KPBS AIRDATE: August 11, 1993
We’re already on the hinter-side of summer, and it’s time to get off the beaten path. Right now, you can stray pretty far, or you stay close to the middle, or you could even bring the kids. Let’s start on the fringe.
The very fecund UCSD theater department continues to spawn offbeat new companies. First there was Sledgehammer. Later this month, Undergraund! Inc. resurfaces. And this week, Theatre E.
I like to think of this as the woman’s answer to the Sledge-men, who can be a tad, shall we say, anti-feminist, at times. Theatre E is largely female in administration. And, for their second production, they’ve done a site-specific mounting of a provocative new work by local playwright Naomi Iizuka.
This is the first part of “Carthage/Fire,” a poetic rendering of ancient and modern myths, based on the legend of Dido, founder and queen of Carthage. It twists and transfigures Virgil’s story, where Aeneas, Trojan warrior, wandering adventurer, is deeply loved by Dido but he leaves her without warning, to fulfill his destiny in Rome. In anguish, and in full view of his departing ship, Dido throws herself on a funeral pyre and goes up in flames.
In Iizuka’s reconstruction of the tale, Dido is transformed into a modern-day, L.A. schizophrenic. We meet a ghost, SHE; a pair of Arab women; an exotic dancer; a chorus of whores and the skeletal remains of Karen Carpenter, as well as the poet Virgil, Aeneas and his dead wife, a doctor, an Egyptian and others. We are assaulted by image and sound: the moan of sex, the wail of love, the empty words of seduction, the agonized cry of every woman since Dido who has been loved and left.
Iizuka’s language, passionate and vehement, darts from opaque to crystalline. But it is the brilliant direction of Lisa Portes, making fabulous use of a cavernous warehouse space, that irradiates the words, emblazoning images in your mind. The production is powerful; the acting and tech work are aggressively expert.
You have to be made of strong stuff for this kind of in-your-face theater — and you have to have a beat-up car to park in this raunchy neighborhood. But it’s well worth the trip and the risk.
A few blocks away — but light years theatrically — Sweetooth Comedy Theatre is presenting “Black Comedy,” a one-act farce by Peter Shaffer, really a prolonged illumination gag.
When the lights go out in a London apartment, the lights come up onstage. When a match is struck, the lights dim, etc. So, throughout most of the play, a fuse having blown, we watch the frantic and befuddled characters inch their way around, playing blind-man, open-eyed human bumper cars. The cast works hard, and director Stephen Brown gives them all the right moves, but the timing, which has to be razor-sharp, needs honing. As they build it, it will come. A little further into the run, this show should be hilarious.
For pint-sized hilarity, take the kids to Golden Hill for the Fern Street Circus. Masterminded by John Highkin and directed by Cheryl Lindley and Don Victor, the show walks a thin story-line entitled “Mr. Omnipopo and His Circus of the Universe.” The universe turns out to be kinda small, but the intentions are big. Fern Street combines the talents of real circus professionals with the budding abilities of local kids they’ve been training in circus skills. It’s colorful and high energy, the pros are great, the costumes are wonderful and the kids are a delight. Children in the audience are quietly mesmerized, too. There may be all levels of performance here, but this circus is certainly a super unifier for the community.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1993 Patté Productions Inc.