By Pat Launer
There’s something for everyone; the dull and quick-witted:
From the hilarity of being ‘Fully Committed’
To the feeling of being frozen and stranded
That theatergoers get when they’ve been ‘Brand’-ed.
‘Camila’ will step up and give you the chance
To watch her pour her heart out in dance.
so whether your theatergoing’s light, dark or strange,
You can always say ‘I love you, you’re perfect … now change!’
CAN I HELP YOU??…
How would you conceive of A Day in the Life of an Actor? Line-learning? Audition cattle-calls? Table-waiting? Well, you’re close, if you chose the latter. In Becky Mode’s “Fully Committed,” we meet poor, beleaguered Sam, who mans the switchboard at a très tony restaurant in NYC. He’s besieged by agents and sheiks, divas and housewives, all clamoring for attention and a table. And on the intercom, from above, he gets grief from the sadistic chef/boss and the temperamental French cook and exasperated maitressed’.
David McBean plays them all. As he showed briefly in his hilarious turn as Miss Deep South in “Pageant” at North Coast Rep in 2002, he can make breakneck shifts between accents and vocal registers. One-man shows are invariably referred to as a tour de force, but this one really earns the epithet. Under the direction of Sean Murray, McBean, beloved of so many in the theater community, gets to flaunt all he’s got — with the sole exception of his magnificent singing voice (why’d he need to sing along with Frank Sinatra in “Lady is a Tramp,” anyway? — he can certainly hold his own musically — and I think he’s got a much better voice than Ol’ Blue Eyes — especially now!). McBean is dazzling; cool and relaxed as Sam (who grows increasingly frazzled) and spectacular as a vast array of eccentrics. And he’s perfectly set in Murray’s spot-on set, a grungy, detailed pigsty of a place in the bowels of what must be a pretty fancy upstairs.
There isn’t much in the way of a plot here. “Fully Committed” is the eatery’s euphemism for ‘booked up for the evening,’ and it’s Sam’s most frequent phone-answering utterance. As he handles the screaming bells and buzzes of multiple lines (perfectly-timed sound design by George Ye), he kowtows to everyone’s wants and needs. He covers for his buddy, he shunts an obnoxious repeat caller from the Frenchie upstairs (“She’s so UGLY, Sam!”) and with a set jaw, he does what no one else in the building will do — clean out the women’s room after an unfortunate gustatory mishap, while keeping Mrs. Zagat at bay. It’s all in a day’s work. But by the end of his shift, Sam has shifted gears himself, turned the tables, learned a few things and twisted events so they go in his favor — financially, professionally and vacationally. It isn’t deep, but it’s a neck-snapping roller-coaster ride. And it says a little something about learning to play the game yourself when you’re one of life’s hapless pawns — and winning the match, to boot.
McBean is delectable; his performance is incredibly varied, smooth and seamless; it’s astonishing how effortlessly he seems to move between genders, orientations, accents, dialects and speaking styles. He is a veritable training tape of international voices and dialects. It’s a performance worth crowing about — in any language or accent!
Readings, ever-growing in local popularity, can introduce us to new or little-known plays, new playwrights or adaptations, new actors or stellar ensembles of local favorites. “Brand,” directed by Rosina Reynolds at Diversionary Theatre, achieved many of these aims.
The play, originally written as a dramatic poem, is a fairly early piece (1866) by the acclaimed Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen. This translation, by Michael Meyer, was intended for performance rather than publication. The piece was severely cut, to excise the arcane discussions of 19th-century Norwegian politics. But the play remains an uphill plod through a bleak Scandinavian landscape and mindset, though it serves as a platform for Ibsen’s feelings about religion and personal freedom, ideas that are certainly relevant today. Still, the play is weighty and relentless.
The eponymous central character is a pastor of the Norwegian state church. He returns to his ancestral home, a small, remote village in a valley overshadowed by dangerous, snow-bound mountains. As he arrives, the villagers are on the verge of starvation, and he shows no pity for their condition, refusing to give them the food they crave. He blames them for putting the needs of the body above the duty of the spirit. Brand’s uncompromising devotion to duty destroys his wife and child, alienates his village followers and even distances him from his wrathful, vengeful God. The piece stands in extreme contrast to Ibsen’s next (greater) play, “Peer Gynt,” in which the title character abandons all that might be considered duty for excesses of self-indulgence.
There were some marvelous performances in the reading, but no admirable characters, except, perhaps, for Agnes (achingly played by Kathryn Venverloh), Brand’s dutiful, suffering wife. The play is a bit of a diatribe, a vehement, insistent attack on the human consequences of the hard-heartedness that often characterizes evangelical leaders. By the conclusion, it seems like we’ve taken that trek with Brand through the mountains and the Norwegian winter, having been led on a serpentine journey through the psyche of a single-minded, wrong-headed man. We feel battered and exhausted. Although Reynolds’ cast is terrific, I just don’t see an audience having the patience, tolerance and attention for a fully staged production.
That said, I want to commend the effort — and the ensemble, some of the best San Diego has to offer, including Priscilla Allen, Jack Banning, Marcus Overton, Cristina Soria, Jim Chovick, Joe Nesnow and the delightful, young Abby Grace Howe as the witchy gypsy, Gerd. At the center of it all, a fomenting firestorm of passion, is Jeffrey Jones as Brand. Emotionally, he has more peaks and valleys than… Norway. But the ceaseless austerity and doom become oppressive and claustrophobic. Toward the end, even Brand finds the self-sacrifice that his God demands almost two much to bear, and we’re with him all the way on that count.
