By Pat Launer
Relatively Speaking, it’s been another wild week
From Globes of Blue/Orange to the Vox that’s Greek;
I rode the Trolley, while Annie Got her Gun,
Then I got Electra-cuted, just for fun.
While KPBS is singin’ the blues (with stellar series on radio and TV), the Globe is presenting its own color-riff – Joe Penhall’s “Blue/Orange.” The drama takes a subtle, provocative look at racism, health care, and power plays. In its triangular structure (three men), it resembles Yazmina Reza’s “Art.” In its abuses of power differentials, it’s reminiscent of David Mamet’s “Oleanna.” And in its confrontation of exploitation in the health care system, it’s redolent of Andrea Stolowitz’s “Knowing Cairo.” And yet, it’s unique in presenting its arguments (sometimes somewhat didactically) and how the playwright darkens the tones and hues. Nothing is black, white, blue or orange here; it’s all shades of gray. The balances among these three men shift frequently and unpredictably. Just when you think you have a handle on what’s happening, Penhall makes a hairpin turn and it’s catawampus all over again.
The protagonists are a new psychiatrist, Bruce, and his hospitalized patient, Christopher. The young doctor calls in his supervisor to discuss whether Chris should be sent out into the street, for which Bruce thinks he’s not at all ready, or reclassified as schizophrenic, so he can remain in the London psychiatric facility to get more appropriate treatment. But each man turns out to have multiple agendas, and each takes a turn in the driver’s seat, manipulating the others for his own ends. No one is untainted; no one is consistently right or wrong, good or bad. It’s a fascinating look at humans being very human; the only problem is, the stakes are high — two careers and possibly a life hang in the balance.
I always look forward to Richard Seer’s directorial turns at the Globe. The director of the Globe/USD Actor Training Program typically makes captivating dramatic choices, and does a wonderful job of bringing them to life. He’s done it again, assembling and shepherding a potent cast, coaxing finely nuanced performances from them. He maintains a brisk pace, even when the sometimes prolix language of the play creaks or grinds.
Teagle F. Bougere is terrific as the patient, whose nervous, jittery energy spills over into the Cassius Carter seats. He may or may not be the son of African dictator Idi Amin. He may or may not perceive all orange fruit to be blue. He may or may not be schizophrenic. Bruce believes he needs more treatment. Robert thinks his problems are more cultural than medical. And besides, there aren’t beds to spare in the hospital. As Robert, Ned Schmidtke is a mass of captivating contradictions; he’s smooth, slick, oily, avuncular, angry, rational and racist by turns. Brian Hutchison plays Bruce as a loose cannon, which strains medical credibility; he loses his temper too easily from the get-go. So when he really gets fired up at the end, it’s less powerful. But when he keeps trying to regain control, to out-wit and out-fox both other men, using one futile strategy after another, his desperation is palpable. Robin Sanford Roberts’ set is a wonderful mix of monochromatic modernism and institutional angularity. Like the characters, it’s all shades of gray. Very effective, and very well lit by Chris Rynne. A gripping production (even though the play sometimes drags), with robust direction and compelling performances.
YOU CAN GET A FAN WITH A GUN…
“You can’t get a male in the tail like a quail” has always been a favorite line of mine. But of course, “Annie Get Your Gun” has a million of ’em. They just don’t write musicals like they used to; every darn song’s a winner. Well, whaddaya expect? Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. And the book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields (listed as ‘Dorthy’ in the program) is no slouch, either. Jerome Kern was supposed to have written the songs with Fields, but he died in 1945, just before the project was to begin, and Berlin was brought in. It was Fields who came up with the idea, and the immortal pairing of Ethel (the Merm) and Annie (the Oak).
The story, you may recall, set in the mid-1880s, concerns Annie Oakley, an illiterate hick from the Cincinnati area, who immediately upon entering, demonstrates remarkable marksmanship. As a result, she is persuaded (through the ever-convincing claim that “There’s No Business Like Show Business”) to join Col. Buffalo Bill’s traveling Wild West Show. Annie takes one look at Frank Butler, the show’s featured shooting ace, and falls madly in love. After competing with, out-shooting and then eclipsing him in the show (“Anything You Can Do,” “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly,” “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” “The Girl That I Marry”) she realizes that “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun.”
