By Pat Launer
It’s unequivocally true–
I see more shows than I review
So this space gives me an opportunity
To share more views with the theater community.
And anyway, theatermakers, c’mon, confess —
Are you conscious early Fridays to hear me on KPBS???
Well, catch the info any way you choose:
Herewith I present this week’s stageworthy news!
Even if Jack didn’t bring his beloved Pumpkin to the 57thTony Awards, San Diego was very well represented. There was, of course, our musical darling, late of Junior Theatre, the multi-talented Brian Stokes Mitchell (nominated for Best Actor in a Revival for “Man of La Mancha”). And a formerly local costumer, Gregg Barnes (nominated for “Flower Drum Song”), who designed the first “Suds” here many moons ago. But it was Jack’s night, through and through.
Why on earth two theater companies saw fit to schedule openings on Tony Night is beyond me — What WERE they thinking? This is the biggest nationwide theater night of the year… and San Diego had a vested interest. So you know where I was on Sunday — right where I belonged — glued to my TV set (which I never am). And what a night it was!
It was a night for “Hairspray,” the terrifically vibrant, energetic musical that walked off with eight Tonys. Rarely does one show pick up the silver disk for best musical, book, score, actor, actress, featured actor and director (our own Jack O’Brien).
After five nominations, Jack came onstage saying “Finally!” referring to himself as “the Miss Havisham of the Tonys.” He was his usual effusive, articulate self as he generously praised the other nominees and graciously accepted his much-deserved award for the irresistible “Hairspray.” The book and lyric collaborators/partners (Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) kissed onstage and declared their mutual love (likely a first for CBS). The incomparable Harvey Fierstein, who made Edna Turnblad a warm and wonderful Mom, picked up his fourth and said to the statuette, “You haven’t aged a bit.” Featured actor Dick Latessa (Harvey’s onstage husband) was a popular winner, and the house came down for the effervescent star/newcomer, Marissa Jared Winokur, she of the plus-sized body and king-sized voice (“If a 4’11” chubby girl from Queens can win the Tony,” she exclaimed, “anything is possible!”). Harvey was in a dead heat for awhile with sex-god Antonio Banderas (who even foremost actor/lesbian Cherry Jones recently said made her into a “latent heterosexual”). And Marisa beat out Bernadette Peters, who was far less than impressive in her turn from “Gypsy,” but she got a Standing O anyway.
There was lots of emotion (real, not the Hollywood kind) and a few good laughs, though Hugh Jackman got low marks as host. But, after a whole host of kids came on for the “Frog and Toad” number, Michele Pawk, winner for Featured Actress in a Play (“Hollywood Arms”) said of the evening: “Men kissing each other onstage, drag queens, children — It’s a perfect world!”
MORE DRAMATIC FESTIVITIES ABOUT TOWN…
THE BIG BANG THEORY, CONFIRMED
It promised a Big Bang, but the La Jolla Playhouse wound up making a big splash (it was gray and wet on Saturday) at its much-anticipated groundbreaking. Big Names abound in the new complex, to be called the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Center for the La Jolla Playhouse. Thanks to Audrey Geisel, there will be Seuss One and Seuss Two Rehearsal Rooms, and a green area called Peck Park, named for founder Gregory Peck, whose wife was on hand for the revelry, which included lots of activities for kids — and lots of kids were there, cavorting in the mist. For the grown-up kids there was a costume tent (I of course, couldn’t resist; see photo) as well as a caricaturist (the waiting line was too long) and performances by alums and grad students from the SDSU MFA program in musical theater, as well as the ab-fab Red Dirt Band, featuring Des McAnuff on guitar and vocals — all singing songs from the LJP musical canon: “Rent,” “Big River,” “How to Succeed,” “Billy the Kid,” “Twelfth Night” (1990 production with music by Michael Roth), the sadly forgotten mega-musical, “80 Days” (1988, music by Ray Davies of The Kinks), and of course, the ever-rockin’ “Tommy.” The event was like a big old Renaissance Faire, and if the Playhouse lives up to all promises, the full-service facility will be a veritable theater playground, where a theater-lover could easily while away a whole day, as Des outlined it — from breakfast to a POP (in-school program) performance, a reading of a new play, lunch, a string quartet, dinner with a harpist, an evening performance and a visit to the late-night cabaret.
