By Pat Launer
The Oresteia’s Treatment is conflated,
While a Sailor’s Song is celebrated.
Each Hold, Please gal becomes an arch-rival
But Renny and Backbone are tales of survival.
ALL AT SEA
, by John Patrick Shanley , who won the Tony and Pulitzer for Doubt and an Oscar for “Moonstruck.” The play was overshadowed by Doubt, which was written the same year, 2004. This is its West coast premiere.
THE STORY: “If you could take life by the wrist and dance, I think it would be a waltz.” So says Rich, a commercial seaman. And that’s just how his memory plays out. He’s looking back at one summer spent in a coastal town, when he went to be with his uncle and his dying aunt. At the local bar, he meets a provocative, sensual, irresistible pair of sisters. One’s a psychic medium, an “automatic writer” who channels a Punjabi salesman from Atlantic City . The more ‘normal’ sister works in a bank. Rich can’t make up his mind – about them and a lot of other things: his relationship with his father, his true feelings about his crusty, seemingly insensitive uncle, and what he wants to do with his life. He has a starry-eyed view of love, of which his cynical uncle tries to disabuse him. While the quirky characters expound their disparate philosophies, whenever a situation arises that’s emotionally deep or raw or difficult to talk about, they break into dance. Waltz, interpretive, passionate or heart-rending dance. It’s all about, as Shanley puts it in his Foreword, “the almost unbearable beauty of choosing to love in the face of death.”
THE PLAYERS/THE PRODUCTION: The play has a sort of magical realism about it. At New Village Arts, Kristianne Kurner and her crack design and creative team have brought the perfect degree of dreamy romanticism to the production. Nick Fouch has designed a lovely, evocative set, split between the café/bar and the front wall of the uncle’s cabin, gently lit from within, where the comatose aunt lies dying. Between the two playing spaces is a rowboat that, without a lot of technical fanfare, glides enchantingly across the floor, as do the performers. Justin Hall’s lighting (starry sky and all) enhances the amorous mood established by Adam Brick’s sound design, a wild mix of music specified by Shanley – from Strauss’ “Blue Danube Waltz” to Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Lonely is a Man Without Love.” As schmaltzy as it may sound, it all works wonderfully, under Kurner’s meticulous direction of a stellar ensemble.
Robin Christ and Doren Elias were once professional dancers (she in ballet, he in modern) before injuries cut short their careers. This is the first return to that artform for both. Christ choreographed, with Grossmont College Dance instructor Kathy Meyer, who created Christ’s heart-rending solo, set to Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness.” The dancing and the outstanding ensemble carry us into this magical world of Fate and missed opportunity, titillating possibilities savored even in the shadow of death. The setting is supposedly southern Atlantic, though the dialects smack of New England . But the accent is in just the right place everywhere else.
Manny Fernandes is both grounded and airborne as the confused and self-doubting Rich, an ordinary man (in the throes of a kind of midlife crisis), yearning for extraordinary experiences: “Adventure…exotic places, explosions, beautiful women.” He’s too land-locked to notice that they’ve come to him, in ways he never anticipated and can only recognize in retrospect. Fernandes breathes credible life into this fascinating character of contradictions; his interactions with his uncle and the women are marvelous, thought-provoking, incisive . As his two-pronged potential paramours, Amanda Sitton and Amanda Morrow are delightful, and as irresistible to us as to Rich. Sitton is the otherworldly blonde and Morrow the sensible brunette. Their caring, competitive, sisterly exchanges are perfectly paced. Elias is wonderful as the crass and cantankerous Uncle John, who’s spent his life burying himself in sensual escape (booze, women, world travel) until he’s confronted with death, the depth of his love and the loss of his anchor. As that ballast, Christ is aptly ethereal (she only comes alive after death), filled with the wild zeal and energy of a life re-lived through one last dance. When Elias joins her for a pas de deux , there are more than a few sniffles in the house. The play is a little capricious; its messages are sometimes a tad sentimental. The language is both earthy and lyrical. And the production is wonderful.
THE LOCATION: New Village Arts in the Jazzercise Studio, through April 29
the West coast premiere of the latest political work of Eve (Vagina Monologues) Ensler . The two-character drama premiered Off Broadway last fall.
