By Pat Launer
A SAD DAY, A GREAT LOSS TO THE COMMUNITY
On Thursday, July 19, the local theater community lost a treasure. Dr. Floyd Gaffney, Professor Emeritus at UCSD, was always a fighter, and he fought indomitably after his recent diagnosis of stomach cancer. A lion in the world of African American and multicultural theater, he never shied away from a challenge. He was a pioneer in dance as well as theater arts, revered by performers young and old, who were endlessly grateful for his tireless desire to teach and shepherd both new and seasoned talent. He began his career as a dancer and actor, starting his professional work at Karamu House, Cleveland ’s African American theater. He received his doctorate in theater from Carnegie Mellon University , and in 1971, he joined the faculty of UCSD, when the Theater program was still in its infancy.
For nearly four decades, he devoted himself to galvanizing the community with socially relevant theater, directing plays new and old, at theaters large and small. Over the years, he helmed nearly 80 productions for Southeast Community Theatre, San Diego ’s oldest African American theater troupe. In 2004, he took over the reins as artistic director (a volunteer position) and renamed the company Common Ground Theatre , to reflect his focus on more diverse, cross-cultural offerings and audiences. As he gracefully moved through his seventh decade, he kept working furiously, always shooting for one more play, one more production. He was especially active during the past year, directing three shows and two readings in the last eight months, apparently in some prescient rush to get in as much as he could before he ‘left the stage.’ In March 2007, he directed a powerful reading of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, part of the Cygnet/San Diego Black Ensemble Theatre series in tribute to playwright August Wilson. His all-star local cast included his mega-talented daughter, Monique Gaffney, a gifted dancer and actor.
In January 2006, I was thrilled to present Floyd with a special Patté Award for Theatre Excellence – the Shiley Lifetime Achievement Award. He was tickled and humbled and proud. His touching acceptance speech chronicled his theatrical development and his life-changing tea with influential Harlem poet/playwright Langston Hughes. He graciously acknowledged all the people in the audience who’d touched or affected him along the way. I’m so happy that I was able to honor him while he was still active and vibrant, still bringing new voices to San Diego , still inspiring audiences with his energy, tenacity and commitment. And that’s how we’ll all remember him.
The Wake/Visitation will be held Thursday, July 26 from 4-9pm at Christian Fellowship Congregational United Church of Christ, 1602 Kelton Rd. SD 92114 .
The Funeral service/Life Celebration will be FRIDAY, July 27, 2007 at 11am at Bayview Baptist Church, 6101 Benson Ave. SD 92114 .
The Gents are here, the Scoundrels are back,
The Al liance continues its Actor attack!
Something is Rotten on the Riviera
THE SHOW: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels , homecoming of the deliciously nasty comic musical that premiered at the Old Globe in 2004 and went on to an 18-month Broadway run (2005-2006). It garnered 11 Tony nominations; Norbert Leo Butz rightfully won Best Performance by an Actor. The hilarious book ( Jeffrey Lane ) and lyrics (David Yazbek , who also composed the energetic pop score) keep the audience listening attentively and laughing throughout
THE STORY: The plotline originated in the 1964 film, “Bedtime Story,” which paired David Niven and Marlon Brando ; that movie spawned the 1988 Michael Caine /Steve Martin comedy, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”
It’s the tale of two conmen, one a suave and sophisticated Brit, the other a slovenly American swine. They butt heads in the ritzy Riviera resort Beaumont sur Mer , where Lawrence has acquired a lavish lifestyle by fleecing and wooing wealthy women. When Freddy stumbles in with his brutish ways, they realize that Beaumont is a one- grifter town. Enter the ‘Queen of Soap,’ Christine Colgate, and a bet is born. The first one to bilk her out of 50,000 bucks gets to stay; the other has to find fertile fields (and ‘marks’) elsewhere. The complications and counter-scams pile up, set off by a wacky, man-roping Oklahoma heiress and the tender/funny background romance between one of Lawrence ’s rich victims and the crooked chief of police. These aren’t the most savory of folks (consummate director Jack O’Brien once referred to his show as “blood sport”), and they do some very dastardly deeds – to each other, thankfully, as well as to the unsuspecting. But the characters and situations are so humorously and satisfyingly created and presented, you can’t help but get caught up in the nefarious fun.
