By Pat Launer
A happy ending for Cinderella
But Lucia loses her mind and her fella .
Molière ’s a victim of nefarious schemes
And Bollywood has Bombay Dreams.
In A Body of Water, all memory’s gone;
The memory may fade, but the play lingers on.
THE SHOW: A Body of Water , the latest creation by Lee Blessing (“A Walk in the Woods”). The show premiered at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis last summer, but since he’s made many changes, Blessing is calling this the play’s “second world premiere”
THE STORY: Two apparently well-to-do people awake in a mountaintop aerie, surrounded by water. They don’t know how they got there, or who they are. They have lost all trace of memory, though they’re still intellectually agile. They try to reconstruct their relationship, recreate some sense of shared experience. Nothing about them (including their naked bodies) looks familiar, though they just woke up in the same bed. Perhaps he touched her breast, perhaps they had sex; neither of them can recall. The clothes they’ve found fit them perfectly. But what does it all mean? On three occasions, the couple is visited by a young woman who tries to fill in the gaps. But she seems to be toying with their minds, their consciousness, their sincere efforts to restructure a sense of self, place and perception. She may be telling them lies; she says she’s just trying to jog their memories. But she veers wildly from compassion to frustration, sympathy to sadism. Is she, as she tells them, their attorney? Or is she their irritated caregiving daughter? Every new story she tells changes their perception completely, and they have to begin again, from a new starting place. The discomforting circumstances may smack of Beckett, or Pinter, Ionesco or Sartre. Blessing’s play is more direct, more accessible, but no less enigmatic. His title metaphorical – we are all bodies of water, after all; our reality and memory are fluid and mutable. What we learn here is less about the characters than about ourselves. Without memory, life is new every moment, fraught with possibility — and fear. Memory is not necessarily truth; it’s the stories we tell ourselves, the ones we value and pass on. And family is an accumulation of mutually collected and agreed-upon stories.
The tone, like the responses of the characters, shifts from comic to dark and deeply disturbing. We are on this journey, too; we never really find out who these people are. We are as unsettled and disoriented as they, and that left us conversing and conjecturing long into the night.
THE PLAYERS: Ethan McSweeny has directed five of Blessing’s plays, and he has a wonderful feel for this one (which he also helmed in Minnesota ). He handles the tonal shifts perfectly, never letting the comedy slip into farce or slapstick, keeping the drama dense but not impenetrable. And he teases marvelously nuanced performances from his expert cast. Sandy Duncan is a marvel as the smart, snappish Avis (all three characters have names rooted in nature). She is by turns funny and confounded. As Moss, Ned Schmidtke (most recently seen at the Globe in Blue/Orange and Pericles) is 100% male – paternalist and protective (though he may have been abusive in his earlier life); he’s determined to make a family of this triad, to stake his claim as husband and father. Samantha Soule is their deliciously mysterious foil – sassy, nasty, comical, cynical. She continually keeps the players – and the audience – off-balance. It’s unsettling, chilling, and a little thrilling, too.
THE PRODUCTION: Michael Vaughn Sims’ sleek, black and white scenic design is a creative wonder, a spare, high-end living space surrounded by water that’s sparklingly lit by York Kennedy. The windows that border the house lift up for the action and descend into the water to create a magical, dripping rainstorm. Underscoring the proceedings is an eerie vocal/musical soundscape, the thrumming, heart-pounding beat of Michael Roth’s sound design, which features ace local guitarist Peter Sprague. It’s all a little otherworldly. How can we feel stable or solid, when the play reminds us “We’re all afloat on a huge sea of assumptions?”
THE LOCATION: The Old Globe’s Cassius Carter Centre Stage, through March 19.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Best Bet
MURDER ON THE MOORS
THE SHOW: Lucia di Lammermoor , the gut-wrenching bel canto masterwork by Gaetano Donizetti; premiered in 1835, set in 1669
THE STORY: Sir Walter Scott’s novel, “The Bride of Lammermoor ,” inspired four Italian operas, but this is by far the most enduring and adored, and Donizetti’s most popular. The names of Scott’s characters were translated from English to Italian; so Lucy became Lucia; Henry, Enrico ; and Edgar, Edgardo , though the Scottish place names remain the same, as does the long-standing, blood-feud face-off between the families of Ravenswood and Lammermoor . Meeting by chance, Lucia of Lammermoor falls in love with Edgardo of Ravenswood. They become secretly betrothed, but her scheming, unscrupulous brother Enrico insists on an arranged marriage for her, one that will restore the family prosperity. Enrico goes to brutal extremes in forcing his sister’s hand, eventually showing her a forged letter that ‘proves’ Edgardo’s infidelity. Lucia goes mad, and on her wedding night, she murders her new husband, returning to the nuptial festivities covered in blood and singing with flutes. She dies in anguish, and when he finds out, heartbroken Edgardo kills himself in despair.