THE STORY: The duo is unnamed. He’s a sergeant; she’s a major. His wife sent him to see her. Suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“I can’t get hard. I can’t get still. I can’t get quiet. I can’t get anything”), he refers to himself as a “ PTSD freak.” She’s the stiff, starched shrink who’s going to get to the bottom of his pain, though it seems to be for reasons other than medical healing. She has her own baggage and agenda, though her character is far less well defined and less believable than his. Her unconventional means of ‘treatment,’ acutely akin to the interrogation tactics he himself has used in the war, careen way over the line of professional propriety into the realm of the inconceivable and unbelievable. But, as they say, “all the rules have changed” in this war. This unidentified conflict is all about torture and enemy combatants. Ensler has never been known for subtlety. Her war is as clear as her thematic points: What really happens in places like Abu Ghraib ? Are the perpetrators of violence victims, too? And where in the chain of command does responsibility and accountability lie? Her thesis, or hypothesis, is too on-the-nose. The relationship between these ‘combatants’ is questionable and often objectionable. But the dialogue is intriguingly rapid-fire, especially at the outset. And the play is a terrific vehicle for a bravura performance.
THE PLAYERS/THE PRODUCTION: Under Delicia Turner Sonnenberg’s precise direction, Matt Scott gives a tour de force performance. We watch his defensive paranoia turn to head-pounding hysteria, as he deals with blinding delusions, hallucinations and flashbacks, and ultimately winds up stripped naked (physically and emotionally), spewing all the inner turmoil, pain and regret for the orders he followed, the torture he inflicted, the repercussions he endures. It’s a stunning accomplishment. Jennifer Eve Thorn (who should be wearing a bona fide uniform, frequently referred to in the text) maintains her stiff diffidence (though she could be even more starched and icy), until she moves from the sedative injections to the less conventional (and more sexual) approaches. We ultimately learn of her personal motivation, but we never quite get who she really is or why she never leaves her ‘lair.’ Still, her intense interactions with the sergeant in the first scene, the pitch-perfect pauses and eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations, are thrilling. Amy Chini’s set is somewhere between a hospital, a prison and a stark interrogation cubicle, all gray and metallic. Jennifer Setlow lights the room provocatively: alternately dim or fluorescent, with a sliver of light peeking through the gunmetal blinds. Though the play has plenty of problems, the central, searing performance has none.
THE LOCATION: Moxie Theatre in the Lyceum Space, through April 29
WORKIN ’ 9 TO 5
THE SHOW: Hold Please , by native Del Martian Annie Weisman (Be Aggressive). The play was commissioned and developed at South Coast Repertory Theatre, and is being revisited by then-dramaturge Jerry Patch, now artistic director of the Old Globe. The play had an Off Broadway run in 2003
THE STORY: Consider the comparison. Hold, Please concerns women in the workplace. Glengarry Glen Ross (recently seen at 6th @ Penn Theatre) concerns men in the workplace. But what a difference! Sure, Weisman is still a blossoming young writer and maybe it’s not fair to place her work beside that of veteran playwright David Mamet. But he was only 37 when he wrote his Tony-nominated play; and she’s now 33. Not to belabor the point, but both plays feature a bevy of fairly unsavory employees doing unpleasant, if not downright malicious things to their colleagues. But the stakes are high in Mamet’s play, and we secretly relish the underhanded dealings (a touch of schadenfreude , perhaps). But in Weisman’s play, besides being catty, conniving and competitive, one of the most heinous acts is stealing candy from each other. Oh yes, in a vendetta against men, bosses, misogyny, office inequality and a personal humiliation of years ago, one secretary (aren’t they all called Admins these days?) convinces the others to come down hard on one of the partners for sexual harassment. He’s fired. And it’s the wrong guy; the head honcho is really the predator. No one seems to care, despite the fact that the accused is innocent, Hispanic, and has a wife dying of cancer. Oh well, just another day in the secretarial ( cess )pool . This is more a slice of life (unappealing as it may be) than a well-plotted play. There is the well-balanced generation gap: two older women, two younger. The former may have fought for equality, but they’ve come to accept their subordinate status, while the battle for equality is completely lost on the junior members of the clerical quartet; they’re straight-ahead ladder-climbers in whichever way suits them (sleeping with the old boss or kissing up to the new one). It isn’t a pretty picture, but it isn’t a particularly compelling or amusing one, either.
