By Pat Launer
Puppets and movies and siblings, oh my!
And from KPBS, a surprising goodbye.
NEWS OF THE WEEK:
KPBS has decided to decrease its theater coverage. The station will no longer support my theater previews or reviews or the Patté Awards – but THE SHOW WILL GO ON!!
My intense and lifelong passion for the theater will never waver, nor will my commitment to the San Diego theater community, and I will make sure that the Patté Awards continue to celebrate the amazing extent and diversity of San Diego theater and its mega-talented theatermakers. The Pattés existed before KPBS came on board, and will continue after them. If you feel like you’re more than chopped liver and want to support the future of honoring San Diego theatermakers through the Patté Awards, please get in touch.
My theater comments and reviews, and my Picks of the Week, will continue to appear here at sdtheatrescene.com, as well as at www.patteproductions.com and other venues (details to come).
P.S. Below is the blog commentary of KPBS arts producer Angela Carone. Feel free to post a response online at www.kpbs.org/blogs/culturelust /
June 27th, 2007 by Angela Carone
Big changes are always hard to wrap your head around, particularly when they’re tinged with sadness.
This morning, after three cups of coffee and an intense Film Club of the Air , I found myself in an office, meeting with the heads of the new media and radio broadcasting departments at KPBS. I was still a little amped , and not particularly suited to digest the information I was about to hear.
The announcement? Pat Launer, who has been covering the theater community for KPBS for almost 20 years, will no longer be working with the station. No reviews. No These Days. No Patté Awards.
I was stunned, especially since I was planning to have Pat on These Days for tomorrow’s Weekend Preview segment.
It’s a sad day at KPBS. It will be even sadder for the San Diego theater community. Here’s why: Pat Launer is a tireless champion of theater in this city. She goes to over 200 plays a year. She sees everything, not just the big productions in town. She started the Patté Awards, the only local awards ceremony honoring the accomplishments in San Diego ’s theater scene.
Why would KPBS end their relationship with her? And why so abruptly?
I talked with Doug Myrland , general manager of KPBS. He said:
“The various entities using Pat’s work, the Web, radio, and the Patté Awards wanted to do broader arts coverage. Just doing theater was increasingly becoming a problem editorially.
KPBS’ contract with Pat is with her company Patté Productions and it was for a package of services. So we didn’t close the door we just said we don’t want all of the services you are offering. Now she may take her reviews and Patté Awards somewhere else. But if she came back in the future and offered one of those services, we may be open to those discussions.”
Fair enough. The broadcasting world is constantly in flux. Shows and personalities come and go. But I’m still not sure why it happened so abruptly. With respect to the timing, Doug pointed out that this is the end of the fiscal year, “If you are not going to renew a contract, this is when you do it.”
I understand the whole fiscal year thing, but why on a Wednesday, in the middle of the week? What happened on Tuesday? Why not wait until Friday, when the natural ending of the work-week would compliment the ending of a professional relationship? It’s a silly point, but when your work is cut short, it’s like getting sucker punched, and you don’t get sucker punched on a Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. You get sucker punched in a bar, on a Saturday night, when you’re drunk enough to take the blow.
Now that I’ve had a couple of hours to digest the ripple effect of the change, I’m still reluctant to qualify it. Yes, we will continue to cover theater on These Days. Yes, I will cover theater occasionally on this blog . But can this measure up, in any way, to the breadth of coverage Pat offered? And with the same — forgive me — drama? The answer is clearly no.
But then where does that leave us? How will the arts coverage at the station recalibrate after this loss? I’m left with a lot of questions. But both Doug and radio program director John Decker assure me that KPBS remains committed to covering the arts.
There is one thing I know for sure. Pat, your distinctive voice will be missed.
BIG FISH, SMALL FISH
Since KPBS will not be uploading my final on air radio review, from 6/29/08, online, I’ve included it here:
It’s a study in contrasts. A tiny theater, and a large one. A huge musical production and a small, dramatic one. An American classic and a world premiere. “Carmen” at La Jolla Playhouse and “True West” at New Village Arts. And it turns out that the little production is far more satisfying than the over-hyped behemoth.