Local powerhouse Joy Yandell (a veteran of “Beehive” and “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” among many others), isn’t trying to channel Ethel. She puts her own delectable spin on the role, and it’s a winner. She’s a heckuva lot better than Marilu Henner was when she breezed through San Diego in 2000 in the national tour. This version doesn’t mess with the P.C. changes of the revival, so it’ll definitely ruffle some feathers.
Yandell is irresistible; she’s adorably hillbilly at the outset and she adds a perfect country twang to her rangy voice. Plus, she’s got Andrew Husmann as her leading man, a handsome, talented, affable guy who understudied Tom Wopat in that Marilu national tour. A few other standouts in the 24-person cast are Robert Marra, a delightful triple-threat as Tommy, the half-breed (as it were); Jeffrey Arnold Wolf, hilarious as Chief Sitting Bull, and as Annie’s brother, Michael Drummond, a guy with a marvelous stage presence — and he’s only 9! The production is crisply directed and choreographed by Jon Engstrom — and well worth the trip to the Welk. I bet it’s been a looooong time since you were there! (it sure was for me!). Go; enjoy. It’ll make you feel young! [oh, and if you mention Joy’s website, www.JoyYandell.com, you get an extra discount on tix!! Bonus!]
EVERYTHING IS RELATIVE
Alan Ayckbourn, as described (by dramaturg Dick Emmet) is the most prolifically produced playwright in the English language. He’s penned some 70 plays, though that doesn’t mean they’re actually more produced than anyone else’s… but I guess I’ll have to take his word for it for now. The Sir Alan play currently running at North Coast Repertory Theatre is “Relatively Speaking,” a work that premiered in 1967. It’s reportedly the playwright’s attempt to craft a traditional, “well-made play,” in the style of Oscar Wilde. He should be so funny.
The piece reeks of the ’60s, and the production, directed by Rosina Reynolds, does everything to evoke that perky timeframe. Jeanne Reith’s costumes are a mini-skirted, flower-powered hoot, George Ye’s peppy sound design is filled with early, apt Beatles songs (e.g., “Love Me Do” — twice) and Marty Burnett’s set design morphs magically from the ’60s flower-flocked ‘pad’ of the (draggy) first scene into the bucolic backyard of an English country home (greenhouse and all) for the rest of the play. Lovely stuff, that. The direction is crisp, the players are amusing, but the play is…. well, frankly annoying at times. It’s funny in fits and starts, especially in the plentiful stage business. Brian Salmon gets to do one of the longest, slowest double-takes in the history of the theater, I think. But the confusions and mistaken identities are so slow to unfold that one tends to lose focus. That doesn’t diminish the fun of watching Salmon and Susan Denaker go at it as a suburban, middle-aged, mutually distrustful husband and wife. As the younger set, Jo Anne Glover and Tom Hall are appealing, if not blessed with spectacularly fascinating, multi-dimensional characters. At least this early Ayckbourn is a little less cynical than some of his later work. But he never has any love lost for the joys of marriage or monogamy, or the human potential for self-deception. If you like a long journey to resolution, with a few good laughs along the way, you’ll hop on the tram for this one.
ZING ZING ZING GOES THE TROLLEY
Speaking of trams, there is absolutely no better way to take a ride and celebrate contemporary choreography than with “Trolley Dances 2003.” I’m a little embarrassed to say that this is the first time I’ve caught the act in its five years of existence, but I can’t imagine it ever being better than this. Propelled by Jean Isaacs and her San Diego Dance Theater, the fabulous dance-fest features 7 pieces choreographed by six marvelous creative forces: Isaacs, Yolande Snaith and Allysoon Green from UCSD, Bay Area choreographer Kim Epifano and the post-modern collective GROUP; L.A.-based Victoria Marks, and Faith Jensen-Ismay with the Tijuana-based Grupo de Danza Minerva Tapia.
