By Pat Launer
You get geared up for certain plays
And so frustrated by delays…
That’s the scoop, by gum, by heck,
With “Hedwig” and “The Burning Deck.”
But you can get Blitzed, have no fear:
The Fritz is back, and Caesar’s here.
…which reminds me of one of my favorite stories. (Hold your horses; I’ll get to the Fritz Blitz in a minute). A former On Air editor of mine was leaving KPBS to be with his girlfriend in the Northwest, and I called to wish him well. “You have to follow your bliss,” I said encouragingly, quoting myth-man Joseph Campbell. A few days later, he called me back to thank me for my “Jewish wisdom.” I was confused. “You know,” he said, “that Jewish advice you gave me: ‘Follow your blintz.'”
And that brings us to the Fritz Blintz… uh, I mean Blitz. This is the 10th annual event, which, celebrating and showcasing the new work of California playwrights, has persisted through thick and thin, with or without a home-base, through changing artistic directors, venues and boards. But the much-missed Fritz soldiers on, and one of the pieces in the first (of four) week’s presentations was deeply, wonderfully reminiscent of the old Fritz flavor and spice, which is so noticeably lacking from the local theater diet.
That piece was called “Curious Dangerous,” written by San Diegan T.H. Horan, directed by Esther Emery (her third Blitz directing foray). It lives up to its name, if you add the adjectives dark, unsettling, bizarre and unresolved. Right up the Fritz alley. Horan introduces us to a rather creepy quartet: a dying young woman, her impulsive best friend with a new, baffled husband, and a street person with a paper bag over his head, whom the wife has invited in for long-term shelter. Relationships, alliances, timeframes and sympathies shift by the nano-second, in fascinating and sometimes frustrating ways. The play intriguingly leaves quite a bit to the audience imagination, which makes it the best kind of ‘interactive’ theater. It also showcases the work of some wonderful local actors who are fortunately for us and them, beginning to be seen and heard more around town. Jennifer Eve Kraus, fresh from her triumph in “Stop Kiss” (Women’s Repertory Theatre) here gets to hone her acting acumen as the confused and confusing, reckless and fearful wife Karen. Rachael Van Wormer has just finished a breathtaking performance as Echo in “Eleemosynary” (La Jolla Stage Company) and the remarkable 18 year-old has also written one of the Blitz plays (“Turnip,” week 3). She’s the dying gaul (uh, girl) in the hospital bed, who also gets to be a bridesmaid, briefly, but never the bride she secretly wants to be. Brennan Taylor, a recent graduate of USD and a survivor of “Berzerkergang” (Sledgehammer), makes the hyper-analytical, downward-spiraling Adam a thoroughly credible neurotic. And Pat Moran is downright weird and eerie as the mechanical-talking bag-headed man. It’s a fun-filled, bumpy ride, and it brings back fond memories of delicious Fritz repasts of the past.
Preceding that finale was the cute and quirky “Peaches en Regalia,” written by Berkeleyite Stephen A. Lyons and helmed by inventive director Robert May. The title refers to a dessert at a diner which — featuring a canned peach half on a mound of cottage cheese, piled on a bed of iceberg lettuce, topped with a maraschino cherry — is a lot less exotic than it sounds. Not so for the play, however, which features a ditsy college student named Peaches (“I think my major is Business”) who names her clothes (she’s currently sporting ‘Black Death’) and leaves an unfulfilling job at Merrill Lynch to become a waitress at said diner, because of the same-name dessert. Her opening monologue, delivered to perfection by Sharla Boggs, is a hilarious spewing of naïve wisdom and scientific ambitions. The second monologue spotlights a nerdy, geeky Diep Huynh as Norman, who has been “practicing social behavior.…and being secure.” He has a crisis in the diner and then in the men’s room, where he breaks the sacred lavatory ‘circle of trust.’ Huynh brings the house down with his pathetic, horn-rimmed, failure-ridden diatribe. With his over-developed left brain (that would be the analytical one), he’d actually be a bookend/companion for Adam; too bad he’s in the other play. Then we meet Joanne, a bundle of desperate, man-hungry obsession that causes the 36 year-old bachelorette to exist in a permanent fluff-haze of angora (she compulsively rips at the fur of her beloved sweaters). Ultimately, all these stories come together in a delightfully amusing and satisfying way. … as syrupy as the titular dessert. But we lick our lips with the sweetness of it.
Now, having considered the middle and the end, we must come, of course, to the beginning of the evening. “In the Church of the Pen” is as pretentious as its name, a smug, self-congratulatory (or should I say masturbatory?) piece written by Kristen Lazarian of Los Angeles (who grew up in San Diego and graduated from Torry Pines High in 1986). The director, Eli Hans, also designed the attractive set (elaborate for such a short play): a gaslamp/streetlight, a white, gauzy palm tree and a white-linened table. Enter a gumshoe, who lights the proverbial noir cigarette under the streetlight. Then he gets a load of the sexy dame in the slinky dress who just waltzed into his life again. Midway through their predictable, innuendo-laden repartee, they break the fourth wall and bemoan the fact that the woman can’t remember her lines. Before you can say ‘Spare me!,’ the playwright and the director are on the stage, battling over the script, the text analysis, the timing, intonation, backstory, subtext and all the other dramatic elements theater-folk are so fond of discussing and theatergoers mostly couldn’t care less about. It’s a series of in-jokes better left out. The performances are respectable (Chrissy Burns as the jealous, line-losing Actress, Len Irving convincing as the Actor, Fred Harlow over the top as the overwrought playwright (whose play is overwritten) and Liv Kellgren as the annoyed and controlling director. Ho hum. Haven’t we had enough plays about playwriting and play-making? Locally, “State of the Art” by San Diego playwright Craig Abernethy, was much funnier, better written and far more enjoyable, when it premiered courtesy of…. The Fritz Theatre, this past March. Enough already with the self-reference. Let’s talk about something else in the theater. Anyway, “A Life in the Theater” will soon be back (at North Coast Rep, next May; soon enough) and with Jonathan McMurtry in the lead again, it should be a doozy, not a snoozer.