“Carmen” is a new adaptation of the beloved (1875) Bizet opera, at the La Jolla Playhouse. Like the opera and the new musical are based on the 1845 novella by the French writer Prosper Mérimée . The story concerns that gypsy seductress whom men find so irresistible. Carmen ensnares José, a hot-tempered soldier, who becomes so obsessed with her, he leaves his wife, deserts his regiment, joins her gypsy band of thieves, and when she attracts the attention of a dashing matador, he resorts to murder, all in the name of his jealous, overly possessive love.
Not only does the adaptation not live up to the original, it doesn’t live up to its own hype. Director Franco Dragone , best known for helming Cirque du Soleil spectacles and Céline Dion’s Vegas extravaganza, said this show would change the face of musical theater. Instead, it feels traditional and derivative. Several of the song and dance numbers look like they leapt right of out “Les Miz ,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel, “West Side Story” or “Man of La Mancha .” The pop music (by European songwriter John Ewbank ) is bland and undistinguished, but it’s belted out like rock anthems. Even the choreography, heavy on flamenco, is disappointing, and that was a high expectation, since the whole effort began with the choreographer, Sarah Miles, who also wrote the uninspired book. Her dance vocabulary is limited here. And throughout the show, although there are some gorgeous stage pictures, the symbolism is of the blood-red, beat-you-over-the-head variety. On the plus side, the leads and the singing are terrific. People either love it or hate it. Most of the critics seem to fall in the latter category. But some audience members, like José, are smitten by ‘Carmen.’
On the small side of the theater spectrum, New Village Arts is mounting a deliciously intense production of “True West,” Sam Shepard’s scorching 1980 drama, an occasionally comic nightmare of sibling rivalry. There’s menace in almost every moment, as two competitive brothers circle each other ominously, baring their teeth and giving venomous vent to their lifetime of envies and resentments. One’s a strait-laced Hollywood screenwriter, an Ivy League grad, married, with kids. The other’s a desert rat, a drifter and a grafter. Ultimately, as they pounce on each other’s psychic territory, they try to trade places and lives, with fairly disastrous results.
It smacks of Cain and Abel, but it’s also one of Shepard’s dramatic re-conceptions of the myth of the American West. And it’s very much about our own, and the playwright’s, split personalities – part good kid/part bad seed, simultaneously craving the stable and the rebel lifestyle.
Under the muscular direction of Kristianne Kurner, the performances are outstanding. There are several ways to play these two characters – as equal combatants or as predator and prey. In the 2000 Broadway revival, the actors (John C. Reilly and Philip Seymour Hoffman) actually switched roles a few times during the run. At New Village Arts, Francis Gercke is a dangerous presence who terrorizes his brother, and scares the dickens out of us, too. The cowering Joshua Everett Johnson grows in power and dominance as he devolves into his dissolute brother. As they square off, their verbal and physical battles are breath-stopping. In small roles, as a vapid/flashy Hollywood producer and a clueless mother-in-denial, Jack Missett and Dance Case are spot-on. The brothers’ abusive, alcoholic father never makes an appearance, but his presence in the lives and futures of his offspring is palpable.
Al l this physical and emotional violence takes place in New Village ’s lovely new space in the heart of the village of Carlsbad . They have transformed what was once a lumberyard into a bright, welcoming, high-ceilinged, comfortable theater space. The set (Nick Fouch) and sound design (Adam Brick) are wonderfully evocative – with the greenery inside and the barren tumbleweed just beyond. There’s a claustrophobic feel to the whole proceedings that perfectly matches the hothouse language of the play.
New Village made another kind of magic this week, of the financial sort. They built a new theater space and moved in without any outstanding debt. That’s theatrical nirvana. The community of Carlsbad has really embraced this plucky little company — as all San Diego should.
So the moral of this two-pronged story is , less is often more.
THE DETAILS: “True West” runs through July 15 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad . “Carmen “ continues at the la Jolla Playhouse through July 22.
Chekhov .. Check!