THERE’S NOTHING ‘LO’ ABOUT THE LO PRESTES
Speaking of high-octane events, you’d have to go pretty far to top Friday night’s CD release party and performance for Danielle Lo Presti and the Masses. It was All in the Family — and whatta family it is! The beautiful, sexy, multi-talented Danielle, who wrote all her politically-charged funk-rock songs, is sister to the indomitable Gina Angelique, political powerhouse and founder of Eveoke Dance Theatre. And their mother, the spirited Mary Lou Lo Preste (why do they all spell the name differently??) is herself the operator of Sun Harbor Marina, the “first green marina in San Diego” (opening Jan. 2004) and the force behind La Red Revision Project, a non-profit fair trade organization dedicated to providing a market for artisans in Guatemala and Mexico. So there they all were, in full activist force, with Gina’s energetic, effervescent husband Chris Hall producing, at a Sushi event that rocked the house. It was a raucous, SRO crowd that obviously loves Danielle, and her 9 piece band and singers (among them, the gorgeous, rubber-limbed Keith Jefferson, wonderful recently in the Rep’s “Workin'”) were stupendous. As if that weren’t enough, during several numbers, the Eveoke dancers performed their vibrant, pulsating hip-hop wonders. It was great to see those formerly kid-like dancers now blossomed into beautiful, talented adults — the amazing Anthony Rodriguez, now a choreographer and improviser, too; the lovely Elizabeth “Froggy” Marks, who achingly portrayed Anne Frank in Eveoke’s “Soul of a Young Girl” in 2000 and most deliciously welcome, back from her first year of college in NoCal, April Tra, who was stunning to behold — on and off the stage. If you missed the hip, highly energized event, your loss…. But you can still catch the CD, which has been praised by none less than Ani Difranco… It’s called “22 Mountains,” and the title song, among others — like “Get Over It,” “Never Going Back,” Come to My,” “Growing/Old” and the one written to/for John (presumably Lennon) but on this night, dedicated to George W., “Imagining” — are gritty, sensual and often inspiring. Danielle and the Masses will also be at Dizzy’s on June 26. Now, as a very pointed segue, I should mention that their debut CD was called “Dear Mr. Penis-head.”
THE PUPPET SHOW YOUR DAD NEVER DID FOR YOU….
Coming to San Diego– “Puppetry of the Penis”… Let the double entendres begin… I had to see if I actually wanted to sit through two hours (or whatever) of dick-tricks (as they themselves call them) so I checked out (so to speak) the Puppetry of the Penis press conference. Okay, so these two Aussies get up onstage in their altogethers, wearing only sneakers — and cheesy capes (you’d think, with all the money they’re raking in worldwide, they could raise some…. funds). After a bit of banter, the guys turn their backs and when they re-face the small (puny? shriveled?) audience, they’re displaying one of their 123 penile “installations” — the Eiffel Tower, the Snail, the Windsurfer, or their signature creation, The Hamburger. Then, they ask if anyone has any questions. Yes, of course: WHY ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING THIS??? Contorting your privates into all manner of weird shapes and configurations for no particular reason, with no redeeming value whatsoever. Beats me. Seems jerky. Soft porn?? Really, it was more like locker-room wanking. (‘Hey, look at this!!’ ‘Oh yeah, well watch this!’ ‘Can you do THIS??’) It’s totally asexual (they said their worst nightmare is a cold hall) and not particularly titillating (oops, wrong body part!) All sorts of multiple-meaning queries came to mind, like: How long is the show? How large a production? How hard is it to do this? You take a real hands-on approach to rehearsal, huh? etc. etc. etc. I contented myself with the following: “You’ll pardon my saying so, nothing personal but, this seems to be more about flexibility than size.” They agreed. And my follow-up was: “Is this artform like dance, in that you don’t have a very long career?’ (“Well,” they quipped, “when it starts getting below the knees, it’s time to quit.” Hmmmm. Ye ole stretch-factor). And, I asked, “Just how ancient is this “ancient Australian art of genital origami?” And one of them said, “Well, I’ve been doing it since I was 17.” Cue the laugh-track. The guys really do have some funny… repartee. They are comedians (they’d HAVE to be to be earning their living like this). There are now 5 touring companies worldwide, and they’ll be auditioning while they’re in San Diego, in case you’d like to twist again, like you did last summer. (They’ll be at the Lyceum; June 17-29, and you KNOW the show may be extended!). For $30-45, maybe you’d like to stay home and amuse yourself! Just a thought; roll it around in your… mind.