CAESAR’S SALAD DAYS
Speaking of Jonathan McMurtry, he plays no fewer than four characters in the Globe’s muscular new production of “Julius Caesar,” moving effortlessly from wig to wig, punk to poet. Daniel Sullivan, who brought to the Globe an unforgettably dark, gang-ridden “Romeo and Juliet” in 1998 and a sunny, lucid “Cymbeline” in 1999, has done it again. He’s set “Caesar” in the late 21st century and it reeks of internecine strife, economic collapse and political malfeasance. Thugs roam the streets, politicos plot murder and at the end, the new regime promises to be worse than the last. It’s exhilarating, breathtaking and terrifying in what it says about the state of the union and the nature of politics and the Body Politic. The battles, the plotting, the double-lives lived, the revealing soliloquies, the self-deception and petty revenge. Yummm, it’s luscious. And beautifully designed (Ralph Funicello) and lit (Mimi Jordan Sherin). The sound design is more striking (and less grating) than the original music (both by Dan Moses Schreier). We learn little of Caesar in the play. The TNT two-part made-for-TV movie began at the Consul’s youth and ended at his death; Shakespeare starts shortly before his murder and spotlights some of the suicidal aftermath. Robert Foxworth is commendable as Brutus (truly the central, tragic character) but he doesn’t quite engender as much sympathy as one might hope. It is his duality, his fear of monarchy and his love of country, that makes him go so wrong, despite his honorable intentions and his love of Caesar. Joel Polis plays Cassius wonderfully, as a hair-trigger hothead whose impetuosity causes him to stumble and fall. Dakin Matthews provides much-appreciated comic relief in his portrayal of Casca, one of the conspirators, and as Caesar’s wife Calpurnia and Brutus’ wife Portia, Kandis Chappell and Caitlin O’Connell add strength, deep emotion and dignity. As Mark Antony, Michael James Reed, so irresistible as “Pericles” last year at the Globe, starts out as a goofy, jockish macho-man and ends up, in his famous funeral oration, as an articulate, incendiary firebrand. It’s always worth seeing the work of Dan Sullivan; he’s one of the country’s most intelligent, reflective directors, and he’s brought us another potent, provocative production. (For more on this, listen to my review this Friday on KPBS, 89.5 FM — at 6:30 and 8:30a.m.; and after that — in audio and text versions — at kpbs.org and at patteproductions.com).
SUBLIMATION AND DELAYED GRATIFICATION
Arrrrgggh…. Just when I think my theater calendar’s set… along come the changes, delays and postponements. The much-anticipated La Jolla Playhouse Page-to-Stage project of the year, Sarah Schulman’s “The Burning Deck,” was pushed back a week due to scheduling conflicts with star Diane Venora, who plays the role of Bette in this modern riff on Balzac’s “Cousin Bette.” I saw her in the premiere of Ellen McLaughlin’s “Tongue of a Bird” at the Mark Taper Forum in 1999, and she’s got impressive New York and Hollywood film credits as well (including Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz”). LJP’s guest director, Kirsten Brandt, said working with Venora is “working with a genius — she’s amazing.” Brandt is not only stretching her wings locationally (from Sledgehammer to the La Jolla Playhouse) but she’s also stretching theatrically; this is the most realistic play she’s ever directed. We’re not allowed to review the Page to Stage productions (just as well last year, with the very-unfinished “I Think I Like Girls,” but a tragedy the year before, when the program was inaugurated with the brilliant performance of Jefferson Mays in “I Am My Own Wife,” currently taking New York by storm. That performance was one of the best, must nuanced and masterful I’ve ever seen. Anywhere). Anyway, I’ll let you know what I can (short of reviewing the thing) after I see it.
Now, that delay is programmatic; but the other one this week is bureaucratic. Sean Murray has had to delay the opening of his brand spanking new Cygnet Theatre due to the glacial pace of the San Diego city permit inspection process. The new opening of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” will be Friday, July 25. But don’t hold anyone to that too firmly yet. The jury (or the inspection team) is still out. But, judging from Jeremiah Lorenz’ kick-ass preview performance at Arts Tix Kicks last week, he’s more than ready to take over the city as the besieged, beleaguered rockstar, Hedwig.
THE ‘DON’T MISS’ LIST
“Julius Caesar” at the Globe; potent, political, petrifying
“1776,” a Lamb’s Players Theatre reprise at the Lyceum — better than before; patriotic and irresistible (irresistibly patriotic??)
“Fraulein Else” at La Jolla Playhouse – stellar performance by Francesca Faridany
[sic] at Sledgehammer – nasty, delicious, po-mo urban angst
“Rounding Third” – Little League story, Big League laughs
Summer is officially upon us… so go out there and follow your blintz… and Put a little Drama in your life…..
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.