THE PLAYERS/THE PRODUCTION: Is it possible to like a touring production better than the glitzy world premiere? You bet. There was a tad too much overkill in the original. I vividly remember writing about the 5000 glass beads and 800 hand-dyed feathers that went into Gregg Barnes’ beautiful but wildly extravagant costumes. And I recall a sensation of dizziness from the constant motion of David Rockwell’s hyperactive set. Al l that is blessedly toned down and simplified for the road, to outstanding effect. The costumes are still gorgeous, the set still rotates and revolves, and the chandelier floats down from the fly-space. But the excess is no longer intrusive; it’s just luscious, bathed in Kenneth Posner’s sumptuous lighting. That Oklahoman, Jolene Oakes, is still wayyy overdone — and cute/talented redhead Jennifer Foote, direct from the Broadway cast, plays her relentlessly perky at screamy volume. But without that particular female foil and her silly, Oklahoma-rhyming-with-melanoma song, there wouldn’t be the gut-busting scam-scene where Freddy poses as Lawrence ’s bumping, humping, drooling brother, the genetically challenged Ruprecht . And that’s almost as good a sting as the wheelchair-bound soldier and the sadistic German doctor that the schemers assay in the whiz-bang second act.
The show still gets off to a sluggish start. Yazbek pulled the explanatory opener, “Give Them What They Want,” and replaced it with the similarly expounding and no more exciting song, “The Only Game in Town.” The highlight of Act I always was the wild, overreaching paean to materialism, “Great Big Stuff,” in which Norbert Leo Butz , originating the role of Freddy, showed what a galvanizing, manic, athletic, outrageous performer he was. His were big, grubby shoes for D.B . Bonds to fill (Bonds has been behind Butz before, as his Off Broadway standby in The Last Five Years). Long and lanky, Bonds lacks some of the shlumpy crassness and simian agility of Butz . But he definitely comes into his own in the second act, and makes all the crazy comic shtick uniquely his own. His agonized facial expressions are priceless as the Mengele -like ‘doctor’ performs his brutal ‘tests.’ And he effects the most extensive pelvic thrust known to man or beast.
As Lawrence , John Lithgow was a big-name draw, but he was no musical theater triple threat. His acting goes unquestioned, as does his ability to portray a charming, urbane, veddy English confidence man — actually an over-confidence man, Lawrence being a supremely self-adoring snob. But Lithgow sang like Rex Harrison on a bad day and was as stiff-limbed as wooden young Pinocchio. Tom Hewitt, on the other hand, has played Dracula (at the La Jolla Playhouse, where he also appeared in Zhivago ) and a Tony-nominated Frank N. Furter (in The Rocky Horror Show on Broadway). He really knows his way around a musical theater stage; he offers energy, élan and a marvelous ability to sing and move. Hollis Resnik is impeccable as Muriel of Omaha, a sarcastic but love-starved richie ; and her scenes with the ooh-so-French gendarme, Drew McVety , especially after their night of champagne-fueled trysting, are yummy. Laura Marie Duncan brings the perfect amount of wide-eyed blonde honesty to the role of Christine Colgate, and she pairs up delightfully with both Hewitt and Bonds.
Everything about this production is irresistible. Don’t resist!
THE LOCATION: Broadway San Diego at the Spreckels Theatre, through July 22
BOTTOM LINE: BEST BET
THE SHOW: Two Gentlemen of Verona , one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, a romantic comedy probably written in the early 1590s . Everyone’s entitled to an immature or less-than-stellar effort, even the Bard. The plot peregrinations and machinations will be familiar to any Shakespeare devotee; the cross-dressing and star-crossed lovers are better executed in later plays. The forgive-all ending strains credulity, but somehow, director Matt August makes it work.
THE STORY: Like all the plays in this year’s Summer Shakespeare Festival, this one concerns what it means to be responsible, to ‘act well’ in the world. When do you hold to or compromise your beliefs? And what, after all, is morality?
The two so-called gents are the best of friends. Proteus (named for the slippery, shape-shifting sea-god of mythology) is insanely in love with Julia when we meet him. But when his father sends him off to Milan , he immediately falls for his buddy’s main squeeze, Silvia, and plots to steal her from him in the most underhanded, un-friend-like ways. Julia goes after Proteus dressed as a boy, Silvia rejects Proteus’ heinous advances, Valentine is banished and takes to the woods. And all’s well…. etc. … by the end.
THE PLAYERS/ THE PRODUCTION: The divergent locales are established at the outset, when we hear the sound of mooing, even before the lights come up. Verona is a sleepy, earth-toned, bucolic place, where hormone-addled adolescents can wallow in their lovesick ardor. Milan , on the other hand, is wild, untamed, colorful and debauched. The costumes (Fabio Toblini ) are outrageous and salacious in Milan , the Duke a profligate pervert who encourages and partakes in all manner of excess, sexual, culinary and otherwise. And then there’s the forest, where banished men butt heads, dressed as deer, and make mischief as their baser and better selves are revealed. Clearly, August is having a field-day, which keeps the audience amused and engaged, despite the occasional inanity.
