By Pat Launer
That rascal, ‘Scapino,’ is back with his tricks
While “Da Kink” features feisty Caribbean chicks.
THE SHOW: ‘Da Kink in My Hair” by trey anthony (no caps, please!), a play with music (composed, arranged and supervised by e’Marcus Harper); additional music by Weyni Mengesha
THE SCOOP: Terrific performances, some heart-rending or gut-wrenching stories. This American premiere is a great way to kick off the Rep’s 30th anniversary; they are, indeed, as they claim, “ San Diego ’s most inclusive theater.”
THE BACKSTORY: A hit at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2001, the piece made the rounds at the Atlantic Fringe and the New York Fringe. In 2003, it had a successful run at Toronto ’s prestigious Princess of Wales Theatre. Director Marion J. Caffey (who brought his own female-centric shows, “Three Mo’ Divas” and “ Cookin ’ at the Cookery,” to the Rep) saw it and loved it, but thought it needed some work. It still does, though it has much to commend and recommend it, especially the killer cast, four of whom originated their roles.
THE STORY: Set in a Toronto hair salon frequented by a range of black (mostly Caribbean ) women, the play offers an opportunity for each to tell her story. All are struggling with self-acceptance and the recognition of others. The tales emerge when Novelette, the salon owner, touches their hair. She says she can tell what’s going on in their lives, because black women “store all their joy, pain, hurt and dreams in their hair.” Most of the stories have more to do with pain than joy. You can see some of the endings coming a mile away; a few narratives are less predictable, but they have to do with familiar stories: men who leave or abuse, mothers who disdain or ignore, family and friends who have unrealistic expectations. Then there’s the fascinating subject of “shade-ism,” present in many communities of color, where whichever hair or skin-tone is closest to white is favored. Even this segment smacks of universalism; any woman can relate to a sister who got preferential treatment because she was thinner or smarter or straighter. Problem is , we get a slice of life, not fully developed characters, so we sympathize or empathize, but we don’t really come to care deeply about any of these women.
THE PLAYERS: Writer/former stand-up comic anthony pays tribute to her Jamaican heritage in the character of Novelette, who’s brassy and sassy. But she could do more for her beleaguered clients than just listen. She should give them a new hairdo, for one thing, to help them to get a fresh start after they bare their souls and find some healing. anthony is the only one in the cast who doesn’t sing and dance. In the former category, local vocal knockout Lisa Payton is the standout, and in the dance department, it’s the striking-looking, rubber-limbed d’bi . young (no caps!) who is equally good at hip-hop and African tribal rhythms. Payton does a touching, bluesy turn as Shawnette , who worked herself raw to put her husband through med school, only to be dumped when he’s done. Not a new story, but beautifully enacted. young’s harrowing tale of stepfather sexual abuse is intense and unnerving. But inexplicably, she plays the role much younger than the 12 year-old she’s supposed to be. Karen Robinson does rich and wonderful work as Sister Patsy, the prim church-lady who’s trying desperately to deal with the senseless, street-violence murder of her young son. Sherelle (Tanya Tatum) is a high-power, over-extended investment banker, straining against a glass ceiling and losing her grip; Sharmaine is a TV star (“The Young and the Heartless”) who has a sexual secret to reveal; and Nia ( Abena Malika ) confronts her ambivalent feelings about her recently-deceased mother, who always preferred the sister with lighter skin. What shakes the rafters and brings down the house is the only really upbeat story — Satori Shakoor as Miss Enid, the widowed septuagenarian who gets her groove back, giving a little sweet potato pie to her neighbor, and getting’ some good lovin ’ in return. “Sweet Potato Pie” is also one of the strongest musical numbers, which are lightly interspersed through the action and range from blues to R&B, reggae to gospel to hip hop. By and large, the musical accompaniment (Fred Lanuz on keyboard and Amina Alfred, spectacular on percussion) outpaces the music itself, though the opening number, “What To Do with My Hair,” is lively and fun.
THE PRODUCTION : The set (David Weiner) is simple, the lighting (Jennifer Setlow) spotlights the centerpiece of the moment and underscores the mood of her piece. The costumes (Ruth Carter) are colorful and character-defining. Hair design (Celeste Toomer and Petrea Ivey) if of course, important – and widely varied. Caffey’s direction is assured, but more dancing during the few chorus numbers would be better. The show is highly entertaining, but it needs a stronger narrative thread to unite the stories. This is a girl-talk kinda evening that also appeals to many men (being privy to the kind of conversations they don’t usually get to hear?), but this one really hits home for the ladies.