THE PLAYERS: The opera hinges on the skill of its centerpiece, and it requires a spectacular coloratura soprano. Young Angela Gilbert (turning 32 on Saturday), another impressive ‘discovery’ by the San Diego Opera’s general manager Ian Campbell, is unequivocally up to the task. She represented her native South Africa in the Singer of the World Competition in 2003, and she’s played Lucia at Cape Town Opera and Palm Beach Opera. Half a century ago, the role launched the international career of the great Australian soprano, Joan Sutherland. This production might just do the same for Gilbert. Her Lucia is a woman of unbridled passion; Gilbert convincingly ricochets from innocence to sensuality, joy to agony. She is compelling in every scene, as actor and singer. But it is the celebrated third-act mad scene where she dazzles most. She is shattered, desperate, entranced, lost in an ecstasy of despair, her insanity marked by frenzied head-banging. Her stratospheric soprano is luminous in the flute-duet, exhilarating in the frantic trills and seemingly endless chromatic runs. Her voice is pure, clear, supple, crystalline, not overpowering but completely in control. Her effortless coloratura turns are so assured that in their duets, local darling Richard Leech (her Edgardo ) seems to be straining by contrast. His finest moments come at the end, in the opera’s final aria, when he wears his aching heart on his sleeve. Especially potent, with his rich, deep, resonant basso is Reinhard Hagen as Raimondo , the hypocritical chaplain of Lammermoor . As Enrico , baritone Dalibor Jenis gets off to a slow start dramatically. When he hears of his sister’s assignations, his anger may be in his vocal line, but it’s not credible in his actions. Later, when he becomes more nefarious and aggressive (this poor Lucia gets thrown to the ground by three men!), he reaches his peak vocal and acting performance. Lucia’s companion and confidante, Alisa, is well sung by soprano Kathleen Halm , who offers vocal strength but passive emotional support. Two tenors make a smaller splash in minor roles: Kenneth Morris is respectable as the captain of the guard, Normanno , though his projection is not as acute as the other singers’; Bryan Register makes a brief but estimable appearance as Arturo, the short-lived husband of Lucia. The magnificent second act sextet emphasizes the best of all the talents.
THE PRODUCTION: Australian director Andrew Sinclair mines all the emotional riches of the opera, though he definitely favors stage right for the most crucial moments. Donizetti’s music is glorious, beautifully played by a robust and finely-nuanced San Diego Symphony under the baton of the capo di tutti [ bel canto] capi , maestro Richard Bonynge (husband of the retired Dame Sutherland). The opulent costumes and majestic set, with its imposing pillars and staircases, were created for the Dallas Opera. The wig and makeup designer (Steven W. Bryant) does a particularly convincing job with the blood-soaked wedding gown. Ron Vodicka’s lighting keeps the tones somber, befitting the Scottish moors and the operatic tragedy.
THE LOCATION: San Diego Opera at the Civic Theatre, through February 26.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Best Bet
THE SHOW: Molière, a Cabal of Hypocrites, Russian playwright Mikhail Bulgakov’s tragicomedy about the life of a beleaguered playwright like himself
THE STORY: The play is about Molière (1622-1673) and his tumultuous relationship with the Sun King, Louis XIV, but the story parallels Bulgakov’s running afoul of Stalin. In Molière’s case, it was Tartuffe that was banned. In Bulgakov’s , it was this very play, which was shut down after just seven performances. The plot, while cataloguing Molière’s trials and travails with women and actors, really concerns the position of a writer in an autocratic society, exploring the relationship between artist, ruler and ideological establishment. At first, Bulgakov believes that a king would intervene to protect a playwright from ideologues who are hell-bent on silencing him. By the end of this play, and in a subsequent one about Pushkin , Bulgakov had given up any illusions about benevolent intervention from above. Through these works, he expressed his pessimistic assessment of the possibilities for artist survival in the Soviet Union .
