By Pat Launer
Sex and war, in provocative plays
And purple prose at the Pattés.
Well, I have to say, the 10th anniversary of the Patté Awards for Theater Excellence was a stellar event. There was, of course, the champagne/hors d’oeuvre reception and the yummy TK&A meal. And there were the awards. But most important was the palpable energy in the room – the heart, the passion, the sense of community. It was a thrill to see it and feel it. and I’m confident that you’ll get a taste of it, too, whether you check out the full, unexpurgated version (the webcast link is on my website at www.patteproductions.com ) or you watch the edited, abbreviated version on KPBS-TV this Sunday, Jan. 14 at 4pm (channel 15/cable 11).
There were numerous highlights in an evening filled with bliss and bling, music, laughter, memories and a few tears.
Three special awards brought considerable applause from the enthusiastic audience of 250. The McDonald Playwriting Award was given to Ken Weitzman, a UCSD alumnus and faculty member, now living in Atlanta , for his wise and whimsical comedy, The As if Body Loop, which was presented as part of the UCSD Baldwin Festival of New Plays. Originally commissioned by the Arena Stage in Washington , D.C. , and refined over the past two years, the marvelously imaginative creation about a quirky family, intertwined with a neuroscientific theory and a legend from Jewish mysticism, was also chosen to be part of the prestigious Humana Festival of New American Plays, in Louisville this spring.
The Shiley Lifetime Achievement Award went to someone obviously beloved by the theater community – Moonlight Stage Productions founder/producing artistic director – the warm-hearted, compassionate, collaborative and talented Kathy Brombacher, who was truly surprised and overcome with emotion. I was even more surprised when Jacqueline Siegel approached the podium after the show and presented me with a Patté! – a Lifetime Achievement award for Support of San Diego Theater. Wow! That was just the cherry on top of the icing and whipped cream and meringue that was the Patté event.
In honor and loving memory of John Christopher Guth, the wonderful cheerleader of all local theater, of North Coast Rep in particular and the Patté Awards as well (as a volunteer, he’s been with the Pattés since the beginning), I created a new award, the John Guth Award for Behind-the-Scenes Brilliance. I chose superlative properties designer Bonnie Durben as the first winner because of her magnificent work, at so many San Diego theaters; she is truly one of the unsung heroes I’ve been wanting to celebrate. But I didn’t know how close she’d been with John, how much of an effect he’d had on her. John’s parents and his beloved partner, Rob King, were thrilled that Bonnie was the first recipient of the award.
Other highlights of the evening: Scott Paulson, who won for his sound design of Cygnet’s It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, used noisemakers during his acceptance to hilarious effect. Ruff Yeager not only won for his Sound Design for Stone Soup’s Tongue of a Bird; he also donned ruby-red, glittery platform shoes to play Frank N. Furter in the performance of “The Time Warp” from Southwestern College ’s production of The Rocky Horror Show. In his award acceptance, Ruff spoke out for “all the homeless theaters of San Diego ” (for which he earned rousing applause), describing them as “standin’ on the street corner with a tin cup, sleepin’ in a box.” “We need homes,” he pleaded. “ At least one. We’ll share!” and he ended by telling everyone to “keep collaborating with each other.” Well appreciated sentiments. And David Ellenstein (Best Production, North Coast Rep’s Collected Stories) ended the awards presentations on a optimistic and eloquent note, saying “It’s great to be in a room full of “people who still believe in the possibility of hope and beauty in the world. .. The theater is a way .. to make the world a better place than it is right now.” Amen to that.