THE LOCATION: San Diego Repertory Theatre, through October 16.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Best Bet (even if it does need some tweaking)
THE ITALIAN RAPSCALLION
THE SHOW: ‘Scapino,” created in 1974 by Frank Dunlop and Jim Dale
THE SCOOP: It out-farces Molière, its source material (“Les Fourberies de Scapin,” 1671), which, in turn, was inspired by the infamous scalawag Scapino, one of the stock characters in Italian commedia dell’arte. Now, this updated adaptation, set in Naples , Italy , has more overspiced ingredients than a peppery minestrone – including a huge, unsliced salami (the slap-shtick du jour). And don’t forget that audience participation!
THE STORY: Scapino is the king of all tricksters, part-time servant, full -time conman. His convoluted story entails forbidden love, parsimonious patriarchs, family secrets, mistaken identities. Kind of like the Marx Brothers meet Austin Powers on the way to see the Three Stooges. What this show unequivocally requires is a mega-talent like its creator — actor, singer, dancer, acrobat, vaudevillian Jim Dale. And that’s a mighty tall order.
THE PLAYERS: Oddly enough, some of the secondary characters outstrip and outshine the conniving, titular centerpiece. As the bum, Carlo, Joe Solazzo is hilarious, interacting most amusingly with the audience. As the clumsy, hapless servant Sylvestro , Bob Himlin is quite funny, and his outrageous physical comedy seems effortless. He also has a marvelous singing voice, which he displays in the outlandishly misplaced “Londonderry Aire” (a sad Irish song is called for in the script), a lovely a capella duet with Headwaiter George Weinberg-Harter, whose ‘tablecloth trick’ is quite astonishing (equally well reprised by Waiter Michael C. Clark). Allison MacDonald does an amusing turn as an uptight nurse/nanny and Karla Francesca is beautifully exotic and seductive as the gypsy, Zerbinetta . But what about Scapino? Jeff Wells, who was soooo funny as the Dummy in “The Ventriloquist’s Wife” at this year’s Actors Festival, just doesn’t rise to the comic occasion here. He has moments, to be sure. But he isn’t as antic, energetic, dynamic or physical as this hyperactive, hyper-rascal needs to be. Despite many high points, with a soft spot at the center, it’s hard for this play to soar.
THE PRODUCTION : gets off to a VERY slow start. The timing is sluggish, though there are some funny bits. Things pick up (in pace and humor) in the second act, but it still isn’t as razor-sharp (or as uproarious) as it should be. Director Jim Caputo has designed an aptly multi- doored set that includes a bridge with ‘flowing’ water beneath (thanks to the lighting of Scott Padrick ), and some of his physical shtick works really well. The loyal Scripps Ranch audience was loving every minute of it.
THE LOCATION: Scripps Ranch Theatre, in the Legler Benbough Theater at Alliant University , through October 8.
… I don’t think I’ve ever met a reading I didn’t like at Carlsbad Playreaders . This week’s work, which kicks off the new season helmed by Walt Jones and Amy Scholl, was Beth Henley’s “Crimes of the Heart,” directed by New Village Arts co-founder Kristianne Kurner. It featured a killer cast, and the 20-year old Pulitzer Prize-winning play seemed more relevant than ever, what with its Mississippi setting, and people who risk danger (and get injured) by riding out a hurricane and refusing to budge. Kurner and cast have unearthed all the black humor and ‘bless your heart’ hypocrisy of this Southern dysfunctional family saga. The sibling rivalry is palpable. How the beautiful Lisel Gorell-Getz ever made herself look like a plain-Jane spinster is a mystery to me. Along with her younger sibs, the air-headed Babe (adorable Amanda Sitton ) and hot-blooded Meg (the ever-gorgeous Jessica John), they made quite a contentious trio. As intrusive, judgmental, social-climbing cousin Chick, lovely Beth Everhart was a hoot. Weaving their way through this bevy of bodacious babes were new San Diego transplant John Polak , affecting and credible as the down-home country-boy Meg left behind; and Mark Emerson (a multi-talented UCSD student, fresh from his Equity card-earning turn in the LJP workshop production of “ Zhivago ”) as the nerdy lawyer, Barnette , Emerson mines untold depths of humor and heart (check out his musical chops in “The Last Five Years,” 7:30pm on Oct. 1&2 at UCSD’s Galbraith Hall Rm. 157 – free!).
