By Pat Launer
What price fame? How long does it last?
In Chicago , Caesar and Bronze, it goes fast.
And in a brand new, Fritz Blitz story:
Men are famously predatory.
THE SHOW: Bronze , the 2005 drama written and directed by Ruff Yeager. He’s revisited and reworked the piece, which premiered at Sledgehammer Theatre, for a production at 6th @ Penn. This is one half of the back-to-back, diner-set productions Yeager is directing, using the highly detailed (slightly reconfigured) scenic design of Nick Fouch . The other show is the delightful Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.
THE STORY: Cheryl is an Olympic figure skater who was going for the Gold, pressured by her parents to live a life she wouldn’t have chosen for herself. On the fateful final night, she takes a fall – two, in fact – and winds up with the Bronze medal, and a big, resentful chip on her shoulder. She wants pie – and revenge. So she comes to Maggie’s diner, grabs a gun and holds the hapless denizens hostage. She curses and sputters and terrorizes, and then things take an even nastier turn. She forces each of her captives to relate their most humiliating moments, after which each will be scored (according to the same point system as the Olympics). And then Cheryl tells her whopper of a story. The sum total provides a dark, cynical, occasionally comical view of personal and communal failure, American-style, underscored by anguish, voyeurism and emotional bondage.
THE PLAYERS/THE PRODUCTION: There were some weaknesses in the original play, and though they’ve been alleviated, other soft spots have surfaced. Yeager (who won a Patté Award for his directorial inventiveness with Bronze) has eliminated the show-opening ‘mime’ that foretold later actions. That bit was enigmatic but intriguing. Now, the play starts in the dark, and stays that way for some time. The timing is a little confusing. The fateful night seems to have occurred some 18 months ago. In the original script, it appeared to have happened earlier that day, which clearly explained Cheryl’s impulsive stopoff in an all-night diner. But this time around, we learn what happened after her Fall , through multiple flashbacks, which detract – and distract – from the action. We have become so absorbed in these fragile, damaged characters that we’re annoyed when they have to step out of character — to play Cheryl’s father or coach or cabbie. These backstories could easily be conveyed in a sentence or two during Cheryl’s lengthy monologues, so the intensity and suspense aren’t interrupted.
But no gripe with the performances; they’re uniformly superb. Yeager has created truly compelling characters, and a tight ensemble brings them pulsing to life. Jeannine Marquie is outstanding as Cheryl, a cute, pert pixie with a mouth that would make a trucker blush. Her anger is palpable, as are her pain and vulnerability. John Martin is terrific, reprising his role of the occasionally lucid junkie with the somewhat shocking, life-destroying, Streetcar Named Desire secret; and Kim Strassburger returns as the level-headed, maternalistic Maggie, who had a seminal lapse in both those areas at one dark, ugly moment of her life. Yeager’s son Geoffrey, who did the mime opener two years ago, has stepped into the shoes of the security guard, a tough Italian with a shameful story that, like all the others, has shaped and distorted his existence and self-perception. The play forces us to look into the abyss of our All-American obsessions — spilling guts and schadenfreude , winning at all costs and watching other people squirm.
THE LOCATION: 6th @ Penn Theatre, through September 26
THE BOTTOM LINE: Best Bet
RAZZLE DAZZLE ‘EM
THE SHOW: Chicago , the knockout musical by John Kander and the late Fred Ebb (brilliant creators of Cabaret, among others). The show opened on Broadway in 1975 and ran nearly 900 performances. The 1996 revival has continued for more than 4600 performances. The original production, magnificently directed by Bob Fosse, featured Gwen Verdon , Chita Rivera and Jerry Ohrbach . It was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, but walked away empty-handed. The revival garnered six Tony statuettes. The 2002 film, starring Renée Zellweger , Catherine Zeta-Jones, Queen Latifah and Richard Gere , renewed interest in the show. George Hamilton’s appearance on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ renewed interest in him.
Trivia Factoid: The movie rights were originally purchased in the late ‘70s. Bob Fosse was to be involved with the film; Goldie Hawn , Liza Minnelli and Frank Sinatra were set to star. But the project was terminated after Fosse’s death in 1987.
THE STORY: Based on Maurine Dallas Watkins’ 1926 play, the story of black-clad vixens on Murderer’s Row, is framed as “a musical vaudeville,’ with each number introduced as if it were a variety act. The plot focuses on Roxie Hart, a married chorine who kills her faithless lover, avoids a death sentence thanks to the machinations of a scheming, ‘ Razzle Dazzle’ lawyer, and ends up a vaudeville headliner with fellow inmate/killer Velma Kelly. The show is a scathing, but amusing and irresistible, indictment of American flimflam, vulgarity and decadence. As the opening lines put it, the musical is about “murder, greed, corruption, violence, adultery and treachery – all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts.” At the end, the guilty-but-free murderesses chirp: “We are the living examples of what a wonderful country this is!”