THE PLAYERS/THE PRODUCTION: The production is improbably both sluggish and hyperactive. The pace of the scenes often lags, except for the snappy, sex-obsessed interactions of the two 20-somethings. Weisman has a terrific ear for the speech patterns, cadences and topics of her contemporaries, an early gift she demonstrated in her delectable Be Aggressive, which premiered in 2001 at the La Jolla Playhouse. The older women are saddled with far less interesting characters and dialogue. The role played (as always, quite convincingly) by the exceptionally talented but here under-challenged Kandis Chappell, is a stereotype: the rule-follower (and secretarial rule maker) who’s been on the job forever and covets her tiny piece of office turf. Her less angry and uptight comadre , symbolically named Grace ( Starla Benford ), has also been there and done that (with the boss, etc.), though she’s more temperate and forgiving. But she doesn’t really add much to the mix, and she willingly conspires in all the devious goings-on, which puts quite a tarnish on her saintly star. In fact, her character seems superfluous. The two newbie secy’s are a delight; Stephanie Beatriz as the dark-haired seductress, and Kate Arrington as the blonde bimbette who’s hellbent on getting ahead no matter what, even if she doesn’t know where she’s going. Their boyfriend angst and antics are witty at times, though the satire and humor could be much sharper, and it’d be nice to feel like there’s actually a point to all the machinations.
The production is attractive, but there’s an excess of activity. Lights (David Lee Cuthbert) flash convulsively between scenes; stage business (including a round-robin of desk-switching) seems contrived; the sound (Paul Peterson) is antic, angular, electronic, and repetitively punctuated by the whooshing sound of the telephone and the endless reiterations of the company name in answering them. Director Kirsten Brandt, who’s done so much exciting, electrifying work, doesn’t bring her usual edge to this production. Maybe it’s the play. But the result feels flat and insignificant. It may aspire to painting a gritty portrait of post-feminist females and their elders at work, but it isn’t very comical, political, deep or complex. It all seems like much ado about rather little, on the part of all concerned.
THE LOCATION: The Old Globe’s Cassius Carter Centre Stage, through May 6
THE FAMILY THAT SLAYS TOGETHER…
THE PLAY: Oresteia , the trilogy of tragedies about the end of the curse on the House of Atreus , first performed in 458 B.C., written by Aeschylus, considered the father of Greek tragedy. The only surviving trilogy of Greek antiquity, the plays have been conflated into one evening’s (bloody, murderous) entertainment by adapter/translator/scholar Dr. Marianne McDonald.
THE STORY: The theme that courses through the trio of plays is crime and punishment, revenge and retribution. The actions of one family progress from personal blood feud to bloodthirsty vengeance to the more balanced meting out of justice. Agamemnon focuses on the triumphant return of the King of Argos from the Trojan War. Waiting for him at home is his wife, Clytemnestra, who, along with her new lover, Aegisthus , has been planning the murder of her husband, because he sacrificed their daughter, Iphigenia, so he could win the war Greece waged against Troy . The Libation Bearers centers on the other children of Agamemnon, Electra and Orestes, who reunite to settle their scores; Orestes murders his mother to avenge his father’s death. The final play, The Eumenides (which means “the kindly ones,” and is also known as The Furies), terminates the cycle of violence (though not quite satisfactorily for some ancients and moderns). Orestes is tried in a court of law, where reparations are made to put a halt to the cycle of killing. This play marks the beginning of a civilized response to murder.
THE PRODUCTION/THE PLAYERS: In McDonald’s straightforward but linguistically lofty adaptation, Agamemnon, the longest of the three plays, comprises the first act. The Veteran Chorus (Fred Harlow, Steve Jenson and Dough Hoehn), with its crutches, canes and walkers, sounds like modern-day military vets, lamenting the unending ravages of war. Unfortunately, they are fairly static (though rather nimble for their disabilities), and they have more than half the lines in the play, many of them long-winded, name-laden exposition, and this doesn’t drive the action or story.
Then come the outraged Clytemnestra (fulminating Sylvia Enrique), her sleazy, crown-craving lover (Chris Fonseca), and her victorious husband (imperious Dónal Pugh), who seem more Greek than modern in their mien. Still, the relevance to current wars and internecine battles isn’t lost on us. But then, the entire sensibility changes. The second act (the last two plays) takes on an almost campy cast. Suddenly, music is added to the proceedings (composed and directed by Leigh Scarritt ). Electra (sweet-voiced Tiffany Jane) has a Goth appearance (costumes by Douglas Lay), and her ballads are redolent of “American Idol” schmaltz and sentimentality. The five Furies, scuttling along the ground with their ultra-long red fingers, look like B-horror movie escapees.