Here’s the full list of Patté Award winners for 2006:
Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit – Miracle Theatre Productions
Pulp! – Moxie Theatre/Diversionary Theatre
Seussical – Moonlight Stage Productions
Since Africa – Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company
Urinetown – Starlight Theatre
Outstanding Scenic Design
Ralph Funicello – The Constant Wife – The Old Globe
Jedediah Ike – Measure for Measure – UCSD Department of Theatre and Dance
Outstanding Sound Design
Scott Paulson – Foley Sound Design – It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play , Cygnet Theatre Company
Ruff Yeager – Original music – Tongue of a Bird – Stone Soup Theatre Company
Outstanding Lighting Design
Eric Lotze, The Wizard of Oz – Starlight Theatre
Jennifer Setlow, Intimate Apparel – San Diego Repertory Theatre
Outstanding Costume Design
Michelle Hunt, The Love of the Nightingale – UCSD Department of Theatre and Dance
Shirley Pierson, Archangels Don’t Play Pinball – SDSU School of Theatre , Television, and Film
Jeanne Reith – Amadeus – Lamb’s Players Theatre
Lori Petermann, The Love of the Nightingale – UCSD Dept. of Theatre and Dance
Claudio Raygoza, The Grapes of Wrath – ion theatre
Darko Tresnjak, Titus Andronicus – The Old Globe
Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, Intimate Apparel – San Diego Repertory Theatre
Randall Dodge, No Way to Treat a Lady – North Coast Repertory Theatre
Francis Gercke, Nocturne – New Village Arts
Jo Anne Glover, Limonade Tous les Jours – Moxie Theatre
Jessica John, The Playboy of the Western World – New Village Arts
Joshua Everett Johnson, Copenhagen – Cygnet Theatre Company
Claudio Raygoza, Krapp’s Last Tape – ion theatre
My Fair Lady – Cygnet Theatre Company
Collected Stories – North Coast Repertory Theatre
Hannah and Martin – Laterthanever Productions
McDonald Playwriting Award – Ken Weitzman, The As If Body Loop
Shiley Lifetime Achievement Award – Kathy Brombacher
John Guth Award for Behind-the-Scenes Brilliance – Bonnie Durben
MAKE ART, NOT WAR
THE SHOW: Challenge Theatre: War and Quiet Flowers , an intriguing idea implemented by Michael Thomas Tower .
THE CONCEPT: Tower approached several local playwrights and presented them with a challenge: create a play about war, preferably referencing Iraq . Then each playwright was assigned an object that was to figure prominently in the story: a wallet, a ticket stub, an address book or a key. They were given nine weeks to write, cast and produce their plays. Each writer also decided to direct. The results were impressive: dramatically different and thought-provoking. Each play/playwright got a tad preachy, but as one of them said to me, “I felt that this was my only chance to say publicly everything I’m feeling about what’s going on in the country right now, and I had to squeeze it all in.”
Between the one-acts, local poet Carrie Preston recited her searing poems about living with a jet pilot stationed at Miramar and scheduled to be deployed to Iraq next month. Her cold splash of reality punctuated the plays and brought the politicking and philosophizing back to the realm of the factual, her world under siege — by Iraqi roadkill and camouflage clothing, a war-torn wedding and war-time paperwork.
The evening’s first play is Drafted , by Jason Connor. Set in 2046, it concerns a young man (very credible Christopher Buess) with a military/jingoistic dad (Ralph Johnson), a peace-activist girlfriend (Crystal Verdon) and a letter from the local Armed Forces Induction Station. As he’s torn between the political poles, strongly urged to go or not to go, he has to come to terms with his own feelings and make a decision. The periodically presentational, Brechtian monologues are offset by music (composed and played by the multi-talented Connors, with Kevin Koppman-Gue on snare drums) that sounds martial, mordant, and very Kurt Weill. Will has one of his weekly, stilted ‘father-son-chats” with his dad, “a No child Left Behind Kid – linear, logical, standardized.” That awkward scene of emotions unspoken is wonderfully realized by Buess and Johnson. “Is it okay to just doubt?” asks William. “As long as it doesn’t keep you from doing what you’ve been told to do,” replies his father, with no trace of irony. And then there’s Zoe (energetic and impassioned Verdon ) and the grinning, glad-handing, grandstanding Congressman (funny Jesse Mackinnon); the three form a kind of Greek chorus behind Will, singing the sardonic songs that comment on his life-choices. Ultimately, he decides to make the “sacrifice’ and go; there are, as always, ramifications and repercussions. And some regrets and rethinking, too. Connors has touched on the concerns of his generation and the ones before and after him, calling up memories of the Vietnam draft and the horrors of those evasions and decisions. But the play resonates with every pro-anti war discussion of the day.
For his Glorious Victory Street, George Soete was inspired by Wagner. Riffing on the first act of Die Walküre, he created an American soldier and an Iraqi woman, Sammy/Samir and Sama, stand-ins for Siegmund and Sieglinde. In a deserted, destroyed town on the edge of the desert, she gives him water and shelter. Ultimately, they fall into each other’s arms. They dispatch her evil husband. Their seed, they feel, will change the world: “The poisoned earth will bear fruit; evil will blossom into good.” Operatic themes intertwine with epic world problems. Jude Evans and Julie Sachs do an excellent job, inching from furtive to fearful to forthright in their interactions. Nick Mata (as the husband) provides the cruel counterbalance. The mythical story takes on an uncomfortable feel when set in a modern reality; the question is, in a world gone mad, who will fight back, take charge, and start anew. And how.