Sure, “Crimes of the Heart” is a big ole Southern soap opera. But what a luscious one, especially with a cast like this (not to mention, excellent sound design, by Marvin Read and opening video montage, by Walt Jones, whose wife, Amy Scholl, did a fine job reading the stage directions). Yummy. As rich and thick as black-strap molasses.
Next up by the Carlsbad Playreaders : Neil LaBute’s dark, brutal and head-spinning “bash,” directed by Walt Jones. October 24.
… Marianne McDonald just added another hyphenate to her name. She’s been known as writer-scholar-translator-philanthropist. Nw , she’s also an actor. As one of three benefit performances for 6th @ Penn Theatre, she teamed up with 6th @ Penn founder/producer Dale Morris to present A.R. Gurney’s beloved epistolary two-hander, “Love Letters.” I have a special place in my heart for the character of Melissa, which I portrayed on and off for a year, with Richard Lederer , as benefits for local schools, libraries, etc. McDonald was heartfelt in conveying the sad downslide of this delightfully loopy iconoclast. Morris skillfully made her lifelong friend and sometime lover, Andrew Makepeace Ladd, III, into a lot more than just a self-righteous prig. The thoroughly enjoyable reading was sold out, and all three casts (Ron Choularton and Sandra Ellis-Troy; George Flint and Trina Kaplan) inspired a much-needed infusion of cash to the small and struggling space, refuge for so many outstanding theater groups and productions.
NEWS AND VIEWS
DING, DING, DING GOES the TROLLEY
….Get on board for Trolley Dances 2005, the most moving site-specific performance anywhere. Get on and get off the new Mission Valley East trolley line, and see six new works by five hot choreographers, hosted/coordinated, for the 7th year, by Jean Isaacs; San Diego Dance Theater. September 24-25 and October 1-2; www.sandiegodancetheater.org.
LET ‘ER REP!
….Don’t miss the San Diego Repertory Theatre ’s reading to benefit the Katrina-destroyed Southern Repertory Theatre, the only regional theater in New Orleans. “Callie’s Tally,” by Betsy Howie , concerns a new mother who totes up the cost of raising a child – with the intention of demanding payback from her offspring later in life. The role of the number-crunching Mom will be shared by Linda Libby, Seema Sueko, Carman Vogt and Karen Robinson (from the cast of “Da Kink in My Hair”). I’ll be reading the stage directions. Admission/donation is just $10. Monday, September 26 at 8pm in the Lyceum Theatre.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
The Old Globe is adding new names to its marquees. After the generous $10million gift (largest in the theater’s 70-year history) bestowed by a local businessman, the combined two-theatre complex, which houses the Old Globe Theatre and the Cassius Carter Centre Stage, will henceforth be called the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center . [Note: The two theaters will not be renamed.] This is not to be confused with the total complex name of Simon Edison Performing Arts Center, which also encompasses the Lowell Davies Festival Stage and the Lipinsky Lounge. Whew! Talk about your Name Game. Please also note: Prebys was turned on to theater by an inspirational drama teacher in his Indiana high school – See the far-reaching effect of an arts program in school?!!
THEATER IS GOING TO THE DOGS
Got a pooch with professional poise? S/he can snag a wag-on in the Broadway/San Diego national touring production of “Annie.” There are a number of requirements (good behavior, under 30 pounds, proof of vaccinations, etc.). For all the official “Pooch Pageant” rules, check out http:// www.broadwaysd.com/anniepoochpageant.php
SLEDGE ON THE EDGE
Another blow to San Diego theater venues: Sledgehammer’s 10-year homebase , St. Cecilia’s Playhouse, is slated for the wrecking ball. That’s the bad news; after moving out at the end of the year (12/31), the edgy company will be peripatetic again, offering site-specific productions as in the old days. Now, for the good news: for the 20th anniversary year, Sledge co-founder Scott Feldsher will return to the helm. He might even lure back his original partner-in-crime, producer extraordinaire Ethan Feerst. “Sledgehammer is virtually the last vestige of theatrical dissent in San Diego ,” said Sledge board president Chris LaZich . And, adds Feldsher, “It’s clear that the city needs another kick in its artistic ass.” The last two productions in the ghost-haunted former funeral parlor will be the “Frankenstein Project v.2.0” (10/27-11/20), created/restaged by former Sledge artistic director (and proud new mom of Sophia!) Kirsten Brandt; and “A/WAKE: A theater de-installation with Choir and Soloists” (12/7-10, four performances only), a requiem for St. Cecilia’s composed by former Sledge-men Pea Hicks and Seattle-based Tim Root. Feldsher will write the libretto and, true to form, he promises the evening will be “loud. Really loud.”