The cast in general is uneven, but standouts are Monique Gaffney as the wild, African-influenced Cassandra, and the all-powerful goddess Athena; Pugh as the returning hero Agamemnon and the god Apollo, who defends Orestes authoritatively (except for his odious remark about the Father being the “the real parent; [the Mother] is simply the host”). Also noteworthy, new to San Diego , projecting a virile vibrancy as Orestes, is Joshua Zar . Director Lay creates some beautiful stage pictures, especially Agamemnon’s entrance, through the audience, on an iron steed that calls to mind the Trojan horse, with his captive concubine, the seer Cassandra, imprisoned within the belly of the beast. The set (Vince Sneedon ) is attractive, with the look of opulent, burnished bronze. But the four narrow, shallow stairs that span the stage seem treacherous for the actors at times. The lighting (Mitchell Simkovski ) and sound ( Eusevio Cordoba) add texture to the production, though sometimes they veer over the top, and not in a Grecian way. But the timeless, timely message comes through loud and clear: Violence begets violence. Only compromise, negotiation and democratic justice will end the deadly cycle.
THE LOCATION: 6th @ Penn Theatre, through May 13
SHOWING REAL SPINE
THE SHOW: Backbone: A Personal Story of Triumph , a commissioned work choreographed by Charlene Penner, kicks off 6th @ Penn’s Resilience of the Human Spirit Human Rights Festival 2007, which runs through August 12. Penner’s Butoh Ritual Dance, this time performed without the traditional chalky whiteface, is inspired by the post-War, anti-Establishment Japanese avant garde artform.
Her piece, a study in pain and survival, features four females, initially arrayed as a family at play. Then, they are set upon by heavily armed soldiers (a grainy, unclear projection on a sheet loosely tacked to the upstage wall), one of them is killed, and the rest are tortured or traumatized.
Myriad tortuous scenes are played out, most unforgettably Penner in her ‘pain box,’ making her precise and painstakingly slow Butoh moves in two small cage- likespaces that can contain her folded body but not her palpable anguish. Her face is a thesaurus of suffering. She’s joined onstage by another adult, Cynthia Jemmott , and the two young girls: Timyra-Joi Timyra and Sarah Nicolas. Though they all have dance backgrounds, their moves are far less dancerly than those Penner executes. They hold hands, they circle, they sing (‘ Kumbaya ,’ no less, with all its verses!).
Nicolas, who portrays the slaughtered tot, re-appears as a ghostly observer, seen through an upstage window. Symbolism abounds: a child’s stuffed animal (a hippo with zebra stripes), and most effectively, a long strip of shiny red fabric, which stands for blood and torture, abuse and agony. It spews forth after the shooting, snaking its way across the stage. The hippo is wrapped in it. Inch by inch, Penner takes it in, consuming it as she tries to ‘eat’ and submerge her pain. She chokes on it spasmodically. After a time, she lets it out, gradually, and her effluent is neatly, ritualistically, gathered, cleaned up and hidden away by Jemmott . The fabric is used for curtains, a sign of life and rejuvenation, a return to normality. But a small strip of red is always visible; the awful memories never fade.
From the isolation and torment to a gradual, reluctant reunion, the piece moves from devastation to anticipation. The ultimate message is undeniably uplifting. Timyra cuts pieces of the red cloth and makes roses, which she shares with the women, affixes to their clothes. They have turned their poison lemons into lemonade. After much internal and external struggle, they embrace the possibility of trust and love, joy and companionship. Though some parts of the piece are unduly abstruse and others too direct, there are some striking, stunning images, and a message about the promise of hope and compassion, even after the most horrific and hideous of experiences. The ‘Backbone’ of the title refers to the literal spine, that which holds the body erect, which can be broken and also healed; and also, metaphorically, grit, guts, courage, stamina and moral fiber. Fitting image for the start of the ‘Resilience of the Human Spirit’ Festival.
THE LOCATION: 6th @ Penn off-nights (Sunday-Wednesday), through 4/24.
FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY
THE SHOW: Renny’s Story , written by San Diego playwright Janet S. Tiger, premiered locally in 2006. It was commissioned by Dr. Howard Kurshenbaum , Renny’s son, a local physician.
Renny Greenblatt Trajman was born in Warsaw , Poland , in the 1920s. She was a spirited and courageous young Jewish woman. When the Nazis occupied her country, she became an actress of sorts. She dumbed down her intelligence and disguised herself as a Catholic farmgirl , hiding out as a houseworker . She fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. She even managed to escape from a death camp, though her husband, sister, brother-in-law and their three children weren’t so lucky. She had a young son, Joseph, born in 1941. She never found out what happened to him. After she moved to America , remarried, and had a second family, she continued to search for any record of her firstborn child, last seen when he was two years old. Besides telling the story of this remarkable woman, who died just six weeks ago, the play is a plea for assistance in obtaining further information, for use of the internet to spread the word and maybe locate Joseph after all these years. The website for information is given out at the end, as part of the text: www.rennysstory.com .