THE PLAYERS, THE PRODUCTION: The tragedy of Molière’s life had a farcical nature, just as the farces he wrote had tragic underpinnings. And who better to tread that fine, delicate line than someone from Théâtre de la Jeune Lune ? For its eye-popping, head-spinning production, UCSD brought in Barbra Berlovitz , co-founder and co-artistic director of Jeune Leune , the gifted company that made such magnificent magic of Molière’s The Miser a few months ago at the La Jolla Playhouse. A graduate of the esteemed École Jacques Lecoq in Paris , she brought all the agile physicality of her Tony Award-winning troupe to the MFA theater students. And the result is stunning. Before the play begins, we see the actors, in costume, warming up to their characters, jumping, running , practicing, making up. Throughout, the movements are stylized, the costumes (by 3rd year MFA student Paloma Young) gorgeous. Berlovitz cast a young woman (Teri Reeves) as the King, and her every move is calculatedly wonderful. As Molière, Mark Emerson shows once again his acting versatility – at times angry, obsequious, lecherous, pathetic . His excellent performance underscores the hypocrisy that lurks in every character; even the master must grovel before the monarch. Samuel Stricklen is engaging as Molière’s seemingly loyal subordinate Bouton .
The production takes a while to warm up to, and a number of actors unnervingly insist on pronouncing Molière’s name with three syllables instead of two (so it sounds like Moley -air). Amy Ellenberger and Keiana Richard and are lively as the mother-daughter rivals for Molière’s affections (the playwright seems to have married a woman who may have been his own daughter). Jennifer Chang is delightful as the ‘Honest Cobbler’ who is the King’s fool. Ryan Shams is hilarious as the deadly, patched, paranoid swordsman, One-Eye. The first-year MFA students are remarkable, too: Rufio Lerma as the dastardly, demonic archbishop; and Walter Belenky , as Molière’s surrogate son and betrayer. The meeting of the Cabal is especially luscious. Behind it all, the set (Kim Ehler ), sound ( Kirstal Ip and Alyssa Ishii) and lighting (Jeff Fightmaster ) are terrific, and serve to highlight the brilliantly inventive staging.
THE LOCATION: The Mandell Weiss Forum, through February 25.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Best Bet
THE SHOW: Bombay Dreams, the international tour of the London and Broadway musical, feels very Andrew Lloyd Webber
THE STORY: Lord Lloyd Webber didn’t write the show, though he produced and helped conceive it. But it’s got all the earmarks of an ALW extravaganza: an overabundance of spectacle and costume changes, more showpiece than substance and one song that repeats so many times you can’t help but go out singing it. In this case, it’s “ Shakalaka Baby,” which not only pops up in the score once or twice, and again in the curtain calls, it plays as a rock music video on a huge screen before the show even starts. The welterweight story concerns a slick Bombay tour guide, Akaash ( Sachin Bhatt) whose fantasy comes true when he rises from the depths of the Paradise slum to become a Bollywood superstar. He ascends with the help of Priya ( Reshma Shetty ), an independent filmmaker, and no thanks to her fiancé, Vikram (Deep Katdare ), a shady lawyer. On his way up, Akaash shuns his grandmother and his friendly neighborhood eunuchs (emasculated men in makeup and saris, who dance for a living), one of whom has always had a hankering for Akaash .
Did you know that Bollywood produces 1000 movies a year, twice the number made in Hollywood ? Did you know that sex, drugs, money and double-dealing are just as prevalent? Were you aware that many Bollywood movies have a boy-gets-girl happy ending, a wet-sari scene, and plenty of bouncing boobs and bellies but absolutely no kissing? Well, now you know.
This is a movie-within-a-movie-within-a-musical; the setup is a studio. We’re watching the making of the movie, “Bombay Dreams,” and within that, “Diamond in the Rough.” The script jokes about all these inevitable elements of Bollywood movies, while pretty slavishly reproducing them, not going any further or deeper; no satire, no ground broken, no new or penetrating insights. There is, of course (after an unfortunate murder) a happy ending. The slum doesn’t get torn down, Akaash comes to his senses, returns to his roots, exposes the baddie and gets the Brahmin girl. Whatta guy!