Tonic Theatre is presenting a week of Chekhov one-acts or “comic crises,” translated by Dustin Condrin and entitled Flies in the Snuffbox , a quote from the funny/sad “On the Harmfulness of Tobacco.” There were supposed to be four fully staged plays, but much-lauded local actor/teacher Ron Ray took ill and could not perform, so “Swan Song,” directed by Esther Emery, was done as a reading, and J. Scott Bronson stepped in for Ray as the aging actor making his final (inebriated) entrance, playing off the Prompter (Ed Eigner ), with stage directions read by Condrin . A potent piece in any format.
These plays are a perfect little microcosm of Chekhov’s unique ability to create characters who embody human nature and human folly. In …Tobacco, a zhlubby , henpecked, miserable husband is forced by his domineering, penny-pinching wife to give a lecture, during which he barely mentions tobacco, but bemoans his life as he becomes increasingly intoxicated. Bronson is perfect in the role, just funny enough, drunk enough, pathetic enough to engage an audience and evoke their sympathy.
The Bear considers the bizarre emotional acrobatics of romantic attraction. Amanda Cooley Davis is comical as the ever-grieving wife who swears to remain faithful to her late husband until death, while acknowledging that her mate was a chronic philanderer. John DeCarlo is a hoot as the slovenly, loutish, loud-mouthed neighbor who comes to collect a debt owed by the dead husband. Eigner runs interference as the confused, put-upon butler. Director Dustin Condren keeps the pace lively, and the humor factor high. The actors are well balanced — formidable emotional foes and delightful company. Amy Biedel, founder/producing artistic director of Tonic Productions, directs “The Proposal,” the most farcical of the quartet of one-acts, which considers the wealthy courting the wealthy for convenience, and the decidedly inconvenient, unpleasant marriages that ensue. This pair will definitely live scrappily ever after. Antonio TJ Johnson plays against type as a silly and supercilious protective papa to his fiercely spoiled, argumentative (and Paris Hilton-like) daughter (amusing Amanda Sitton ), who also wails to her parental unit, “It’s not fair!” Tim Banning plays the ridiculous, hypochondriacal suitor to the hilt. Biedel also injects a homosexual undertone, with Johnson’s dad being more than casually friendly and physical with his future son-in-law. It gets a little screamy and it doesn’t all work. But it works well enough. And the evening is a pleasant one, spent with our more ludicrous fellow hominids.
At North Coast Repertory Theatre, through June 30
MORE PUPPET NUDITY…
With Avenue Q (brought to us by the Old Globe, at the Spreckels Theatre through Aug. 5) opening this weekend, it’s amazing that there was just another puppet show in town, with senior (rather than 20-something slacker) puppet nudity. The San Diego Guild of Puppetry/Puppetry Center of San Diego presented a short run of Goldilocks, The Nursing Home Version: A Cautionary Tale. It was the company’s first adult-themed production, and it received impressive financial support: from the Jim Henson Foundation, the Commission for Arts and Culture, the San Diego Foundation, Dr. Seuss Foundation and California Arts Council. But the show just wasn’t ready for prime-time.
The intentions were excellent; the concept and direction came from puppeteer Lynne Jennings, whose mother spent time in an unfortunately awful nursing home (or skilled nursing facility, as they’re now called). Her mother repeatedly exhorted Jennings to ‘write something funny’ about the nursing home experience. And it wasn’t easy. Though there actually are many (often unintentionally) funny moments in senior facilities, there aren’t many in this play.
The script needs considerable re-thinking and fine-tuning. It needs shaping and a more coherent narrative arc. Several of the older folks (puppets) looked alike, and it was easy to get lost in ‘who’s doing what to whom.’ Al so, there were two scenes with Little Red Riding Hood and a late-show appearance of a Wolf. Too much crammed in here, and in too heavy-handed a way.
It was clever to call the nursing home The Woods, an ideal setup for the dangers that lurk within. There’s a Cuckoo’s Nest nurse Ratched (the nurse was at times played, melodramatically, by live actress Bridget Rountree , and at times by a puppet) who’s systematically not only emotionally torturing the patients, but snuffing them out. The resolution (which, if the show were to be useful or educational, would report her to the authorities, or have her job terminated in some way) instead compels her to receive treatment in the nursing home herself, force-feeding her a taste of her own (lethal) medicine.