The play is set from 1939 to the present, chronicling Renny’s life and her philosophy of life: upbeat, filled with compassion and hope. There was a bit of backstage drama, too. Last year, the play was performed by local actor Kimberly Kaplan. But for the last few performances this month, she was constrained by laryngitis and couldn’t appear. Understudy to the rescue: Laurie Lehman-Gray, whose father was a German Jew also forced to come to America to avoid the Nazis. She did an excellent job in this one-woman show, making us feel like we were visiting in her parlor as she told her tale of fear and fabrications, terror and narrow escape. The script, the actor and director Diane Shea make every effort, as it’s likely Renny herself would (Tiger spent many hours interviewing her), not to become maudlin, self-serving or self-pitying. But by avoiding sentimentality, there is some loss of sentiment. There’s often a bittersweet smile on Lehman-Gray’s face and it isn’t always perceptibly backed by pain. But, in the face of Holocaust deniers, these stories must be told. The principals are dying off; the relatives still haven’t been found. This is one brief, telling tale that should be seen and heard.
THE LOCATION: Temple Ohr Shalom (3rd & Laurel ), April 21, 8:15pm (858-274-9678). Kimberly Kaplan is set to perform, but Laurie’s ready in the wings in case she’s still ill.
ALL ALBEE, ALL THE TIME … Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee was once again part of the SDSU Design/Performance Jury, which was created by professor/scenic design-master Beeb Salzer 23 years ago. Salzer introduced him as “the greatest living playwright in America .”
The play chosen by the faculty this year was Fuente Ovejuna , by Spain ’s greatest playwright, Lope de Vega, written early in the 17th century and based on an actual historical event that occurred in the village named Fuente Ovejuna in 1476. While under the command of the Order of Calatrava , the village was mistreated by the commanding officer. In an astonishing display of unity and daring, the villagers banded together and killed the commander. When a magistrate was sent by King Ferdinand to identify the murderer, even under penalty of torture , the villagers would only say ” Fuente Ovejuna did it.” It’s a searing, politically relevant drama of class, tyranny, bravery and revolt (though the jury complained about the blunt, non-poetic translation).
As the event is structured, three student groups present their direction and design ideas, and a scene from the play. They’re then questioned and critiqued by an imposing array of professionals, which this year included South Coast Rep artistic director Martin Benson, scenic designer Tom Buderwitz , lighting designer York Kennedy (an associate artist at the Old Globe), costume designer Maggie Morgan and actor/director Sean Murray. The student presentations were fascinating, and unique: the first two groups shared their actors, but one presented the scene in English and the other in Spanish. The differences were appreciable; the lyricism of the original language was striking, and the addition of live music and dance were outstanding (if at times a bit overwhelming). The third presentation was a film version, which brought a whole other sensibility and energy to the story. Interestingly, they all chose the same scene, which was a pivotal moment in the play, the commander’s attempted rape of a lovely young townswoman. The jurors were both supportive and critical/analytical, as they always are, and the students acquitted and defended themselves well. The best-regarded design was a scenic model by Jungah Han. The most theatrical moment was when Martin Benson stepped forward to re-direct a scene. It was wonderful to watch him work.
What the students do is brave, impressive and often imaginative. But it’s always the jurors’ comments and discussions that are most exciting. The topics ranged from period research to working within financial constraints when mounting a production. It was, as always, a most successful, enjoyable and educational experience, something I look forward to every spring.
And there were more philosophical musings the next day, when Albee appeared at a fundraiser for the Playwrights Project, headed by that other Salzer, Deborah, the powerhouse who founded the extraordinary and far-reaching organization 22 years ago. Playwright Annie Weisman, still in town for the weekend opening of Hold Please at the Globe, made a heartfelt statement about how Deb Salzer was the first to convince her she had stories to tell. She went on to win the statewide Plays by Young Writers contest, and she’s currently writing a touring production for Playwrights Project. Meeting Edward Albee 15 years ago, she said, “ showed me the enormous power of words. His playfulness and musicality with language, his intellectual rigor and emotional veracity, even sometimes telling ugly truths, inspired me.”