PLAY BALL!! (how’s THAT for a segue??)
Saturday night was the opening of “Rounding Third,” the Globe’s light, comic antidote to the deep, rich, intellectually challenging “Pentecost” next door. Richard Dresser’s work was last seen at the Globe in 1997 (“Below the Belt,” a dark corporate comedy). This time, there isn’t much darkness; every time a serious vein is hit, a comic pitch knocks one out of the park. Needless to say, this is a baseball play, a two-hander about Little League coaches. But it’s really about friendship and competition, winning, losing, honesty and being true to yourself. The writing is sharp, the pacing is quick and lively (under David Petrarca’s assured direction) and the performances are delightful.
Tom McGowan, Tony nominee for “La Bête,” has been seen, hilariously, at La Jolla Playhouse (“Our Town,” “Loot” and “School for Wives”). Here, he’s funny (as always), sympathetic (if occasionally hateful) and thoroughly credible as the tough-as-nails, take-no-prisoners, lose-or-die coach of a pre-teen team. Enter a nerdy, inexperienced assistant coach whose only sports background is curling in Canada. In the role of Michael (NOT Mike or Mikey, as Don prefers), Jeffrey Hutchinson seemed still and over-acted at first, but he soon warmed to the role and wormed his way into our hearts. He’s a loser/Everyman who grows as he forces Don to grow up. Needless to say, his kid is the worst on the team, while Coach Don’s is the best. In addition to their relentlessly funny (though often painful) interactions, there is some back-story on the kids, the wives and some extramarital antics. The design bases are loaded. Robin Sanford Roberts once again makes the most of the Cassius Carter, with a raised diamond (what else?) center stage, ringed with lights, balls and on two sides, a working spigot over a bucket of baseballs that oddly runs water when it ‘rains.’ Rob Milburn’s sound design is first-string, and David Cuthbert’s lighting strikes just the right notes (dappled sunlight, grassy green… very evocative, perfect for the poetic side of the game).
Even the most diehard non-sports fans (referred to in the play as those who’d prefer “Brigadoon” to a ballgame) can find something to like and learn –and lots to laugh at in “Rounding Third.” And for the Globe: Big hit, no errors.
And finally, the SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION SECTION (I borrowed that from “Car Talk’s” Click and Clack on NPR)
Last week was the annual SPJ Awards Banquet (Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego chapter). I was happy to walk away with four awards, including a First Place for Critical Writing in a Non-Daily Newspaper for my review of 6th @ Penn’s “A Prayer for My Daughter” in the Gay & Lesbian Times. I placed second in Radio Features for my NPR piece on “Imaginary Friends” and for an On Air piece on April Tra and Eveoke’s “Funakalosophy” (see mention of April’s return, above). And I scored an Honorable Mention for my radio review of Robert Wilson’s brilliant “Woyzeck” at UCLA. I drove up there with some Sledge-folks, and we still sing the anthemic Tom Waits song from the show: “Misery’s the river of the world, everybody row.”
Okay, sports-fans… that about wraps up volume one of the drama queen gazette. Stay tuned, keep your hands to yourself… and don’t forget to put a little drama in your life.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.