THE PLAYERS/THE PRODUCTION: This excellent, precise production hews close to the original, with its fabulous, signature Fosse choreography. The dancers are spectacular; particularly noteworthy is the ultra-hunky, rubber-limbed Jasond Darril Thomas. Since this is a dancing show, it would be preferable if all the leads could move. (Okay, Renée Zellweger couldn’t move. But in movies, they can always cut away). The two leading ladies – Terra C. MacLeod as Velma and Michelle DeJean as Roxie — dance wonderfully. MacLeod has the long, endless gams ; DeJean has that Gwen Verdon gamine quality and great comic chops. As Amos, Roxie’s poor ‘invisible’ husband (“Mr. Cellophane”), Eric Leviton offers the ideal amount of pathos and sad humor; and though wide of girth, he’s very light on his feet. Roz Ryan is Matron “Mama” Morton, who gets the sexy song, rife with innuendo, “When You’re Good to Mama.” She successfully plays to the audience in wink-nudge fashion, but she doesn’t have a sexy moment or look, and she barely moves an inch. Which brings us to George Hamilton. He’s undoubtedly the draw; opening night was nearly sold out (and that’s 3000 seats!). He has a dazzling smile and a perpetual twinkle in his eye, not to mention that eternal tan. But he’s really the weak link here; he can neither sing nor dance. He seems to be the embodiment of his “ Razzle Dazzle” number: “Long as you keep ‘ em way off balance/ How can they spot you’ve got no talents ?. Razzle Dazzle ‘em, and they’ll make you a star!” Hamilton keeps flashing that smile, and somehow, it keeps working. Whatever his limitations, the score, the dancing and the seamy, steamy script carry him along, and make this a very satisfying production, despite its casting imperfections.
THE LOCATION: Broadway San Diego at the Civic Theatre, through September 9
THE BOTTOM LINE: Best Bet
FOLLOW YOUR BLITZ
THE SHOW: Bets and Blue Notes , Week 3 of The 14th annual Fritz Blitz of New Plays by California Writers
I hate to say ‘It was fabulous and you missed it.’ But…. It was fabulous, and it is a damn shame you missed it. Bets and Blue Notes was by far the most entertaining, amusing, enlightening, fast-paced, well written, thought-provoking play of the Fritz Blitz so far. It was about men and women, their foibles and relationships. It featured some surprising insights. And most amazing of all, it was written by a 21 year-old (who was probably less than 21 when he wrote it), and it’s his first full-length play. It’s also the only play of this year’s Blitz penned by a San Diegan.
Kevin Armento has a distinctive voice and a lot to say. His play clearly pays homage to Mamet . The language is realistic, coarse, overlapping and, as delightfully directed by Don Loper , it flies by at mach speed. Everything about the play and production was outstanding, especially the premise and the performances.
Sammy and Dean have been friends forever. One’s straight; the other’s gay. They tease, they make bets. They talk about women. Sammy can’t seem to get the hang of ‘ em (“I’ve spent my whole f- ing life trying to make women happy and you know what I learned? Women aren’t happy.”). He’s sure it’s a lot easier to please a man (all they need is “devotion, support and lots of sex”). Dean finds that ridiculous; he thinks women are “clockwork.” So, the die is cast; the bet is on. Which one can get and keep a person of their non-preferred gender. No sexual activity involved; “no collateral damage,” i.e., no one gets hurt.” The one who lasts longest wins.
So, we watch as Sammy goes to the gay bars and coos over miniature golf, while Dean finds a woman at a book club, and takes her fishing to make a symbolic point. They have esoteric conversations about the nature of men and women (gals are like fishermen, guys are ‘poachers’). This writer has some fascinating perspectives and ideas. With structural dexterity and speed, the action shifts back and forth between the guys and their ‘progress.’ And then, inevitably, things go awry, but not in predictable ways.
The cast was wonderful. It was great seeing Duane Daniels back onstage; he seems to do all his work in L.A. these days. Duane is Sammy, and he made the character funny, infuriating and completely credible. John Garcia, usually cast as ominous, nasty characters, played his first romantic lead with aplomb. He was witty and bright, gentle and genuine. Together, the two were magnificent. They nailed the humor, the rhythm and pace, the whole competitive gambit. And the rest of the ensemble was excellent, too: Rachel Carey as the straightforward, no-nonsense woman who’s attracted to Dean; David Dartt as Sammy’s cloying, clingy new mate; and recent New York transplant Jamie Effros , wonderfully varied in a range of roles from a disgruntled waiter to a stoner roommate. I loved this play, and this production. Sorry, but I’ve gotta say it. You missed something great. Maybe some lucky, plucky theater will bring it back.