The primary need here is for an accomplished theatrical director. And more dialogue. There are many silent moments when the unvoiced action is not clear or sharp enough to clarify the intent, and the puppets could easily be conversing instead, which they do at times. No gripes about the puppets, though. They’re fantastic: highly detailed bunraku , shadow and rod puppets. And the scaled-down puppet props are amazing: a tiny walker, wheelchair, glasses, a leg cast, even removable false teeth! The puppeteers – Iain Gunn, Jennings , Rountree and Jackie Tauber — are skilled and terrific, creeping noiselessly around in their black garb and hoods. Gunn is particularly good with the sound effects and wolf howls.
Punctuating the action is live performance of songs created by Mary ( Tamsin ) Thoren and Gibran Vicente, sung by Thoren , accompanying herself on keyboards. The songs are cute and often clever, performed in a variety of styles, presented quite well. They offer some of the show’s best comic relief. But there are just too many untied strands here. Another go-round, with a script doctor, director and staging simplification, might make this into something worth touring around – if it didn’t come across as just a screed or vendetta.
NO BUSINESS LIKE ‘SHOW BUSINESS’
During its all too brief one-week run at the Ken Cinema, the movie “Show Business: The Road to Broadway,” was theater heaven. The documentary chronicles the 2004 theater season on Broadway, focusing on the making of four high-profile musicals: Avenue Q; Carol ine, or Change; Wicked and Taboo. It’s great to go behind the scenes of the creation of the shows, and at the same time, eavesdrop on the (sometimes cruel or misguided) restaurant conversation of some of New York ’s most influential – and vitriolic – critics. The effective way director Dori Berinstein created the film built up a great deal of suspense about the outcome of the Tony Awards. Even though I knew the results, I was on the edge of my seat. If you can rent this, or if it comes around again, don’t miss it! A theaterlover’s delight!
NEWS AND VIEWS…
… Something old( ish ), something new: Triad Productions is debuting in San Diego with John Patrick Shanley’s 1983 drama, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, about two battered losers and their quest for love. Artistic director Adam Parker (a recent grad of SDSU) directs Scott Amiotte and Annie Prichard. At the Academy of Performing Arts on Al varado Canyon Rd. Previews begin July 6; the show runs July 13-August. 4. Contact executive director Richard Soublet : email@example.com
….A Chaotic collaboration: San Diego Asian American Repertory Theatre, in association with The Collective Theatre company, presents the world premiere of The House of Chaos, Velina Hasu Houston’s contemporary adaptation of the Medea myth. Set in a segregated community outside L.A. , the play focuses on a Japanese ex-pat living with her white American husband. July 13-29 in SDSU’s Experimental Theatre. Peter Cirino , part of the SDSU Theatre faculty, directs. firstname.lastname@example.org .
And speaking of Medea , a reading of the Euripides original will mark the return of the Grass Roots Greeks. Scheduled to coincide with the production of .. Chaos, the reading will be held at 4:30pm in the Experimental Theatre, July 21 and 28, leading up to the evening performance of Chaos in the same space. Translator Marianne McDonald will be on hand for a post-performance discussion. Local favorite Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson reads the role of Medea .
… And speaking of readings, Chronos Theatre Group is back with a staged reading – with original music, dance and mime – of two comic Chinese plays from the 12th-13th centuries: Qui Hu Tries to Seduce His Own Wife and Grandee’s Son Takes the Wrong Career. July 17 at the Lyceum Theatre. www.chronostheatre.com
… Killer women… Director Ruff Yeager has assembled a killer cast for his production of Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Ed Graczyk’s 1981 drama set in small-town Texas . The members of a 1950s James Dean fan club meet on the anniversary of his death, which becomes a springboard to examining their own lives. Here’s the lineup: Robin Christ , Jill Drexler, Wendy Savage, Leigh Scaritt , Susan Stratton and Wendy Waddell. Whew! August 23-30 at 6th @ Penn Theatre.
