By Pat Launer
Long-term romance On Golden Pond
And The Sum of Us has a filial bond;
While Sister has a Christmas proclivity
For staging a living, audience Nativity.
THE SHOW: The Sum of Us — a 1990 hit Off Broadway, written by Aussie David Stevens, who also wrote the screenplay for the 1994 Australian film which starred a young Russell Crowe
THE SCOOP: A humorous, heart-warming, dramatic and even thought-provoking play, simply but excellently done
THE STORY; THE PLAYERS: Harry ( Dale Morris ) may be the fantasy father for all gay folks. He totally accepts his son’s sexuality, and even tries to act as facilitator and matchmaker. He’s intrusive at times, but it’s better than those Dads who kick their sons out, or threaten to kill them. So, these two blue-collar guys, father and son, are batchin ’ it. Harry’s a widower looking for female companionship (he’s already lost the love of his life), and shy, brokenhearted Jeff (Brennan Taylor) is cruising the pubs looking for Mr. Right. When he brings Craid (pronounced Greg) home, Harry is thrilled, but Craid (Matt Weeden ) is freaked out by the over-solicitous, over-accepting Dad. And there’s an unexpected response from Harry’s new squeeze, Joyce (Jenni Prisk), too. The play’s first act is mostly light and comic; the second takes a darker, unpredictable turn. Stevens writes in Aussie dialect (more or less effectively assayed by all the players but Morris, which is a bit unnerving and inconsistent), and he has a fine ear for both cozy and awkward interactions; the self-conscious, first-date scene between Jeff and Craid is especially excellent. But he has this nasty habit of breaking the fourth wall in a repeated and annoying way, in the middle of a serious (or comic) moment, calling an immediate halt to the onstage action – and our emotional response. In what’s otherwise a kitchen-sink drama with comic moments, this technique is jarring and unnecessary. And is it supposed to be Brechtian, or what? If not, who exactly are we (the onlookers) that the father and son are talking to (only they see us, apparently) supposed to be? A real structural flaw in an otherwise touching and poignant play.
The focus is on acceptance – of self and others – as well as honesty and the many manifestations of love. There’s a bit of preaching here and there, but the message is well delivered by a first-rate cast. Taylor is wonderful as the sad-eyed, lovesick son and he’s well-balanced by Morris’ aggressively loving Dad. The final scene is a potential hanky-soaker. Prisk is bubbly and bouncy (a bit of a floozy, perhaps, flaming red hair and all) as homophobic Joyce, though her clothes look decidedly sixties, while the rest of the cast seems to be living in the present. (Costumes attributed to director Douglas Lay). Weeden strikes a perfect balance as the thinking gardener, Jeff’s love object, though the character isn’t sufficiently developed.
THE PRODUCTION : Douglas Lay’s fine direction consistently keeps up the pace and humor, and doesn’t over-sentimentalize the tender moments. The design (Lay again) is a bit enigmatic. The apartment is suitably furnished; a bit dowdy, but appropriately so. Still , those ever-falling doilies on the sofa and chairs are questionable in a men’s domain. But that back wall… I don’t know. Everyone who comes in mentions the “feature wall,” but what’s there seems highly unlikely – a surrealist, Magritte-like wasteland (the Outback?) that appears totally out of place in this apartment, and wouldn’t seem to appeal to these working-class guys with a big taste for booze. A picky point, perhaps. But, there it is. There are important assertions here — about love and loneliness (which cross all gender and sexual boundaries), familial ties and responsibilities, and being true to yourself — that , presented as effectively as they are, make this a highly affecting production.
THE LOCATION: 6th @ Penn Theatre, through December 21.
RUNNING TIME : 2 hrs.
BOTTOM LINE : Best Bet
THE SHOW: Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold, a holiday version of the wildly popular Late Nite Catechism, which has made several successful visits to North Coast Repertory Theatre.
THE SCOOP: Maripat Donovan, who co-wrote the original, teamed up with Marc Silvia and Jane Morris for this one. She should’ve quit while she was ahead.