THE LOCATION: The Fritz Blitz at the Lyceum, through September 9
The final Blitz offering is A Fish Without his Flippers, directed by Triple Espresso’s Dane Stauffer and featuring Wendy Savage and Elzie Billops , among others. Sept. 6-9.
THE SHOW: Julius Caesar, the New Village Arts summer Shakespeare production, moved into the Avo Playhouse last weekend, to excellent effect. The free offering usually takes place outdoors in a park. But this year, since New Village just moved into its spanking new Carlsbad home, the decision was made to bring the show indoors just this once, to attract audiences to the new space. And while they’re already indoors, why not bring the show to the other end of North County ? The Avo audience was fascinating. Many of them seemed never to have been in a theater before; they were prepared for a movie. The woman next to me brought her own chips and soda, and took a call when her cellphone rang. Folks were talking loudly. One man down front echoed some of the famous lines. It wasn’t quite what I’m used to in the theater, but I was happy that people were trying something new, and almost all of them stayed (though not my chatty neighbor and her noisy family. — Just as well).
The set, designed by Kelly Kissinger, fit perfectly into the Avo . A basic construction of pillars and stairways, it served as a fine backdrop to the toga-clad action, which was set, as written, in ancient Rome . The play portrays the last days of the great emperor. Marcus Brutus, a close friend of Caesar, is lured into a conspiracy, and he ultimately has a hand in murdering his friend for what he believes to be the greater good of the country. After Brutus speaks compellingly at Caesar’s funeral, Marc Antony gives his famous oration, turning the crowd back to Caesar and against the killers. It’s all about ambition and betrayal. In case you need it, the ultra-condensed version of the plot, at Book-a-Minute classics online, summarized it like this:
Brutus, we’re plotting to kill your best friend Caesar. Wanna help?
Because I love Rome more, I will.
(They all stab Caesar.)
Et tu , Brute? In that case, I’d better die. ( dies )
(The nation mourns, and everybody commits suicide.)
The cast was uneven, but director Christopher Williams created some haunting stage pictures and convincing battle scenes. Several performances were notable. Patrick Wenk -Wolff was a vigorous Cassius; Walter Murray was regal as the emperor; Kristianne Kurner and Aaryn Kopp made potent wives (Portia and Calpurnia , respectively), however powerless women were at the time. Guest Equity actor Chris Conner did an excellent job with Antony ’s funeral speech. Francis Gercke’s Brutus was a brooder; the role felt under-played. Tom Hall’s take on Casca went to the opposite extreme; it was too farcically fey. Gedaly Guberek , a student at Mira Costa College , did a credible job with the role of Brutus’ slave Lucius . Almost all of the 18-member ensemble played multiple roles, which didn’t always work effectively. The point of the annual production is to bring new audiences to the theater, and in that, it always succeeds.
NEWS AND VIEWS…
… Okay, I’ve done my part for Malashock Dance’s 20th anniversary fundraising event, “Malashock Thinks You Can Dance.” In preparation of my dance debut, waltzing with a professional partner (the hot-hot-hot Daniel Vasco), I’ve created a Dance Blog on my website ( www.patteproductions.com ), written a feature story in the San Diego Jewish Journal (sdjewishjournal.com), talked about it in this column and on KUSI-TV. Now it’s your turn. You need to buy a ticket, and come see what promises to be an awesome event, a cross between ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ hosted by Mary Murphy, the regular judge on the ‘So You Think…’ TV show. There will be winning dancers from that show, as well as from Champion Ballroom and Malashock Dance. As a rare treat, John Malashock himself is dancing, in “Idyll,” a duet with stellar dancer (and sometime choreographer) Michael Mizerany . Come watch, enjoy — and vote! The winners are decided by the audience – by means of cool, individual, hand-held electronic voting machines. Saturday, September 15 in the new Irwin M. Jacobs Qualcomm Hall in Sorrento Valley . Proceeds support Malashock’s extensive education and outreach programs. Get tix at 619-260-1622; www.malashockdance.org
… And speaking of Malashock and Mizerany … you might want to take a ride to “Riding in My Car,” a tongue-in-cheek look at dating, lust and longing, presented by Michael Mizerany . In addition to performances by his own company, MizeranyDance , Mizerany has commissioned two new works — from John Malashock, founder/artistic director of Malashock Dance, and local dance artist Bradley Lundberg. September 7-9 at the Academy of Performing Arts on Alvarado Canyon Road ; 619-861-5286; email@example.com
.. and still MORE dance! Sushi’s 4×4 Performance Series continues on September 11 at 8pm. This month, there’s a theme: “The First Time I…” On a 4×4-foot playing space, artists will perform a wild variety of pieces relating to their first dolls, breakups, high school reunion .. and Anne Landers. At Bluefoot Bar and Lounge in North Park . Pay What You Can. www.sushiart.org
… A new little theatermaker… director Esther Emery and designer Nick Fouch welcomed Milo James Fouch into the world on August 31, in a kiddie pool. Milo has great timing; he delayed his appearance till Esther’s production of Communicating Doors at Cygnet (designed by Nick, natch ), opened. This is one born-and-bred theater baby. Congrats to all!