THE PLAYERS / THE PRODUCTION: This Orange County production is the first stop on the show’s international tour. It doesn’t feel ready. The dancers, while attractive and adept, are not sufficiently in synch. Most of the lead actors just aren’t up to the task of acting, singing or dancing. There isn’t a really strong voice in the pack, though the most potent performance is put in by Aneesh Sheth as the big-hearted, lovelorn eunuch, Sweetie. Bhatt’s Akaash is charming and agile, but this should be a Hugh Jackman kind of star-making performance. It isn’t. Katdare does the hypocritical bad guy well, and Shetty and Sandra Allen are eye-catching as the love interests. But there isn’t enough pizzazz, despite all the glam and glitz. The score, by AH Rahman , an esteemed composer of Indian film music, is evocative but repetitive; the lyrics, by Don Black, are serviceable but often pedestrian (especially in the numerous love ballads). But there are some catchy tunes, pretty melodies and energizing rock songs. The most enjoyable elements for me – besides those exotically angular, lateral head-moves — were the few insights into Indian culture and caste, and the peek behind the curtain of the Indian film industry. Some of the blame lies in the casting, some at the feet of the book-writers ( Mera Syal and Thomas Meehan, the Tony Award-winning librettist behind Annie, The Producers, and Hairspray) . But if mindless, epic spectacle is your thing, you’re gonna love it.
THE LOCATION: Orange County Performing Arts Centre in Costa Mesa , through March 5.
IF THE SHOE FITS…
THE SHOW: Cinderella , Rossini’s charming, witty 1817 opera (La Cenerentola ), was written in Italian but it’s sung in English at the Lyric Opera San Diego
THE STORY: There are no glass slippers here (though there is a pair of bracelets – one for Cinder, one for the Prince). No nasty stepmother or fairy godmother. This isn’t Disney or Mother Goose. But there is a handsome prince and two silly old stepsisters, and a magical man who makes things happen. And of course, there’s the lovely central character herself. There’s even a bit of social commentary; the Prince switches roles with his valet; when Cinder falls for the ‘underling,’ he knows that her heart is pure. And unlike poor Lucia, this girl’s goodness and mercy triumph in the end.
THE PLAYERS / THE PRODUCTION: I was grateful and fortunate to catch the final performance of the Lyric Opera production, which was thoroughly enjoyable. Co-directors Jack Montgomery and Leon Natker highlighted all the humor in the piece (and then some) but it worked just fine. Exaggerating the already overblown sisters was comical and entertaining, especially as Evelyn de la Rosa played (and sang) Clorinda . Pamela Laurent was clever, too, but de la Rosa nearly stole the show with her lively soprano trills and hilarious ways. Their costumes and wigs (Edward Kotanen ; Pam Stompoly ) made them ludicrous-looking anyway; why not go the whole hog? As Alidoro , the tutor/philosopher, bass Douglin Murray Schmidt was a commanding, imposing presence. Baritone Chris Thompson was fast-paced and funny as the scheming valet, Dandini . And as his Prince, tenor John Zuckerman was charming, throughout his impressive range, which hit the heights with clarity and allure. Making his company debut, he also made an appealing match for Priti Gandhi, whose marvelous coloratura mezzo and enchanting earnestness anchored the production. This was her triumphant return to the Lyric Opera, where she made her professional singing debut. A native of India who grew up in Del Mar, Gandhi recently made her Paris debut (Théâtre du Châtelet ) last fall in Wagner’s die Walküre ). The cast rose impressively to the requirements of Rossini’s rat-a-tat rapidity with articulatory precision, except for Gustavo Halley, whose Count Magnifico seemed to have trouble keeping up. Gandhi seemed most natural with the multiple trills and embellishments; she was well received by the audience, and deservedly so. Under the assured baton of Martin Wright, the 34-piece orchestra sounded wonderful. This was an inspiring effort all around; Lyric Opera is elevating its productions to meet the high quality of its new North Park surroundings.