Here’s how it works: You go to the Old Town trolley station and get your ticket. Then you see a wonderfully imaginative dance piece (Isaacs) right there on the waiting benches. Then you get on the trolley and get off at the Fashion Valley/River Bank stop for a terrifically Fellini-esque dance work (Epifano) down by the river, crossing the bridge, in among the trees, while composer/performer Don Nichols plays everything from a piece of metal to a musical array of hanging beer bottles. Sheer magic — with a message.. about the danger to the river and the natural environment. Next stop, Hazard Center, for “Persephone: Love and Shopping on the escalators of Life” is a delightful and fanciful diversion (Marks), based on the myth of the young woman who was dragged into the Underworld (Nordstrom, are you listening??). The Mission Valley stop also focuses our attention on shopping (Ismay and Grupo), but the point is less well defined. There are three performances at the Mission Valley Library. Outside on the plaza, Green’s piece related to the rocks, waterscape and personal wishes in simple and simplistic ways. Inside, in the Children’s Reading Room, Isaacs entranced us again with Chapter 5 from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” read in a most engaging way by the masterful Jim Winker, with Alison Dietterle riveting as that writhing, hookah-smoking Caterpillar. Upstairs on the balcony, Snaith presented “Babook,” an invented language challenging the dancers to do all manner of movement with book in hand. Lovely and provocative.
Each piece lasts about 7 or 8 minutes, then you get back on the trolley and move on. the whole event (which runs every hour) lasts about two hours. And it’s absolutely irresistible. Each piece is marvelously integrated into the specific site, and you get to see a wonderful array of contemporary choreography, while enjoying the local clime. There’s nothing like it. And you really shouldn’t miss it!
“Vox Hellenic,” the Sledgehammer-GrassRoots Greeks collaboration, concluded with a bang — and an Electra shock. One of the best pairings of the series was Marianne McDonald’s translation of Sophocles’ “Electra,” coupled with Luis Alfaro’s Spanglish adaptation, “Electricidad.” McDonald’s translation was written in collaboration with J. Michael Walton, and it had her usual clarity coupled with more poetic lyricism. Lovely reading, especially strong in the performances of Anne Tran in the title role, a weepy, wailing affair, extremely well carried off; and Brennan Taylor as her peripatetic brother, Orestes; Lisel Gorel as her sister Chrysothemis.
Alfaro spins it all on its head and turns it southward… with a charming and delightful bilingual adaptation that was neck-snapping in its pitch-perfect timing (especially given that the cast had only one rehearsal!). They were all nimble and convincing in this intriguing story of a Barrio family stuck in The Life. The father was brutally murdered, gangland style, arranged by his power-hungry wife, who wants to take over the family ‘business.’ April Doctolero was terrific as Electricidad, with strong performances put in by Rene Pena as her nasty, chain-smoking mother, Clemencia; Kim Miller compelling as born-again sister, Cristina; Juan Manzo potent as the Vegas-escapee, Orestes; and Raul Moncada unwavering as the familia’s steadfast friend, Nino. Wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
IF YOU MISSED IT BEFORE, NOW’S YOUR CHANCE…
The first, mid-war presentation of Voices of Women’s “Reflections on War and Peace” (in April) was a huge success. The wonderful words of Shakespeare, Dylan, Elie Wiesel and Eleanor Roosevelt, spoken by a bevy of local actors, are no less relevant in the supposedly post-war period. Be titillated and provoked in this revised, streamlined, updated version (complete with a rib-tickling Weekday News Update featuring that Mutt-and-Jeff comedy team, Laura Bozanich and Pat Launer). Also appearing: Jason Connors, Jillian Frost, Jenni Prisk and Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson. Be there! Thursday, October 9 at 7:30 pm at USD’s Joan Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice. Refreshments to follow. Proceeds from the $20 tix go to the Institute’s Nepal Project’s women’s programs.
And now, for THIS WEEK’S ‘DON’T MISS’ LIST
Trolley Dances — a fabulous array of contemporary choreographers… at stops along the Mission Valley line. This is really a must-see! This Saturday and Sunday only.
“Blue/Orange” — provocative brain-twister about shrinks and crazies, racism and institutions; in the Globe’s Cassius Carter, through October 26
“Beauty” — gorgeous world premiere, beautifully written and wonderfully directed by Tina Landau; mystical, magical… See it! At La Jolla Playhouse; through October 19
“Boy Gets Girl” — dark and intense, suspenseful and disturbing — and, if you can take it, definitely worth seeing; at 6th@ Penn — through this weekend
“Annie Get Your Gun” — delightful production with two great leads and wonderful costumes; at the Lawrence Welk Resort Theatre, through November 8
“Love! Valour! Compassion!” — the boys are back in town! And what fabulous company they are. Extended to October 18
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” — Jeremiah Lorenz is fabulous, and the band, though ultra-loud, is killer. The Cygnet is hatched, and it soars; extended to November 2
Before the holiday onslaught, October’s a great time to put a little drama in your life!
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.