… Seeking Music Director… The Coronado Playhouse, which is presenting the Stephen Sondheim revue, Side by Side by Sondheim, just lost its music director. It’s a great opportunity for an up-and-comer to get paid experience in playing and teaching. Whew! Sondheim is some place to start! Contact Daniel Logan, firstname.lastname@example.org ,
… Music Depreciation… The Discount Comic Opera (“we make music worth fleeing!”) makes its long-dreaded return to perform at the Annual Scholarship Benefit Concert of the San Diego County Alumni Chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity. The peripatetic ensemble, which hasn’t been seen in these parts since 1999, features “off-coloratura soprano” Kellie Evans-O’Connor; “mezzanine soprano” Martha Jane Weaver; “ tenorseveneleven and piano very forte” Christopher Allen; and “ bari -tone-deaf & piano very poco ” Joseph Grienenberger . Sounds like a hoot. Sept. 9 at 3pm, Smith Recital Hall at the SDSU School of Music and Dance. Free.
… Do yourself a favor: Attend a Reading: Cygnet Theatre continues its collaboration with the San Diego Black Ensemble Theatre with The Cycle Plays, Part II, another series of staged readings of the works of August Wilson. Next up is King Hedley II, Sept. 17-18 at Cygnet Theatre. cygnettheatre.com or 619-337-1525.
… A benefit reading of Ladies First, An Anti-War Comedy, by Lauren Simon and Anita Simons will feature an all-star cast of fabulous females: Deanna Driscoll, Sandra Ellis-Troy, Monique Gaffney, Annie Hinton, D. Candis Paule and Rosina Reynolds, under the direction of Lisa Berger. In the piece, the spirits of four former First Ladies appear to a frustrated, middle-aged, anti-war protestor, and together they concoct a madcap scheme to end the war. Sunday, Sept. 16 at 3pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Hillcrest. 619-884-6482 or 858-459-4650.
… Chronos Theatre Group presents a reading of two Russian Absurdist plays from the 1920s: Yelizabeta Bam and Christmas at the Ivanovs ’ . Sept. 17, 7:30pm, Lyceum Theatre. Reservations: email@example.com or (619) 981-4179; www.chronostheatre.com
… Carlsbad Playreaders opens its back-to-school season with a bang: Neil LaBute’s ‘shocking romantic comedy,’ The Shape of Things to Come. Directed by Eric Bishop. September 17, 7:30, Dove Library.
… CHEAP SEATS… through September 16, Off Broadway theaters will offer seats for only $20, 20 minutes before curtain. The program is called ‘20at20’, and there’s a list of participating theaters at off-broadway.com. This might be the time for that long-delayed trip to New York !
‘NOT TO BE MISSED!’ (Pat’s Picks)
Bronze – Ruff Yeager’s intriguing, intense and suspenseful drama about personal and communal failure; excellent ensemble
6th @ Penn Theatre, off-nights through September 26
Chicago — George Hamilton isn’t what’s hot here; it’s Roxie and Velma, and the ab-fab dancers
Broadway San Diego at the Civic Theatre, through September 9
Communicating Doors – murder, mayhem, mystery, time travel and a dominatrix – who could ask for anything more? Intriguing script, terrific production
Cygnet Theatre, through September 23
Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean – marvelous ensemble, darkly comic production
6th @ Penn Theatre, through September 30
Susan and God – airy but well-done fun; Sarah Zimmerman is luminous
Lamb’s Players Theatre, through September 23
Bell , Book and Candle – delectable, romantic, attractive production; very well acted and directed
The Globe’s Cassius Carter Centre Stage, through September 9
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
(For full text of all of Pat’s past reviews, going back to 1990, use the Search engine at www.patteproductions.com)
September means Back-to-School … and back to theater!
© 2007 PATTÉ PRODUCTIONS, INC.
For more than 20 years, Pat Launer has been the only regular broadcast theater critic in San Diego . An Emmy Award-winner with a Ph.D. in Communication Arts & Sciences, Pat sees and reviews more than 200 local theater productions every year. For the past decade, she has hosted and produced The Patté Awards for Theatre Excellence, a gala community event that honors local theatermakers (“San Diegans making theater for San Diego ”) and celebrates the broad diversity of San Diego theater .