THE FAR OUT FAR SIDE
“Tales from the Far Side of 50” was filled with unforgettable Senior moments – poignant, heartbreaking and hilarious. And the hall was filled to overflowing when the show premiered in November. If you missed it, you really should see it (if you saw it, see it again). Advance sales are commencing for the April 23 performance at the Lyceum Theatre. The presentation, based on the writings of 14 ‘Golden Oldies’ age 58-88, was a big hit with everyone who saw it, young or old. It evoked tons of laughter and tears. So get your ticket early ($20 general admission; seniors and full-time students, $15) and avoid the box office surcharge (this special advance offer is good through March 6 only). Make chex payable to: TellTale Productions, 13119 Caminito Mar Villa; Del Mar CA 92014. For further info/group sales, contact writer/producer Lonnie Hewitt at email@example.com.
THE BARD FOR BARDLETS
The first annual San Diego Student Shakespeare Festival will be held on Saturday April 29 at 1pm in Balboa Park . This Saturday, February 25, from 9:30-11am is the preliminary, informational meeting for teachers, volunteers and participating schools. Everyone is invited. Hear from speakers including: that consummate Shakespearean, Jonathan McMurtry; Festival executive director Mike Auer; Marvin Spira , Festival chairman; and Natasha Busick , Board member and teacher. A 9-minute video of the highly successful, 22 year-old Denver Student Shakespeare Festival will be shown. Rsvp , by email or phone, to Shakespeare Society head honcho Alex Sandie : firstname.lastname@example.org ; 619-583-8525.
The Fun-House, the improv troupe that performs in the Rolando area near Cygnet and SDSU, is going to go under without a little help from its friends. To avoid closure, they’ve scheduled The Improv-a-Thon: 28 Non-Stop Hours of Improv. In the lead-up, they’re looking for donations of money, auction items and supplies. Each performer needs to raise $800 to cover lease renewal and repair/maintenance. Help Milo Shapiro and his gang continue to do their thing, at http://store.yhahoo.com/sdtheatresports-store/donate.html.
FULL FATHOM FIVE, uh THREE
Malashock Dance gave a sneak preview of its exciting upcoming production, Fathom: Body as Universe, which runs at the Birch North Park Theatre May 12-21. John Malashock, founder of the acclaimed, 18 year-old modern dance company, has teamed up with Israeli composer Ariel A. Blumenthal and Tokyo-born visual artist Junko Chodos to create this culture-crossing world premiere. Universal themes of spirituality, tolerance and a shared vision of humanity are conveyed in the dance, music and design, which were thrilling at first brief glance. The dancers will be accompanied by some 30 members of the San Diego Master Chorale, with live percussion by UCSD Music professor Steven Schick. This is an envelope-pushing venture. Mark your calendar now.
Speaking of dance, do NOT miss the reprise performance of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake at the Ahmanson in L.A. , March 7-19 only. This is one of the most wildly imaginative pieces of dance theater you are ever likely to see, with its aggressively sexy all-male corps of swans. It’s one heart-pounding, breath-taking piece of theatre, with unforgettable dance.
‘NOT TO BE MISSED!‘ (Critic’s Picks);
(For full text of all past reviews, use the Search engine at www.patteproductions.com)
Lucia di Lammer moor – Don’t miss this diva in the making; Angela Gilbert dazzles in the title role – and the rest of the production is pretty impressive, too!
San Diego Opera at the Civic Theatre, through February 26.
A Body of Water – an unnerving, unsettling, thought-provoking piece of theater, outstandingly acted, directed and designed
On the Old Globe’s Cassius Carter Centre Stage, through March 19.
Molière, a Cabal of Hypocrites – gorgeously directed by Théâtre de la Jeune Lune’s Barbra Berlovitz , who brings out the very best in UCSD’s talented MFA students
In the Mandell Weiss Forum, through February 25.
Limonade tous les Jours – a perfect (unlikely) love story for this amorous Valentine’s month
Moxie Theatre at Diversionary, through February 26.
Into the Woods – well played, well sung, well seen
At Lamb’s Players Theatre, through March 19.
The Most Happy Fella – gorgeous voices, touching tale; a little dusty, but Loesser is always more
Moonlight at the Avo, through February 26.
Too Old for the Chorus, But Not Too Old To Be a Star – Lively, funny, extremely well executed.
At The Theatre in Old Town , EXTENDED through March 19.
Let the March wind s blow you into a theater.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.