they never take their eyes off each other. They both realize that this is a mating of peers – equally clever, witty, stubborn, intractable, emotional and sexual. Petruchio seems to ‘tame’ her; after the wedding, he keeps her from food and drink; he makes her say the sun is the moon. But there’s the sense that she’s in on his game, that she knows, as he does, that theirs is a very fine match indeed. And that makes her final words, the really tough-to-take speech to the other wives about “true obedience,” easy to accept. She’s not being sarcastic or subservient, but her definition of “obedience” is a bit elastic. Like King George III, she has learned (the hard way), the value of self-control – that is, once she drops her defensive veneer of irascibility.
In the riveting, passionate and forceful performances of Jonno Roberts and Emily Swallow, we are swept up in the relationship. We aren’t made to feel queasy or uneasy, and that’s a triumph of acting and directing. Most of the rest of the cast is happily gamboling over the top. Jay Whittaker is a hoot as the foppish Lucentio , who finally gets the girl ( Bree Welch as Bianca). Petruchio’s wily servant, Grumio is played by Bruce Turk, who’s the Fool in “King Lear,” who offhandedly sings “the rain it raineth every day,” a Shakespearean Fool’s song from another play ( “Twelfth Night’s” Feste ) which somehow manages to make us think of “Lear” and his storm. The interweaving of the Festival plays is delightfully self-referential.
Special mention must be made of the costumes (Deirdre Clancy) which are jaw-dropping gorgeous. The music (Christopher R. walker) swells at emotional moments like a film score. There are up and down moments throughout the evening, but in sum, it’s great fun. And beautifully realized. This Kate and Petruchio are a couple of winners, in every way.
THE LOCATION: The Old Globe’s Festival Stage in Balboa Park . (619) 234-5623 ; www.theoldglobe.org
THE DETAILS: Tickets: $29-$78. “The Taming of the Shrew” runs in repertory (on selected evenings, Tuesday-Sunday), alternating with “King Lear” and “The Madness of George III,” through September 26
Bottom Line: BEST BET
NEWS AND VIEWS
… That OTHER George III: George Steinbrenner III, who passed away this week, wasn’t only interested in baseball, and Yankees games weren’t all he attended in New York . The bombastic Yankees Boss was also a theater producer. From 1967 to 1989, he was associated with six Broadway shows, including comedies (“Not Now, Darling”), dramas (“Abelard and Heloise”) and musicals (“Applause,” Seesaw,” “Legs Diamo nd”). Some productions didn’t fare so well (“The Ninety Day Mistress” closed after only 24 performances in 1967), but the musicals were all nominated for multiple Tony Awards; “Legs” won two, and “Applause” was named Best Musical of 1970. “Now Not, Darling” didn’t do great on the Great White Way (21 performances), but it’s had a prolific afterlife, recently seen, to excellent effect, at Scripps Ranch Theatre. So, Sports Fans, there is crossover. Try the theater some gameless Saturday night!
… Speaking of Games: Just in time for ComicCon , “GAM3RS,” the delightfully hilarious solo show about online gaming (of the conquer-the-world variety) is back. Having had a successful run at ion theatre, the high-octane, one-act comedy, delectably performed by Brian Bielawski (co-written with Walter G. Meyer) , will have 15 extra performances, right near the site of the mega Con. And since that’s a bit much even for the antic, tireless Bielawski (a USD alum), local actor Steven Lone will step in for some performances. This one’s not just for your geek-friends; your gal-pals will get a big kick out of it, too. Read my full review here: http://www.sdnn.com/sandiego/2010-05-05/things-to-do/theater-things-to-do/goldas-balcony-plus-more-theater-reviews-news , and check it out at the 10th Avenue Theatre, playing 2-3 times a day, July 20-25. “Gam3rs” is the centerpiece of Gam3rCon, which will take over several floors of the Theatre with game demos, gaming celebs, gaming lounges and, between performances of the show, screenings of videos. For info, and to see a trailer of the play, go to http://www.gam3rsthewebsite.com
… Raising the Bard: The San Diego Shakespeare Society is hosting a series of free lectures called “Speaking of Shakespeare.” In the fourth, “Dressing the Part: Clothing and Costume in Shakespeare’s Time,” costumer/actor/singer/director Tara J. Pool presents a bit of clothing history and a peek at how Shakespeare’s contemporaries would have dressed for their roles. There will be some touchable samples and an exploration of some of Shakespeare’s own textual directions to the Costumer. Saturday, July 17, 12:45-2:00 p.m., at the Mission Valley Library, 2123 Fenton Way . Admission is Free.