…Sashaying down the Promenade: Butterworth Dance Company is having an open house to celebrate its move into Dance Place on the NTC Promenade. Tuesday, July 3, 6-8pm.
… Actor/dancer Carol Abney won a Patté Award in 1999 for her Outstanding Performance in Unmerciful Good Fortune at the Fritz Theatre . Now her mother has a dramatic request. Nydia Abney is putting out the following call. WANTED: Acting Teacher for Project Turnaround, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering individuals with learning, social and developmental challenges. Abney wants someone to teach acting, and create or choose a play that participants can perform after six months of weekly, two-hour meetings, beginning in September. 858-481-3998; email@example.com
… Resilience at 6th @ Penn… Programs Six and Seven are on the boards at 6th @ Penn, as part of the Resilience of the Spirit Human Rights Festival 2000. No Sit, No Stand, No Lie , by San Diegan David Hogan, directed by Doug Hoehn , is about one man’s memories of his time in a torture chamber. Niger , by Delaine Douglas, is a bittersweet look at everyday life in the famine-plagued African nation. Through July 6. In another double bill (through July 5), Monique Gaffney stars in The Color of Black, the funny/vengeful/heartbreaking story of a woman who struggles to love herself. It plays with Pistachio Stories, by Laura Shamas , which considers the ramifications of suspicion, paranoia and the invasion of privacy. www.resilienceofthespirit.com
… Broadway San Diego has just become part of a new theater patron loyalty program, the Audience Rewards, an alliance of Broadway’s leading theater owners and nationwide presenters. The organizations represented include Nederlander Productions (of which Broadway SD is a part), The Shubert Organization, Jujamcyn Theatres and members of The Independent Presenters Network. The membership website offers info on Broadway, Off-Broadway and national touring shows, as well as other live entertainment events. There are links to the authorized ticketing company for each venue, special benefits, and beginning this fall, a system for earning points toward theatre tickets, merchandise and “special experiences.” For info or to sign up, go to www.audiencerewards.com.
… The monster walks (and sings) again… The cast has been announced for The New Mel Brooks Musical, Young Frankenstein.” The lineup will include: Roger Bart, as the Doctor F, plus Broadway luminaries Sutton Foster (the Tony Award-winning star of Thoroughly Modern Millie, first seen at la Jolla Playhouse); Megan Mullally (of “Will and Grace” fame, who also appeared at LJP , with Matthew Broderick, in the revival of How to Succeed… ), Andrea Martin, Fred Applegate and as Igor, Christopher Fitzgerald. Previews begin Oct. 11; the show opens Nov. 8. Another high-profile aspect of this production is the price: tix range from a rear mezzanine (read: impossibly distant) seat at $61.50 to an orchestra seat max of $451.50. And WHO is supposed to be able to afford to go to the theater these days?? (On the plus side, it makes San Diego tickets look practically free!)
Al so coming up on Broadway, Des McAnuff’s stunning production of The Farnsworth Invention, written by “West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin . Originally commissioned by Dublin ’s Abbey Theatre, the show was developed at the La Jolla Playhouse, and was McAnuff’s final production there (and one of his best). A fall opening is planned. Steven Spielberg is expected to be a limited partner in the production.
‘NOT TO BE MISSED!’ (Pat’s Picks)
True West – deliciously dangerous; wonderfully acted and directed
New Village Arts, through July 15
Devil Dog Six – delightful production of a convoluted play. But watch those ponies run!
MOXIE Theatre at the Lyceum, through June 30
Sassy Sarah Vaughan, The Divine One: more a cabaret concert than a play, but a wonderful performance by Ayanna Hobson and a killer band
Ira Al dridge Repertory Players, at Caesar’s Café, downtown San Diego , through July 1
(For full text of all of Pat’s past reviews, going back to 1990, use the Search engine at www.patteproductions.com)
Send up fireworks for the 4th … and the theater.
© 2007 PATTÉ PRODUCTIONS, INC.