And there was a scene from one of this year’s Plays by Young Writers, Thomas Hodges’ funny/serious Stage Directions, with Marcus Cortez and Andrew Kennedy reprising their roles. Hodges sat for a little chat with Albee, which was delightful and insightful. Albee, sometimes an insufferable curmudgeon, was gentle, kind and genuinely interested in the young man. Hodges’ frankly autobiographical play, about a budding gay writer, inspired Albee to talk more about himself than he usually does. After revealing a good deal about his family and upbringing, he maintained that he has never written about himself personally. He said he became a playwright after he “failed at every other art form,” including painting and composing, writing short stories and poetry. He wrote his first play at 14 (a 3-act sex farce), but his next one didn’t appear till age 28, and that was Zoo Story, “the first thing I ever wrote that felt like it came from deep within me. No lies, no subterfuge. My thoughts naked. And it felt good.”
EDWARD’S WORDS OF WISDOM :
After a half-century of playwriting, his advice to Hodges included the following:
“Survival is having an accurate self-appraisal of how good you are and how good you can be, and the tenacity to hang onto those things without compromise.”
“One question you should never answer: ‘What is the play about?’ The proper response is ‘ About 1 ½ hours.’ It’s about everything that happened before the play began and after. The play is parentheses.”
“Every time you write a play, you’re revolutionizing theater. If you don’t offend somebody, there’s no point in having written the play.”
Other thought-provoking things Albee had to say:
“The arts hold a mirror up. You don’t like it? Change things. The most popular forms of literature don’t do that. They don’t raise questions; they just tell us how wonderful we are.”
“The one thing that distinguishes us from all other animals is that we are the only animals that make art, the metaphor to refer to and examine ourselves. Our tails fell off and we grew art.”
“The NEA gives $115 million a year to the arts. Great Britain ’s government gives four times that much, Germany ’s six times.”
“The state of arts education is appalling. We may be one of those societies headed downward before we hit our zenith. Unless you have a society esthetically educated, you have a society of educated barbarians.”
NEWS AND VIEWS…
… WHAT’s YOUR REVIEW? Go online at kpbs.org, and post a COMMENT on my reviews… and I’ll be glad to have an online chat with you.
… All the way with NVA … Though bureaucratic delays forced New Village Arts to open Sailor’s Song at their old stomping grounds, the Jazzercize studio, construction has officially begun on their new downtown Carlsbad theater space, and it should be ready for the June 15 opening of Sam Shepard’s True West, featuring that dynamic duo, Francis Gercke and Joshua Everett Johnson, directed by Kristianne Kurner. The company has already raised over $100,000, but they’re still gratefully accepting financial and in-kind donations.
… Giving something back: Psychotherapist Al Germani , artistic director of Lynx Performance Theatre, has instituted a “1 ticket – 1 dollar” donation program. For every ticket purchased for the Lynx production of Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, one dollar will be donated to “various child and adolescent abuse treatment and prevention programs.” And as an extra enticement to new audiences, anyone who’s never attended a Lynx performance can get One Free Ticket to Drive, as long as they pay the $1 Child Abuse donation fee.
…On the Bevell…. Former Fritz artistic director Bryan Bevell was back in San Diego vacationing last week. He said he very much enjoyed his quick trip to SD to dramaturge Glengarry Glen Ross at 6th @ Penn, and is anxious to do more directing in San Diego . Bryan ’s theater knowledge and creative mind, his finger-on-the-pulse awareness of hot, upcoming and edgy playwrights, is sorely missed around these parts. No one has quite filled that niche since his departure for the Great (icy) Midwest . Producers, take note!
… The Great Migration… As the culmination of SDSU’s month-long celebration of the works of Nobel Prize-winner John Steinbeck, called “Enduring Voice of California,” the Theatre Dept. is presenting The Grapes of Wrath (adapted by Frank Galati), April 27-May 6. Outgoing department chair Nick Reid directs. On May 1, scenes from Steinbeck books will be presented through readings, film clips and theatrical presentations, followed by a discussion. For info about all the Steinbeck festival events, go to http://cal.sdsu.edu/steinbeck/scheduleevents.htm
.. A recent note from former San Diegan Bryna Weiss, who has a lifetime of theater and TV credits, strongly recommends that you take the scenic drive up to the Laguna Playhouse, where she’s appearing in the American premiere of The Master of the House, by Israeli playwright Shmuel Hasfari . It’s a timely, thought-provoking comedy about remodeling a house – and so much more. Bryna says it’s getting standing ovations, and she’s thrilled with her part in it. Through April 29. www.lagunaplaywhouse.com
…Getting to the Root of things… Sledgehammer Theatre’s upcoming production, Beckett3, features the music of Tim Root, Seattle-based composer/performer/improviser. In 1985, Tim was a founding member of Sledge, and has collaborated with co-founder/artistic director Scott Feldsher on many productions. On May 8, Tim will be featured in a pre-opening rehearsal, to which audience members are invited to bring their own instruments. The next night, the opening, Tim will perform live and will participate in a post-show discussion on Beckett and other subjects. The site-specific show runs May 9- June 3 in an empty storefront warehouse at 4025 Goldfinch St. 619-544-1484.