… Debbie Does Escondido : Screen legend Debbie Reynolds will appear at the Welk Resorts July 28-Aug. 1, for some comedy and music, and a few classic clips from her movies, stories and song. Reservations are at www.welksandiego.com ; (888) 802-7469.
… So You Think You Can… Trolley Dance: San Diego Dance Theater is looking for dancers to participate in its annual “Trolley Dances, 9/26-10/3). Every year, the company employs more than 50 dancers to perform short pieces along a San Diego trolley route. This year’s cast of choreographers includes locals Jean Isaacs , Bradley Lundberg and Patricia Sandback , as well as Isabel Beteta de Cou of Mexico City and Monica Bill Barnes of New York City . Dancers of all levels are encouraged to audition. Sunday, July 18, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Arrive early to sign up. Dance Place San Diego, 2650 Truxton Rd. www.sandiegodancetheater.org
…You Can Go Home Again (sort of): Haven’t been to the Belly Up in a long time. And haven’t seen Leon Russell in an even longer time. But I was an avid fan of old, as were most of the 50-somethings in the audience (some brought their Leon LPs). The white-haired, white-bearded 68 year-old is still wearing shades, but they’re of the flip-up variety (a bit nerdy for a hardcore rocker). The legendary pianist/singer/songwriter collaborated with Joe Cocker (Mad Dogs and Englishmen), and over 3-4 decades, recorded with as diverse a lineup as Sam Cooke, The Byrds , Frank Sinatra, Tina Turner, the Monkees , the Stones, John Lennon, B.B. King, Willie Nelson and George Jones — and served as inspiration to Elton John, with whom he’ll appear soon (July 24 at Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre) to promote their new album. Disappointingly, Russell didn’t interact with the crowd at all, until the very end of the evening, when he praised the many “lovely ladies” in the audience that “make me wish I was 50 again.” He still has the wit, but we didn’t get much of it. Most of the time, performing his own songs as well as many covers (Beatles, Stones, Dylan), he was pretty much phoning it in — until he got to the encore, when he did a terrific job on his biggest hits, “Song for You” (solo) and “Delta Lady.” Most of the show was rockin ’ and wailin ,’ but the bluesy numbers were best. The band was super throughout. It wasn’t the Leon of old, but we have to cut him some slack; the man had brain surgery not six months ago (for a brain fluid leak, reportedly a chronic condition). Hope he’s in top form with Elton; that should be a killer concert.
… Who Shows Short Shorts?: New Vision Theatre Company, operating Oceanside’s Sunshine Brooks Theatre, presents its 5th annual Summer Shorts, a festival of ten-minute plays, culled from more than 400 submissions from around the country. All genres and styles are represented, though most lean to the humorous side. The actors and directors are from North County . After viewing all eight playlets , audience members vote on their favorite; the winning work is announced at the end of the festival. July 16-August 1, 217 North Coast Highway in Oceanside . www.nvtheatre.com ; (769) 529-9140.
PAT’S PICKS: BEST BETS FOR THE WEEK
v “The Madness of George III” – superb central performance, disturbing, historical story
The Old Globe’s Summer Shakespeare Festival, playing in repertory through 9/24
v “The Taming of the Shrew” – a wonderful, meaningful take on Shakespeare’s comical ‘problem play’
The Old Globe’s Summer Shakespeare Festival, playing in repertory through 9/26
v “Parasite Drag” – dark, intense, and often funny; wonderful production
ion theatre, through 7/24
v “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee ” – delightful musical, delectably done
North Coast Repertory Theatre, 2nd EXTENSION, through 8/14
v “King Lear” – a good, if not great, production; Shakespeare’s magnificent tragedy is always worth seeing
The Old Globe’s Summer Shakespeare, playing in repertory through 9/23
Read Review here: http://www.sdnn.com/sandiego/2010-06-30/things-to-do/theater-things-to-do/%e2%80%98king-lear%e2%80%99-%e2%80%98-surf-report%e2%80%99-plus-more-theater-reviews
v “Eurydice” – modern twist on an ancient myth; magical, deep and beautifully crafted play and production
Moxie Theatre, EXTENDED through 7/18
To read any of her prior reviews, type ‘Pat Launer,’ and the name of the play of interest, in the SDNN Search box.
Pat Launer is the SDNN theater critic. She can be reached at patlauner.sdnn ( at) gmail.com