The cast is impeccable. It’s a treat to watch the Festival ensemble players show their dramatic range, or in many cases, their consistent comic chops. Sam Breslin Wright, the ridiculous Elbow in Measure for Measure, is funny as the antic and linguistically agile Speed. Eric Hoffmann is the pompous bawd Pompey in Measure and the amusingly self-aggrandizing knight/protector, Sir Eglamour here. Jonathan McMurtry, always an audience favorite (the First Gravedigger in Hamlet and the drunken Barnardine in Measure), gets to play against his own pet canine (a very happy, tail-wagging creature for a cur supposedly named Crab) as the amusingly well-intentioned, malaprop -spewing Launce. Celeste Ciulla has the juicy mid-age women’s roles: a youngish Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, and Measure’s feisty madam, Mistress Overdone. She shines brightest here as Lucetta , playing her as coarse, teasing confidante to the amorous Julia, adorably adolescent MFA student Joy Farmer-Clary, who’s also memorable in Ophelia’s mad scene. Her Julia starts out besotted by new amour, and ends up, dressed as a boy, learning a good deal about life, her lover and love itself. Stephanie Fieger shows arresting charm as articulate, virginal Isabella in Measure and here as lovely, steadfast Silvia. Tom Hammond seems to relish veering way over the top as the libertine, dissipated Duke, a delectable contrast with his sober and sensible (if somewhat manipulative) Duke in Measure.
And as for the Gents of the title, I like them both better here than in Hamlet. Ryan Quinn creates a staunch and loyal Horatio, and an even more tenacious and noble Valentine. His valiant open-heartedness in the final forest scene is especially commendable. Attractive Corey Sorensen is robust as Laertes but he really lets loose as Proteus, showing a range of dramatic colors, both the bright and the dark, the unbridled and the underhanded, the lovesick puppy and the sexual predator. It’s a thrilling performance.
Overall, a fun and colorful production, imaginatively directed and excellently performed.
THE LOCATION: Outdoors on the Festival Stage at the Old Globe; in repertory with Hamlet and Two Gentlemen of Verona, through September 30
BOTTOM LINE: BEST BET
THE SHOW: …Actors on Parade… at the 17th annual Actors Festival of Short Plays. I’ve seen Programs 1, 2 and 4. And there’s some mighty good work up there on the Lyceum stage, especially in the Acting department. Nearly every one of the 16 pieces I saw featured excellent performances. The writing of the plays was more variable. After all, these are actors flexing their muscles and stretching their wings. Some of the personal confessions felt a little like vanity projects, but there was a great deal of heart in the portrayals.
You still get another chance to see the off-the-wall Special fundraising Program that opened the Festival — “ Easy Targets,” L.A. ’s cult hit, fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Produced, written and directed by The Burglars of Hamm, the sock-throwing fun — — your chance to fight back at bad theater! – reprises on Saturday, July 21 at 7:30pm. You can start the day dramatically, with Program Five, showcasing six more playlets , at 2pm.Then, on Sunday, you can catch the “Best of Fest” program, featuring the judges’ top choices. In the Lyceum Space in Horton Plaza . 619-544-1000; www.actorsalliance.com
Here are some of the highlights of my viewing experience:
v The quartet of performances in The Pygmalion Project, written and directed by George Soete
v Matt Scott’s off-the-wall comedy, Big Balls (co-written, directed and acted by Al lyson Collins), and his taut brother-confrontation of parental abuse, A World Apart, nicely performed by Scott and Cris O’Bryon
v Tim West’s sweet, diner romance, Breakfast for Dinner (vaguely reminiscent of Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune ), with a very credible Joe Solazzo and Betty Matthews, who’s making a welcome return to the stage
v The Role of Della, John Wooten’s viciously funny little piece on an actor’s audition (produced at more than 30 regional theatres and optioned for film), buoyantly performed by Liz Sabicer and those talented twins, Shelly Hart Breneman and Shauna Hart Ostrom
v By far the most intense piece of work was Harold Pinter’s One for the Road, a dark, enigmatic tale of torture. Director Henia Belalla did a superb job of ratcheting up the tension and underscoring those pregnant, Pinterian pauses. Outstanding performances by Eric Poppick as the terrifyingly cheerful interrogator; Michael Imdieke as the silent, suffering prisoner, and Ronda Perks and Max Oilman-Williams as his anguished wife and son
THE LOCATION: Lyceum Theatre, through July 22
NEWS AND VIEWS…
…Coming to a TV near you… On July 31, I’ll be appearing on KUSI -TV, channel 51/cable 9, during the morning show, “Inside San Diego,” 10-11am, talking about… what else?.. theater ! Outdoor summer theater , to be precise. So, tune in, and if you wanna encourage them to offer more of this kind of coverage, contact the station.