…Perspicacity and Tenacity: Although he lost his cozy little North Park performance space, writer/director Calvin Manson isn’t by any means giving up. His Ira Aldridge Repertory Players group is moving forward (and moving is the operative word at the moment) with a new season, starting with a premiere of Manson’s latest musical drama, Sassy Sarah Vaughan, ‘The Divine One.’ The show debuts at the IARP’s next show, Rock, Paper, Sistahz , opens in August. Watch for details here.
MAKE A WISH, WILL! It’s the 443rd birthday of William Shakespeare, and you’ll want to join the San Diego Shakespeare Society in celebration. The birthday party, to be held at the Folly Theatre in the lovely La Jolla garden of Walter Munk and the late, much-lamented arts supporter Judith Munk, will feature award-winning participants from the first annual, 2006 San Diego Student Shakespeare Festival. The ubiquitous verbivore Richard Lederer serves as emcee. Seating is limited; www.sandiegoshakespearesociety.org.
THE BUSINESS OF SHOW: The Commercial Theater Institute ( CTI ) is presenting its annual 3-day intensive training program, “Producing for the Commercial Theater,” to answer the dramatic question: What on earth does a commercial producer do – and how do I get to be one? Participants spend their weekend with theater professionals like Rocco Landesman (The Producers) , Kevin McCollum (Avenue Q), and David Stone (Wicked), along with other producers, general managers, theater operators, press and literary agents and theatrical attorneys, who cover topics like marketing, management, working with non-profits and legal issues… prep for producing on Broadway or anywhere else. May 4-6, $400. Register at www.comercialtheaterinstitute.com .
…Perfect Re-creation: Sandra Ellis-Troy will serve as lead actor and director of a reading of A Perfect Ganesh , the Terrence McNally comic drama she assayed, with Pat DiMeo , at North Coast Repertory Theatre a decade ago. Ellis-Troy and DiMeo reunite to tell the story about two Connecticut housewives and their life-changing pilgrimage to India , adding Amir Khastoo , Jaysen Waller and Li-Anne Rowswell to the mix. Carlsbad Playreaders, April 23, 7:30 pm in the Dove Library.
..Greece & Peace… The Chronos Theatre Group is back… with a staged reading of Aristophanes’ Peace. The comedy concerns a man, tired of war, who flies to heaven on a giant dung beetle to find Peace and bring her back to Earth. Celeste Innocenti and David Cohen (of Grass Roots Greek fame) appear, and Doug Hoehn directs. At the Lyceum Theatre, Tuesday, May 8 at 7:30pm. 619-295-5047.
…The Music of La Mancha … Hispanic Arts Theatre, in association with USD , presents a “complete staged reading and vocal performance” of the Tony Award-winning classic, Man of La Mancha, starring an array of talented Hispanic performers from San Diego , Orange and Los Angeles Counties . Carlos Mendoza directs and Doug Bilitch (splendid last summer in Starlight’s Urinetown ) plays Don Quixote. Sunday, April 22 at 3 and 7pm, in the Shiley Theatre at USD . Information: 619-475-7496. Reservations: 619-260-2727; hispanicartstheatre.com
ASPIRE- ing ASPIRATIONS: Aspire Playwrights Collective presents an evening of short works by emerging playwrights. The staged readings include the terrible girls by Jackie Goldfinger , directed by Esther Emery and Chelsea Whitmore, featuring Rhianna Basore, Sara Beth Morgan, Erika Phillips and others. Phases is written and directed by Kristina Meek and features Lee Lampard et al. Welcome Home, by Jennie Olson, is directed by Tyler Hewes . Saturday, April 14 at 8pm, at the Athenaeum School of the Arts, 4441 Park Blvd. for info: firstname.lastname@example.org
.. And speaking of new works, Don’t Miss the annual UCSD Baldwin New Play Festival. This year’s lineup of four full-scale productions and one staged reading looks fascinating and provocative, as usual, and stars the top-rated undergraduate and graduate actors, helmed by the school’s adept directors. April 18-28, in various performance spaces on the campus. See the theatermakers of tomorrow today. http://theatre.ucsd.edu/NewSite/season/newplayfest
DANCE, DANCE, DANCE:
… John Malashock is putting himself ‘On the Spot.’ His latest endeavor, in his new NTC digs, guarantees a view of dance that people rarely get to see: the creative process of new choreography in action. This weekend (4/13-15), he invites you into the private world of artistic trial-and-error, as he begins creating Stay the Hand, his major new collaboration with Iranian-born composer Shahrokh Yadegari and video artist/filmmaker Tara Knight. The beginning of this process leads to part two, ‘Persian Sketchbook,’ where Malashock, Yadegari and Knight, along with company dancers, show the results of their creative “sketching” (5/18-20). Both events take place in studio 200 at Malashock Dance, inside the new Dance Place San Diego , on the NTC promenade in Point Loma. Call 619-260-1622 to reserve a spot… and wear soft-soled shoes!