( a few productions you might not have heard about)…
….Floyd Gaffney’s Common Ground Theatre opens its 2005-06 season with “Dancing with Demons,” by Donald T. Evans, a story of two male misfits. Gaffney directs, at 6th @ Penn, 9/30-10/16.
…. Robert M. Biter is an OB-GYN physician at Scripps Encinitas Hospital . He’s one of the 50 winners of the 2000 American Medical Association Outstanding Young Medical Professionals Award. And he’s also a playwright and actor. He’ll star in the local premiere of his award-winning play, “Strangers,” about a triangular relationship: a doctor (Biter), his wife and his patient (Jennifer Austin, Sue Oswald). The ticket price is a $15 donation; all proceeds go to Her Heart’s Wish, a kind of make-a-wish Foundation that Biter founded when he was a surgical resident, with the mission of fulfilling the dreams of women with terminal cancer. The play runs Oct. 7-9 and 13-15 at the Carlsbad Cultural Arts center. 760-633-6633.
.. Nickel and Dimed : On (Not) Getting by in America ,” Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2001 ground-breaking, eye-opening book, has been made into a play (adapted by San Franciscan Joan Holden). The book was required reading for all incoming students at SDSU. I saw the play in L.A. , and it really captured the essence of this funny and disturbing exposé. The production runs on the SDSU campus (directed by theater faculty member Peter James Cirino ), in the Don Powell Theatre, September 30-October 9. Shortly before the opening (Sept. 30, at 3pm), playwright Holden will speak in Montezuma Hall. On November 3, author and acclaimed journalist Barbara Ehrenreich , who tried (and failed) to get by on minimum wage jobs, will give a free lecture on campus (location TBA).
…Another Southern California premiere : “Dear Ella,” written and directed by Calvin Manson, with music by the Dennis Dawson Quintet, will play at Caesar’s Café, a presentation of Ira Aldredge Repertory Players, San Diego ’s only black dinner theater. Starring some Ira Aldredge veterans, megawatt singers all: Ayanna Hobson, Charmen Jackson, Kimberly Jackson and Yolanda Franklin, the piece is a musical portrayal of the life and loves of “The First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald. Sept. 30-Oct. 20. email@example.com .
…Speaking of high-powered singers, Devlin just got back from another trip to New York , where she sang at Birdland , and had her picture taken with Amanda McBroom and Michael Feinstein (see photo). She rocked the house with Mama Cass Elliott’s “Wild Women,” which probably prompted Broadwayworld.com to call her “the singing sensation from San Diego .” Presumably, she’ll be entertaining locals again soon, too.
…”Adam Bomb and the Jew Movie,” a provocatively titled play by Daniel Goldfarb, has its California premiere at 6th @ Penn October 21-December 4. The dramedy is based on a real incident that occurred in 1946, when Hollywood mogul Sam Goldwyn commissioned Oscar-winning screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr. to write the definitive movie on anti-Semitism. The play confronts prejudice, ethnic stereotyping and what it means to be an American Jew – or a Jewish American. The cast, shepherded by veteran director Glenn Paris (currently development director for the San Diego Repertory Theatre), includes former Blackfriars artistic director Ralph Elias, Max Macke (Poor Players) and 12 year-old Zev Lerner (“A Christmas Carol”). To address the incendiary nature of the themes, a symposium of community leaders will take place November 2 (venue TBA).
LOCAL AHTS and CULCHUH
… The Arts & Culture Working Group of the San Diego Foundation held its 30th anniversary Speaker Series Forum last week, and a motivator/eye opener it was. The Working Group, chaired by Roger Cornell, M.D., is dedicated to grantmaking , cultivating donors and developing cultural patronage. There were about 150 attendees, thanks to the organizational and PR skills of Julie Fry, Director of Arts and Culture Analysis and Strategies. The audience was made up of arts makers and funders and consumers and board-members. An informal poll revealed that the assemblage considered ‘increased attendance’ to be their #1 local arts/culture priority, with ‘arts education’ not far behind. As for the mandate of the San Diego Foundation, attendees felt that Arts Education Advocacy was most important, with leadership, marketing and audience development next in line. The outstanding keynote speaker was Robert Lynch, President and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Americans for the Arts. He considers San Diego to be “an innovative place” that tends to “overlook our own treasure.” Some of our stronger assets, according to Lynch, are creative fundraising, cross-border work, engaging young people and exporting local productions (e.g., to Broadway).