THE STORY: Did someone say story? There isn’t one, unless you count a fairly serious retelling of the narrative of the birth of Jesus. And the ‘Mystery’ of the title? It takes up about 5 minutes of stage-time and is dispatched with a flick of the wrist (nuns have practice in that, from the Ruler days), thanks to multiple references and borrowings from a CSI knockoff on TV. Yawn. A failed attempt to be current, relevant, hip. Basically, the premise, once again, is an adult catechism class, with a holiday party to follow (so where was the party??). Sister wants volunteers to come onstage and pose for a Nativity tableau. That’s about all there is to it, and it takes two acts to get there.
THE PLAYER AND PRODUCTION : As before, there’s an alternating cast for the solo show (Kathryn Gallagher, Nonie Newton-Breen, Kristin Moneagle , Murphy O’Malley). Once again, for the third time with this booming cottage industry, I saw the same performer – Kathryn Gallagher. She’s perfectly fine, and still gets to improvise with the audience—though not that much on opening night; these were less than forthcoming attendees. As in the early production, Gallagher quashed the gum-chewing and hand-holding and covered the décolletage. But even the prizes for participation aren’t as clever as the original version (that Jesus with the flip-out knife that John scored last time was a winner – “just in case prayer doesn’t work”). This time, there were Happy Birthday Jesus objets , and holiday holy cards when you exit.
The set is virtually the same (these productions come fully self-contained): the teacher’s desk (with a bit of holiday adornment), pictures of the only Catholic (and the current) President. At the outset, there’s a huge, tacky, lighted, lawn Madonna and child (with Joseph in attendance, too), center stage. But that gets pushed aside when it’s audience participation time. The whole event feels like community theater, so maybe it’s apt that the ‘costumes’ set aside for the various roles are like a primer for clothing ingenuity on a shoestring; t-shirts serve as headdresses, paper cups as animal noses, etc.. That stuff was the most clever part of the whole, plodding show. If you go, bring your camera (or cellphone-camera). You’ll definitely want to immortalize your loved ones looking like lame, game goons up onstage. But it’s all in good fun, right? So they say.
THE LOCATION : North Coast Repertory Theatre, through December 31.
RUNNING TIME : 1 hr. 45 min ..
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN…
…I caught the last weekend/penultimate performance of On Golden Pond at Moonlight Stage Productions, and am I glad I did. What a wonderful evening! The set (Marty Burnett) was a beautiful, beamed-ceiling, wood cabin on a lake (visible, with changing skies, out the bay window). Mood-setting lights by Paul A. Canaletti, Jr. and lots of detail (thanks to prop-wizard Bonnie L. Durben ). The costumes (coordinated by Carlotta Malone) were just right for the age and station of each character. Charlie Riendeau was a marvel as the crotchety old Yankee who’s slowly losing his marbles. As his long-suffering, ever-cheerful wife, Sandra Ellis-Troy was convincing and compelling. Michelle Burkhart was a bit stiff as their estranged daughter, but she warmed up in her more direct parental confrontations. Marty Burnett made a delightful stage comeback as the goofy, giggly mail carrier, who sounded more aptly backwoods Maine than anyone (‘course, all the others were only summer visitors, but Marty really nailed those Aaayups !). Terry Scheidt was suitably tight-assed as the fearful but straightforward dentist and Jacob Haren (a high school freshman) was charming as his young son, the kid who brings the crusty old codger back to life. A sweet story and amiable production, lovingly directed by Kathy Brombacher.