… So, Sew !… New Village Arts invites you to their first Sewing Party, Saturday, July 21, 3-6 pm in their new theater, 2787 B State Street in Carlsbad . BYO sewing machine, scissors, needle, thread and enthusiasm, to help create togas and tunics for their upcoming FREE production of Julius Caesar. Snacks, drinks, music and fun are promised. If you’re a no-sew type, they need help with painting and construction, too. Rsvp to Kristianne@NewVillageArts.org .
.. Teaching theater to teachers… New Vision Theatre Company of Oceanside is offering workshops for teachers and theatermakers. Long-time theater educator M. Elaine Weidauer , who teaches at the Army and Navy Academy in Carlsbad , is presenting two workshops: “Theater Games” and “Reader’s Theatre Across the Curriculum.” Producer, writer, musical director and composer Eric Scot Frydler presents “The Lightning Bolt Approach to Acting” and “The Lightning Bolt Approach to Writing.” The workshop series (three 4-hour sessions) begin in August. Info at 760-529-9140.
… Benefit the World… Every year for the past decade, the SDSU School of Theatre, Television and Film has presented the Theater of the World Festival for children/youth. But the Festival has lost most of its funding. So Jay Sheehan, Festival Producer, faculty member and production manager for the Dept., has gotten together “An Evening of Song and Friends” as an initial benefit concert to help replace the serious funding shortfall. The first concert will feature critically acclaimed songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Maia Sharp, whose songs have been recorded by the likes of Bonnie Raitt , Trisha Yearwood , Art Garfunkle and Cher . She’ll be joined by Lisa Sanders, an award-winning singer/songwriter who’s opened for such legends as B.B . King, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, James Taylor and Sting. Rounding out the lineup is SDSU student Thomas Hodges on piano. Hodges recently showed his more dramatic side, when his clever, bittersweet, autobiographical play, Stage Directions, won the statewide Plays by Young Writers contest and was produced at the Old Globe by the Playwrights Project. Hodges also did a fine job in SDSU’s recent production of The Grapes of Wrath. This is a multi-talented young man to watch. See him in (musical) action, and help develop the young audiences of tomorrow. Thursday, August 16 in the Don Powell Theatre on the campus of SDSU. $20 tix available at the Aztec Center and Cox Arena box offices. Info: 619-253-2611 or email@example.com
… From the Globe to the Guv … Former Old Globe associate artistic director Sheldon Epps, for the past ten years the artistic director of the Pasadena Playhouse, was one of six people commended by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for receiving the second annual James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award. Each of the winners, recognized for their ingenuity, dedication and collaboration, received $125,000 for their home organization. Epps was singled out for enhancing the role of theater in building community, including a commitment to theatrical diversity, and exposing disadvantaged youth to live theater. The Pasadena Playhouse, officially dubbed California ’s state theater, is currently presenting a world premiere re-envisioning of Cole Porter’s musical Can Can , helmed by co-adaptor David Lee. This fall, Epps directs a new musical, Ray Charles Live ! , with book by Suzan-Lori Parks (Oct. 31-Dec. 9). At the Globe, Epps premiered the Twelfth Night musical adaptation, Play On!, which went on to Broadway (and three Tony nominations), as well as memorable productions of Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting and Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me.
…Song of the South… Hold onto your bonnet; Scarlett is back… and singing! Next spring, London’s West End will premiere a new musical version of Gone With the Wind, directed by Sir Trevor Nunn, former head of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre, best known for directing musicals such as Cats, Les Miz , Nicholas Nickleby , Sunset Boulevard and Starlight Express. Music and lyrics for the new show will be created by a newcomer, Margaret Martin, a sociologist who’s written two plays. Wanna bet there’s a song called “Tomorrow is Another Day?” Fyi , this is not the first attempt to bring Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 classic to the stage; a musical adaptation, with score by Harold Rome, opened in London in 1972. Guess it wasn’t that memorable.
‘NOT TO BE MISSED!’ (Pat’s Picks)
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – RUN to this too-short run of the national tour; sheer delight!
Broadway San Diego at the Civic Theatre, through July 22
Two Gentlemen of Verona – light, frothy, goofy, well-acted fun
The Old Globe’s Festival Stage, in repertory with Hamlet and Two Gentlemen of Verona, through September 30
Measure for Measure – beautiful , comprehensible, relevant, flawlessly directed and performed
The Old Globe’s Festival Stage, in repertory with Hamlet and Two Gentlemen of Verona, through September 30
Avenue Q – the Tony-winning, X-rated puppet musical; definitely not for kids, but great for the 20s-30s demographic — and anyone else with an open mind, heart and sense of humor. A definite winner!
The Old Globe at the Spreckels Theater, through August 5
Arcadia – brilliant, heady play; beautiful production
Cygnet Theatre, through July 29
(For full text of all of Pat’s past reviews, going back to 1990, use the Search engine at www.patteproductions.com)
The summer is nearly half over … prolong it in a theater!
© 2007 PATTÉ PRODUCTIONS, INC.