Matt Thompson’s Opera of the Oasis is fascinating in structure and style. A Teacher (Faeren Adams), a Reporter (Dallas McLaughlin) and a Prisoner speak contrapuntally of war. Three different perspectives, one academically pedantic, one self-serving/blasé, one angry/brutal/terrified. The language is raw, searing, sometimes beautiful/awful. Like the discourse around us today, it becomes confusing, conflicting at times; you have to make sense of the competing messages and draw your own conclusions. Snaking through all the stories is the elusive Truth, the way it’s twisted and distorted, warped and manipulated, until no one knows or hears it any more. Powerful work on a potent piece of writing.
In Jim Caputo’s Flowers of War, two juxtaposed families grieve for a soldier fallen in Iraq . It’s a neatly constructed contrast between Red and Blue, the unquestioning and the uncertain. Caputo makes good use of clips of Bush’s speeches, which could have been taken from the pronouncements of this week. Both families — an ultra-patriotic father (Ralph Johnson) and acquiescent mother (Leslie Gold) in one living room; a mother (Sylvia Enrique) and her newly widowed daughter-in-law (Morgan Trant) in another, are watching and reacting to the President’s mangled output. The doublespeak is accepted on one side, angrily refuted on the other. Gradually, the husband and wife begin to doubt; the mother/daughter pair are by turns angry, bitter, grief-stricken. They resent how little is made of each death. Grief is handled in various ways. In the final moments, both mothers clutch the folded flag to their breast. The arguments are ultimately unbalanced. The case against this pointless, monstrous war is made clear. And then, to put a finer point on the playwright’s perspective, he has each actor come downstage holding a single rose, and in turn, they give what amounts to a political treatise on what we should do: such as question authority, promote a Free Press. Each flower is given an instructive name: Involvement, Determination, etc. The final question posed is: ‘Who will speak for the soldiers?’ The play has already done that; the addendum is redundant, too on the nose. But the performances are heartfelt and touching.
This week, in view of the latest plans for military escalation, is a perfect time for each of us to take the Challenge — to see this array of play in order to examine your own feelings, thoughts and conscience. What a wonderful opportunity this is – for the playwrights, the actors and the audience. Don’t pass up the chance to observe and engage in political discourse of the most imaginative kind.
THE LOCATION: 6th @ Penn Theatre, through Jan. 24
COMING UP: The next Challenge Theatre production will take place July 7-16. Details of the Challenge will be announced in February. Sight unseen, the following playwrights have already signed on: Allan Havis, Doug Hoehn, Leslie Ridgeway and Ruff Yeager. This may be the start of something Big!
GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN
THE SHOW: Slut , a solo show written and directed by Brenda McFarlane, presented under the banner of the Toronto-based Far Fetched Productions
THE STORY: Matilda is a woman who loves sex. And men. And independence. But her nosy, noisy neighbors in the senior facility don’t see it that way. When we meet her, she’s just been arrested for prostitution and running a bawdy-house (is that still current lingo in Canada ?). At first, it’s just a little embarrassing for her, then things take a serious turn and she becomes a tad frantic. Her one phonecall to her sister is no help. She’s put in a cell with a bunch of hookers and a high-priced, Chanel-clad callgirl. She’s forced to talk to a sex addiction therapist. She meets a semi-sensitive, sort of macho cop. And she is confronted by the old biddy who made all the trouble to begin with. The whole side-story of the polka-music-playing seniors feels tacked on and unnecessary. The plight of Tilda is interesting enough. And the issues it raises are provocative, like why a sexually active woman is considered a whore or a slut (while a man might be lauded as a ‘stud’). The play successfully veers between the comical and the earnest. But the writing, acting and directing need to be sharpened, the comic timing honed. The ending is a little predictable, but the subject matter is of consequence.
THE PLAYERS/THE PRODUCTION: Susan Hammons is an engaging performer, though when she’s just being Matilda, talking directly to the audience, she seems more forced than facile and funny. But when she’s challenged to play multiple characters at once, altering her posture, speech patterns and vocal tone to create a one-woman dialogue, she shines. The simple set’s three red bar-grates against a black background are mirrored in Hammons’ outfit: also black and red, with a bustier and fishnets. During the course of the short play, Tilda learns a thing or two. And so do we .
THE LOCATION: 6th @ Penn Theatre, through January.
NEWS AND VIEWS
… Patté Fever: Watch the TV broadcast of the 10th Annual Patté Awards for Theater Excellence on KPBS this Sunday, Jan. 14 at 4pm (channel 15/cable 11), or check out the full, unexpurgated show online at www.patteproductions.com
… Stock up for your next production…at Miracle Theatre Productions’ Moving Sale. Forced out by stringent State regulations, Miracle is heading out of the Theatre in Old Town after 15 years of glitzy productions. They’re selling off their costumes, scenery, props, set pieces, theatrical equipment, furniture, computers, show memorabilia, office supplies and more. Jan. 12, 12-5pm and Jan. 13, 9:00-5:00. At the Theater, 4040 Twiggs St . For further info, call Paula at 619-688-2491 X 105.