…The Shakespeare benefit for North Coast Repertory Theatre was spectacular. If you missed it, you really missed something terrific; you may not see the likes of it soon. The brilliance of the Bard and the radiance of a luminous cast. The performers were nonpareil, some of San Diego ’s finest Shakespeareans: Priscilla Allen, Richard Baird , Kandis Chappell, David Ellenstein , Jonathan McMurtry and Rosina Reynolds . For two acts, two hours, they took turns reciting some of the most glorious lines and gorgeous speeches and sonnets in the English language. Method actors, take note: there was crying and anger, humor, anguish and pain… and they turned it on and off on a dime. Now that’s acting! There were too many marvelous moments to recount, but here are a few unforgettable segments: Richard as Macbeth with Rosina as his Lady… and then the dagger before him (chilling!). Richard again in the soul-stirring “St. Crispin’s Day” speech from Henry V. Rosina hilarious as Launcelot Gobbo from Merchant of Venice, David doing multiple speeches and soliloquies from Hamlet (most notably ‘What a piece of work is man’ – though starting out with “Speak the speech” – addressed to all these Players – was quite amusing and inspired); Priscilla as Margaret (Richard III), David as Richard III (the opening “winter of discontent” speech), Jonathan doing “The Ages of Man” from As You Like It, Prospero’s farewell (The Tempest) and the funny scene from Two Gentlemen with Launce and his dog, Crab. Kandis adorably adolescent as Helena from Midsummer; Kandis and Jonathan going at each other as Beatrice and Benedick (Much Ado) ,. And to personalize it all, over the course of this awe-inspiring evening, each performer came downstage to say why s/he loved Shakespeare. Marvelous all around. Kudos to Ellenstein for putting it all together. And shame, shame if you missed it.
…But there ARE some second chances… you have another (brief) opportunity to catch Monique Gaffney’s heart-stopping performance in I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda. This is the short, moving story of the hesitant friendship between a white Londoner (a heartfelt performance by Dale Morris ) and the titular war-scarred young lady. It’s an eye-opener and a tear-jerker. An Absolute must-see. December 12, 13, 14 at 6th @ Penn Theatre.
NEWS ABOUT TOWN …..
… Don’t miss the 90-minute concert version of the marvelous SDSU production of A Man of No Importance, created by the terrific team that gave us Ragtime (Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, Terrence McNally). The touching chamber musical, set in 1960s Dublin , won the 2003 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical, and the MFA students, under the direction of Rick Simas, do a bangup job with it. December 6 and 7 at Diversionary Theatre (619-220-6830). Proceeds benefit both Diversionary Theatre and the SDSU Musical Theatre program.
… A new musical comedy just opened at the historic Ramona Mainstage Theatre. Pete ‘n’ Keely is produced and directed by the same team that brought Route 66 to Ramona earlier this year: Brian Wells directs, David Brannen choreographs and Don LeMaster is musical director. The show stars this summer’s swashbuckling Pirate King, Randall Dodge, and the Queen of Tomfoolery, Kristen Mengelkoch . Originally produced Off Broadway in 2000, the show features new songs and standards, harmonized by an inharmonious, reunited ’60s singing duo reminiscent of Steve and Eydie or Sonny and Cher . Through January 22; 760-789-7008; www.ramonatheatre.com. Watch for a review here next week.
… The Poor Players present readings of: the San Diego premiere of Dakin Matthews’ adaptation of King Henry VI Parts 1-3 (Monday, December 5 and Monday December 12 at 7pm at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pt. Loma) and King Richard III (Monday, December 19, 7pm at North Coast Repertory Theatre), featuring Jonathan McMurtry and Richard Baird (probably his last San Diego performance before he departs for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival). $10 donation. Reserve at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-255-1401.
… Schroeder’s Cabaret is holding a benefit on Sunday, December 4 for the Torrey Pines Players, the drama group at Torrey Pines High School . Bettina “Pixie” Warren will be featured in the first half of the show, with accompanist/musical director Jim Guerin. Surprises and special guests, including director Marinee Payne, are promised in the second half, in addition to members of the Torrey Pines Players. Part of the $40 ticket price is tax deductible. For info: http://www.tpplayers.com/fringe/
For tickets: http://www.mollyguard.com/event/21502314
HOLIDAY HAPPENINGS :
… Common Ground Theatre, directed by UCSD Professor Emeritus Floyd Gaffney, presents its holiday favorite, Black Nativity, a gospel song-play written in 1961 by Langston Hughes. Through December 18 at the Lyceum Space in Horton Plaza .
