KPBS AIRDATE: October 16, 1996
This week, San Diego stages are crowded with smarmy girls, mentally disabled boys and one ‘erogenous’ senior citizen. Non-theater translation: “Little Women,” “The Boys Next Door” and “Cleopatra’s Wake.”
Christian Community Theatre closes its 1996 season with a first-ever event: a homegrown show, “Little Women, The Musical,” adapted from Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 classic. San Diegan Jon Lorenz is credited as composer, musical director, co-arranger — and he plays Professor Bauer, the one who ultimately wins the heart of the March family’s literary tomboy, Jo. Also wearing multiple hats is collaborator Robb Beus, who created the book, lyrics and staging.
It’s an engaging production at times, but too syrupy and too long. The music is pleasant but repetitive, and the show leans too heavily on the Christmas theme to wrench any real variety or texture from the story. The suspended background portraits are pretty cheesy, but the costumes are lovely, as are most of the voices (especially on the distaff side), though the mikes are too loud, and the girls do better in harmony than solo. Marmie, that angel of all mothers, gets the best ballads. This is a big undertaking, and CCT should be commended, but looks like it’s back to the drawing board if they want to take this show on the road. And bring back the tear-jerker Beth-death scene.
Now, “Cleopatra’s Wake” really squeezes emotional juice out of its script and cast. But the newly updated mystery, written in 1984 by former Lamb’s Players associate, David McFadzean, currently a TV writer-producer, still seems like an early playwriting effort. There’s plenty of intrigue here, and some really clever dialogue, but some of the plot twists seem to be thrown in just to confound the audience, not to advance the story. Several strings are left untied, but, who’s keeping score? Director Robert Smyth has a field day with this kind of rapid-fire mayhem. His cast is theatrically but not always visually spot-on. Deborah Gilmour Smyth looks too young for her role, and Barbara Williams is dressed too butch for hers. But David Cochran Heath gets to indulge himself to great effect as the cynical, drunken, quipping older brother in a clearly dysfunctional family.
The theatrical patriarch, Marc Antony to his late wife’s Cleopatra, has died under mysterious circumstances. Naturally, everyone in the vicinity is suspect: two sons, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a step-sister, and assorted, sordid guests. Michelle Napolitano is positively bone-chilling as the mute younger sister who spews Cleopatra’s lines and plays with deadly snakes. Paul Maley is wonderfully shaky as her senatorial brother. Doug Reger is at his best when he’s menacing, here as a bootlegging, snake-selling undertaker. Pat DiMeo is delightful as the Miss Marplish crime-solver who, for no apparent reason, defines ‘erogenous’ as meddlesome. The play may be flawed, but the production is great fun.
Up at North Coast Rep, the cast has more fun than the audience in the first act, chewing scenery and playing for laughs. But once they settle down into their deftly drawn characters, they are able to mine playwright Tom Griffin’s touching treatment of four mentally disabled young men in “The Boys Next Door.” The ‘boys’ do an excellent job: John Steed, Rob Spiewak, Stefan Donae Umstead, and Ricky Delorey and his onstage main-squeeze, Natascha Nikolai. The rest of the cast is variable. Because of the slow start, this piece never builds to the truly touching climactic moments it did in the Lamb’s Players production several years back. But it’s still effective and affecting.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1996 Patté Productions Inc.