… Some homeless theatre company might find respite at The FunHouse, a cozy little space near SDSU and Cygnet Theatre; It has built-in seats for 30 and additional space for 16 folding chairs. There’s free parking, easy freeway access, computerized stage lighting and AC. See photos and details on the space and the sale at improventures.com/resources/funhouse/for-sale.htm.
.. Mark your calendar for the staged reading of A Little Night Music, a benefit for Cygnet Theatre. The killer cast includes Tom Andrew, Amy Biedel, Sandy Campbell, Melissa Fernandes, Melinda Gilb, Susan Hammond, Walter Mayes, Sean Murray, John Nettles, Jeanne Reith and more. Sondheim’s wry, witty look at love, loss, age and social position boasts one of his finest scores, including the composer’s most famous song: “Send in the Clowns.” Two nights only – Jan. 22 and 23 — with pre-and post-performance receptions. Tix at www.cygnettheatre.com or 619-337-1525, ext. 3#.
…Something else from Sondheim: Applauz Theatre is presenting a staged reading of Sunday in the Park with George, directed by Tim Heitman. Performances Feb. 1-3, at 450 Fletcher Parkway, Ste 201 , El Cajon 92020 . The cast of 14 includes Tom Andrews and Rick Hernandez.
.. Beware of Greeks… A staged reading of Thyestes, Seneca’s revenge tragedy that was the forebear of the bloody Titus Andronicus. Two brothers fight for survival in ancient Rome , in a play that warns of the danger of wars of aggression. New translation by Marianne McDonald. Directed by Ashley Adams, Envision theatre Coordinator for Canyon Crest Academy , with a high-powered cast that includes Jill Drexler, Ralph Elias, Alex Sandie and Sonya Bender. Monday, Jan. 15 at 7:30pm in the Lyceum Space. Talk-back session with the writer, director and actors to follow.
… Nipples to the Wind (gotta love that title!) is a 2-person funny/poignant comedy with original music that introduces us to 14 memorable women. It comes to Vista this month and Escondido in Feb. Check it out at the Avo Playhouse, Jan. 18-20 and at the California Center for the Arts Feb. 1-3. www.nipplestothewind.com
… Always wanted to be a playwright? Learn the Basics of Writing a Play – plot, setting, characters, dialogue – at a workshop that culminates with your one-act! The instructor is Janet S. Tiger, who’s been teaching playwriting and writing plays since 1984, and is currently the playwright-in-residence at Swedenborg Hall. Her award-winning works have been produced internationally. Workshop dates: Feb. 3 and Feb. 17. For reservations/information: 858-274-9678, firstname.lastname@example.org
… Doin’ it like the Brits…. In the wake of the British TV search for a Maria to play in the West End production of The Sound of Music, NBC launched “You’re the One That I Want ,” an “American Idol”-like reality show in which viewers pick actors to play Sandy Dumbrowski and Danny Zuko in a Broadway production of Grease. The TV show is an open casting call, for novices as well as active Broadway performers. The British cousin to this idea (Andrew Lloyd Webber’s brainchild) drew millions of viewers. The jury is still out on “You’re the One.” The Broadway production of Grease is scheduled to open this summer. Meanwhile, back in Britain , Lloyd Webber is working on another TV show, to cast the leads in a revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. So now you can audition in front of millions, instead of just a few. Whatta thrill.
… Eveoke revoked: I misspoke in a prior column when I said that City codes were the reason that Eveoke Dance Theatre and Sledgehammer Theatre lost their delightful new Tenth Avenue Theatre. In fact, it was a hostile takeover of the space and the lease, and a double-crossing by the formerly congenial property owners. Chris Hall informs me that the aggressive, multi-million dollar Senior Community Centers across the street aggressively and underhandedly wrestled away the first right of refusal to lease the building long-term. Eveoke had been working with the property owners since 2005, to make a theater of the 1928 church. But now all hopes are dashed, not only for Eveoke, but for five other theater companies that were involved in a lease-share. A tragic tale. A huge loss.
‘NOT TO BE MISSED!’ (Pat’s Picks)
Challenge Theatre: War and Quiet Flowers – an intriguing and thought-provoking theatrical experiment, featuring short plays and poems about war, wonderfully presented
At 6th @ Penn Theatre, through January 24
(For full text of all past reviews, use the Search engine at www.patteproductions.com)
The theater season is heating up; come in from the cold and enter a theater near you!
© 2007 PATTÉ PRODUCTIONS, INC.