CAMILA AND RICARDO
“Camila’s Story” is a beautiful elegy, a wonderful remembrance and an impressively inventive attempt to grieve and move on. Elizabeth Licea tells her own very personal story — in the best way she knows how — through deeply felt text and heartrending dance. This is her first full-length choreographed piece and it’s lovely. The tale unfolds onstage, onscreen, in voiceovers, beginning with a young, carefree child — adorable, 5 year-old Sara Gutierrez, who twirls around on the grass of Balboa Park and other San Diego locations, looks directly into the camera and enumerates all the things she wants to be when she grows up. The piece moves on to the ups and downs of the girl’s growing up and meeting the inspiration/dance partner/soulmate of her life (choreographer Ricardo Peralta) and then trying to continue to live after he is lost to her (he died in 2001). Licea continues under his company name — Ricardo Peralt’s Danza Performa and carries on his legacy.
Three dancers move through the piece (all, like little Sara, wearing the same red dress) and each completes the dance-phrase of the last, in one seamless sequence of alternating joy, hope, despair and agony. “I don’t want to think any more,” says Licea’s melancholy voice, in Spanish and English. “I don’t want to remember…. Everything’s gone and I’m still here…. I’m waiting for the snow to fall.” Ultimately, in a gorgeous final image, it does.
While Raffaella Judd and Christy Rube have tensile energy and flowing abandon, it is Licea who is luminous. This is her heart that’s breaking and you feel it in her every move. Her face radiates a vast array of sentiments and passions; her body writhes and curls, swirls and leaps with palpable emotion. Peralta would be proud of his partner and protégée; she has created something ravishing and touching to remember him by. And now, perhaps, she has had her catharsis and can go on to create more haunting, lilting, lovely work in his style and in his memory.
YOU MAY BE PERFECT BUT…
Three times in three years. San Diego has certainly gotten a belly-full of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.” The show’s a revue of songs of love, in all its permutations: dating, mating, marrying, procreating, divorce, empty nest and widowhood. It’s all there, with every cliché in the book set to music. No book, really, the Joe De Pietro/Jimmy Roberts musical (eight years and running Off Broadway) is a simple series of scenelets depicting the stages of (love)life. No news here, but it’s a nice showcase for four chameleon singer/actors.
The latest production, hoping to settle into the Theatre in Old Town for a long, comfortable run — on the heels of the extended stays of “Forever Plaid” and “Beehive” — is surprisingly, just about entirely imported. There have been some spectacular San Diego performers who’ve taken on these roles — most notably Leigh Scarritt, Joy Yandell, David Brannen, Steve Gunderson. Why couldn’t Old Town have cast the play here, benefiting and highlighting local talent? This is one of our only for-profit venues, and it’d be great to feature (as has been done in the past) some of Our Own. But the theater brought in the original director of the show, Joel Bishoff, so the casting was his choice — and primarily from New York.
So, here we have some fine and flexible actor/singers — both the men are from the original cast of “Forever Plaid” and both the women performed in the Off Broadway run of “I Love You…” They’re all gifted, but not necessarily better than the local talent. There actually is a San Diego connection. Mylinda Hull (who played, among other notable roles, Lola opposite Jerry Lewis in the national tour of “Damn Yankees), is a graduate of the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts and a Junior Theatre alum who earned her Equity card at the Welk Theatre. In 1998, she was a hoot as Winifred in Starlight’s “Once Upon a Mattress.” David Engel (who originated the “Plaid” character, Smudge) is handsome and talented in multiple roles. Stan Chandler, who was the original Jinx in “Plaid,” plays most of the ‘younger’ guys, though he really shines as the aging geezer trying to score a pickup at a funeral. Andrea Chamberlain rounds out the cast with her cute, pert presence and energy.
It’s a simpler, less elaborate production than either the San Diego Rep or Starlight Theatre mounted; a plaid-ish, non-descript backdrop and four chairs (set by James Kronzer), with evocative but not memorable costumes (uncredited). The pianist, Andrew M. Ingersoll, a veteran of national tours and musical director of Old Town’s “Beehive,” is terrific, and he’s accompanied by violinist Laura Wanek (who’s studied at SDSU); the two have a lot less humorous interactions than other productions, too.
It was a full house on Saturday night — some locals, lots of tourists, it seemed — and they were loving it. There’s something about love in this trite trifle that just about anyone (hetero) can relate to. It’s perfect fare for the visitor, and fun for a breezy, frothy evening of entertainment.
THIS WEEK’S ‘DON’T MISS’ LIST
“Kimberly Akimbo” — spectacular production; hilarious, poignant, incredibly well acted and directed; at 6th @ Penn Theatre, through Feb. 22
“Fully Committed” not much story, but a true tour de force by David McBean; he’s a knockout: 40 characters — and a whole lot more! At Cygnet Theatre, ongoing.
“Camila’s Story” — hauntingly elegiac, Elizabeth Licea’s lovely tribute to choreographer Ricardo Peralta; in repertory with Eveoke Dance Theatre’s “Mothers” at Sushi, through Feb. 1.
“Mothers” — Beautiful, heartbreaking and wildly imaginative. Choreographer Gina Angelique and her Eveoke Dance Theatre’s latest provocation to sit up and think — about parenthood and about loss. In repertory with Ricardo Peralta Danza Performa’s “Camila’s Story,” through February 1.
Whew! It’s almost February — the V-month, the love-month, the Oscars month. Do something loving for the theater community — see a play!
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.