… La Pastorela Noel, the latest edition of Max Branscomb’s holiday perennial that tells the story of the birth of Jesus from the perspective of the shepherds, opens December 8 on the Cassius Carter Centre Stage. Once again, Bill Virchis directs, and there will be all manner of topical references. I wonder if Duke Cunningham will make it in this year! Talk about coal in the stocking!
…Lamb’s Players Theatre’s 30thFestival of Christmas, written by Kerry Meads, officially opens on Saturday, and continues through December 29. This one (whose title keeps changing) is set in 1928 and focuses on how – or whether – Christmas should be celebrated. Always great singing and lots of fun at Lamb’s – but this year, there’s the extra bonus of jazz, not just Christmas music. And don’t forget their high-octane, 5-course songfest, An American Christmas, back again at the Hotel Del , Dec. 11-30.
…Speaking of the ‘20s (weren’t we?) , Kirsten Brandt is helming this year’s Christmas Carol at the San Diego Rep, adapted, as always, by Doug Jacobs. This one boasts ragtime, swing and bebop tunes (arrangements and original music by Steve Gunderson). The production concept and design are by David Lee Cuthbert. At the Lyceum through December 24.
.. Crumpet is back! That nasty little Macy’s elf, recalling his Santaland Diaries, is brought to us once again by Cygnet Theatre, and stars the irresistible Dennis Scott. Based on David Sedaris’ beloved NPR commentary, this show is the perfect antidote to holiday treacle. December 5-23. Note that the spectacular production of The Little Foxes still continues at Cygnet through December 18.
… New Village Arts presents an exclusive reading of Conor McPherson’s Dublin Carol, featuring Ron Choularton , Fran Gercke and Kristianne Kurner . Hors d’oeuvres and dancing ( ZannaJazz ) precede the production, and dessert/Irish tea follows, served by some of NVA’s favorite actors: JoAnne Glover, Brandon Walker, Grace Delaney, Jessica John , Jack Missett, Dana Case, Sandra Ellis-Troy and Pat Moran. Thursday, December 15, 6:30-10:30pm. $50; 760-433-3245.
…and of course, there’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas at the Old Globe. Grab a kid and go; or go by yourself. It’s 70 minutes of feel-like-a-kid-again delight. A new green meanie (Leo Daignault ) reportedly bares the dark .underbelly of Youknowho . Through December 31. Note, too, that on Friday, December 16, the Globe is hosting Fiesta de Familia , a pre-show family party from 6:00-7:15 on the Old Globe Plaza . Kid-friendly activities will include a visit from the Grinch, face painting, a piñata, music, food and more. $10pp. A nice beginning to a theater evening (both the Grinch and the Pastorela start at 7:30).
‘NOT TO BE MISSED!‘ (Critic’s Picks);
(For full text of all past reviews, use the Search engine at www.patteproductions.com)
“The Sum of Us ” – A lovely, heartfelt production of a flawed but fascinating play
At 6th @ Penn Theatre, through December 21.
“The Little Foxes” – deliciously vicious play, stunning production; beautifully designed, directed, lit and acted – by a killer cast.
At Cygnet Theatre, through December 18.
“ Adam Baum and the Jew Movie – provocative title, little-known story. Thinly-veiled tale of Sam Goldwyn (and other early Hollywood moguls – all Eastern European Jewish immigrants who were so eager to assimilate they turned against everything they knew and loved). Wonderfully nuanced performance by Ralph Elias.
At 6th @ Penn Theatre, through December 4.
“A Bright Room Called Day” – provocative , disturbing, funny, prescient play in a gorgeous ensemble production.
At Diversionary Theatre, through December 4.
“Too Old for the Chorus, But Not Too Old To Be a Star” – if you haven’t had your fill of menopausal musicals, this is great for a date (the guys remind us it’s called MENopause ). Excellent performances , some cute/clever bits and songs.
At The Theatre in Old Town , through January 1.
Omigod ! It’s December already… time to stock up on holiday theater ticket gifts!
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.