.. Also on the dance floor, Patricia Rincon Dance Collective is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a spanking new season that begins in May. The Myth Project II, Sensitive Habitats is a co-production with Sushi and will be held in two distinct locations on two successive weekends: at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park (5/3-4) and outdoors at Oak Crest Park in Encinitas (5/12-13). The dance pieces will weave a story of myth and folklore about the settlers of Encinitas and San Diego , from excavations to the present. Directors Robert Castro and Patricia Rincon, with composer Don Nichols, along with another 14 other artists, will use elements of theater, circus, dance, video, visual art and sound to explore our rich cultural history. www.rincondance.org.
… SUSHI continues its 2007 Spring TAKEOUT SERIES: Focus on Community Collaboration, with a variety of activities. A visual art exhibition, “The Photography of Elazar Harel ,” photos from local dance performances, at the Mandell Weiss Gallery in Dance Place San Diego , is ongoing. 11 Heads, Uprooted, an eclectic collaboration of high-profile local choreographers Patricia Sandback , Liam Clancy, Nina Martin, Joe Alter and Yolande Snaith , with composer Miles Anderson and directors Mary Reich and Karen Schaffman , co-produced by Sushi and the SDSU School of Music and Dance, takes place April 20 & 21 at the SDSU Studio Theatre ( ENS 200). The 6th annual Spring Reverb Festival, co-presented by Sushi, Trummerflora and Share SD , includes performers from Germany , Canada , Mexico and the U.S. , celebrating musical creativity and experimental electronics. April 27-28 at Kava Lounge Gallery in Little Italy . And don’t forget Sushi’s 4×4 Performance Series, 8pm on the second Tuesday of every month at the Bluefoot Bar and Lounge in North Park . www.sushiart.org
MAN, OH MAN !… Jean Isaacs San Diego Dance Theater, in co-production with the San Diego State University School of Music and Dance, and the SDSU Dept. of Theater, presents Mandance , to showcase “the virtues of masculinity” in San Diego ’s first-ever dance concert featuring choreography and dancing solely by men (the artform, they say, is dominated by women). Check out this boffo bevy of boys, May 11-12, at the Don Powell Theatre at SDSU; www.sandiegodancetheater.org
… BUTTER UP! Seven, the latest work by choreographer Traves Butterworth and his Butterworth Dance Company, celebrates the company’s 7th anniversary. The seven individual dance pieces include Quake, an athletic solo set to live drumming by Twon ; Civil, a multimedia world premiere dealing with the cost of war in Iraq ; Sweet Nina Suite, choreographed by Bradley R. Lundberg; and Hip-Hop, a fun, collage of emotion, movement and style, created in collaboration with Culture Shock San Diego. It all happens this weekend, April 13 and 14, at the Garfield Theatre of the Lawrence Family JCC in La Jolla . Come early (6pm) for the ‘pre-show bazaar,’ which features a visual arts gallery and live performances from San Diego Lindy Hoppers, Groove on Tap and Urban Tribal Dance Company. www.butterdance.org
‘NOT TO BE MISSED!’ (Pat’s Picks)
Sailor’s Song – delicate, beautiful production; heart-rending and thought-provoking
New Village Arts in the Jazzercise Studio, through April 29
The Treatment – searing, intense (if flawed) play; gut-wrenching performance by Matt Scott
Moxie Theatre in the Lyceum Space, through April 29
The Long Christmas Ride Home, A Puppet Play with Actors – surprising, disturbing, unpredictable and excellently executed (Note: These puppets and this play are definitely not for kids)
Diversionary Theatre, through April 15
T.S . Eliot said “April is the cruelest month.” But not if you’re in a theater!
© 2007 PATTÉ PRODUCTIONS, INC.