He spoke of the 50,000 non-profit arts organizations in the U.S. (there were only 7700 in 1965). San Diego county reportedly has 220 arts organizations. There are more working artists than ever before, though the competition remains brutal; the artists’ community is growing, but not financially. Americans, Lynch asserted, “love the arts, even if they don’t know it. More than ½ of the population participates in the arts in some way” (even if that means volunteering, building a custom hot rod, or singing in the church choir). Audiences are at an all-time high, too. We’ve become, as the Wall Street Journal put it, “a nation of culture.” But unlike other cultures (French, Chinese, African), the arts aren’t integrated into our society. Those countries don’t need or have any organization for the arts; arts/culture is part of their everyday life. Arts giving is up, but it now represents a much smaller percentage of overall philanthropy.
Several studies have shown that arts students out-perform non-arts students, and 93% of Americans agree that the arts are vital to a well-rounded education. But the erosion of arts education has given us leaders who have less background in the arts and are less disposed toward arts organizations and giving. Americans for the Arts is trying to help the situation by airing 30-second ads (by the likes of rapper Chuck D) that say “Art. Ask for more.”
A few more statistics you may be able to present to potential donors (and note that 90% of corporate giving is from small businesses): There are 578,000 arts-centered businesses in the U.S. California ranks #5 in that domain, and #3 in the number of people employed in the arts. In San Diego , there are 3600 businesses and 17,000 people employed in the arts.
If this is the kind of info that revs you up or turns you on, you won’t want to miss the second part of this program, on October 5 — Many Voices, One Message: The Challenge to Act, hosted by the Commission for Arts and Culture, the primary City of San Diego advocate for arts and culture. This gathering of artists, arts administrators and board members, business and community leaders, grant makers and philanthropists, legislators, educators and other movers and shakers is an all-afternoon, hands-on workshop. It boasts the lofty goal of “organizing for action” and “becoming better advocates for public support of arts and culture.” To arms!! For reservations and information, contact Linda Sokol at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOW, FOR WHAT’S ‘NOT TO BE MISSED!‘ (i.e., Critic’s Picks )
( for full reviews — going back to 1990– use the Search engine at www.patteproductions.com)
“Da Kink in my Hair” – high energy, great talent, gut-wrenching stories interspersed with singing, dancing and African drumming. This U.S. premiere needs a more pointed story-line, but it’s a foot-tappin’, hair-raisin’ experience.
At San Diego Repertory Theatre, through October 16.
“ Valhalla ” – director Tim Irving is the perfect conveyor of the wacky humor of Paul Rudnick. You’ve gotta love camp (and non-stop one-liners). If you do, this is the dream cast to deliver the goods.
At Diversionary Theatre, through October 2.
“Romeo and Juliet” – NCRT director David Ellenstein mines all the humor and ribaldry in the play. Wonderful ensemble work, crystalline language.
At North Coast Repertory Theatre, through October 2.
“Hair” – the ‘60s are back; Fritz artistic director Duane Daniels has captured the look and the feel – and of course, the nudity. He hopes this energetic young cast will shine light on the similarities between then and now. Bravo. The Fritz is back in the business of politics.
At the Lyceum Space, through September 28.
“The Winter’s Tale” – beautifully designed and directed. Director Darko Tresnjak is a wonder, and he teases outstanding performances from his talented ensemble.
In repertory on the Globe’s Festival Stage, through October 2.
“Macbeth” – marvelous direction (Paul Mullins), costumes (Linda Cho ) and truly spooky, chilling moments make this “ MacB ” a standout.
In repertory on the Globe’s Festival Stage, through October 2.
“The Comedy of Errors” – Director Darko Tresnjak shows his sillier side, with a farcical, slapstick production that’s precisely directed and humorously performed.
In repertory on the Globe’s Festival Stage, through October 2.
It’s officially Autumn – so fall into a theater near you!
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.