By Pat Launer
Cygnet and BET are jumpin’ Fences
As their August Wilson series commences
And the killer Dumb Waiters call it quits
While those in the know are blitzed on the Fritz.
STRANGE THINGS ARE HAPPENING
THE SHOW: THE 13TH ANNUAL FRITZ BLITZ OF NEW PLAYS BY CALIFORNIA PLAYWRIGHTS, Week 2 , featured three plays, thematically linked and excellently performed. There’s a slow build and an element of surprise (some twists more predictable than others) in each play
Passing Together , Richard Markgraf’s fifth Fritz Blitz production, focused on an intrusion into the life of a reclusive war vet, deliciously played by John Garcia, with his usual scary intensity. Kara Hayes was the provocateur, young Emily, who wheedles her way in, needles her way into staying, and maddeningly annoying, manages to potentially turn Ray’s life upside down and inside out. A UCSD alum, Hayes nearly but not quite nailed the seductive, manipulative, emotionally varying tone of the mysterious young girl who says she’s doing a college research project but after much enigmatic dancing around, reveals that she’s trying to find out if this loser/loner is her dad – and she’s after a blood sample to prove it (which, by underhanded means, she manages to extract). Markgraf’s writing is strong; the piece is sufficiently suspenseful, up until the very end. Nicely done, and well directed by (a happily pregnant) D. Candis Paule.
In A View Unassisted, by writer/actor Craig Abernethy, another local Blitz returnee, the set-up is intriguing and misleading. A woman (Wendy Savage) has a furtive rendezvous with a man (Duane Weekly) for the purposes of a little ‘business transaction,’ which seems, at first blush, to be a drug deal. But since the play is set “in the not too distant future, in an all too possible reality,” we soon come to find out that what she’s after is more precious than gold (or Acapulco Gold ). It’s a priceless gallon of oil, and she offers money, her body, whatever it’ll take. But his price is a room with a view, all alone for just six hours, with no intrusions, so he can indulge in the quiet, solitary reading of a magazine. Deftly directed by Dane Stauffer, and perfectly performed, the production had all the energy, urgency and humor the play demanded.
Vial , by San Francisco screenwriter/journalist Nicholas Turner, was also at times gripping and ambiguous, but it went on long (and repetitively) enough to become predictable. It’s a classic English murder mystery, set in an opulent, isolated mansion. The first twist is that no one knows who’s been murdered. A group of his schoolchums (and assorted others) are invited to the home of a reclusive former roué. After a pleasant dinner, the host cheerfully informs his guests that one of the tasty little desserts has been poisoned; he doesn’t even know which one or who got it. There is, of course, only one vial of antidote, which can only be taken before the symptoms surface, within an hour. So we watch, in real time, as straws are drawn, threats are made, secrets are (or are not) revealed. The standout performance is by Walter Ritter, the ruthless Member of Parliament who will stop at nothing to get that vial. It’s a yummy piece of acting, and mellow-voiced Ritter is obviously relishing the role, his most assertive to date. Many of the other characters, however, are ill-defined and/or unnecessary. Jason Connors, making his Blitz directorial debut, keeps the stakes and tension high. But he succumbs to the novice’s need to make fussy scene changes; this one is long and pointless. But we do get caught up in the mystery, even if we really don’t care who ultimately makes it and who doesn’t.
All told, another commendable Blitz week, with enough weirdness and uncertainty for any taste.
THE LOCATION: Lyceum Theatre, through September 17
DUMB AND DUMBER
THE SHOW: The Dumb Waiter Harold Pinter’s 1960 one-act about loss and betrayal – between killers
THE STORY: Two guys in a dirty subterranean room. Waiting (not for Godot, though comparisons are inevitable). But these aren’t hapless tramps; they’re guns-for-hire, itching for their next assignment. They’re like an old married couple, niggling and nitpicking, quarreling and ignoring each other, obviously treading conversational territory they’ve trod many times before. One is a bit dim; the other is abusive (a sinister Laurel and Hardy? There are comic moments here, for sure). Suddenly, the dumb waiter clatters down the shaft, and orders for increasingly absurd foods start streaming in. The duo have nothing to give. Perhaps this used to be a restaurant; perhaps not. Things begin to go awry, in subtle, simple ways that foreshadow bigger Troubles ahead.
THE PLAYERS/PRODUCTION: An auspicious debut from a new troupe, Reconnoiter Theatre Company. These aren’t seasoned pros, but they acquitted themselves well. They certainly conveyed the discomfort of the situation, and the inherent enigma of this “comedy of menace.” There was definitely some comedy in the stage business created by first-time director/company co-founder John Lawler. What was missing was the menace. And the shock of the surprise ending. It takes a minute for recognition and understanding, and the timing wasn’t quite right for the audience to register exactly how the tables had just turned. However, Jaret Patterson and Matthew Joyce made a fine pair, even physically: Patterson, lean and edgy as the slick-haired, supercilious Ben and Joyce aptly rotund and slovenly as the simple, slow-witted Gus. They didn’t quite master the Pinterian pace, rhythm and pauses. But they are definitely a group to watch. The other co-founder, Kat MacKenzie, who attended Parsons School of Design and has worked at Miracle Theatre Productions in Old Town , served as stage manager/producer and costume designer. New companies; many hats required. Suzanne Reyes, a graduate of SDSU, did a nice job on scenic design, creating a dingy, crumbling, claustrophobic room, aided by Jesse Zamora’s sound design (stuck and flushing toilets, and the creepy clanking of that dumb waiter). Look for these folks at 6th @ Penn or elsewhere, soon.
AUGUST IN AUGUST
Another start of Something Great: Cygnet Theatre and San Diego Black Ensemble Theatre inaugurated their exciting reading series – of plays by the late, great August Wilson, with Fences, one of the master’s most gut-wrenching and accessible works. I attend a lot of readings, but I have to say that this was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Under the direction of Antonio TJ Johnson, the casting was impeccable and the acting was outstanding. Every character was credible, and the performers were often off-book, which made the production that much richer. I don’t think I’ll ever forget TJ playing the hulking ex-baseball player, Troy Maxson, in 1987 at Southeast Community Theatre (directed by Floyd Gaffney). His performance was spellbinding. It still is. Not only does he have a love and deep-down feel for the character and the play (especially in light of Wilson’s tragically untimely death a year ago), but he brings age and experience to his finely etched, pained performance. And, as an extra bonus, he gathered together several actors who were with him in that first production, including Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson, a powerhouse as the indomitable Rose, Troy’s long-suffering, open-hearted wife; and Grandison M. Phelps, III, who played the shiftless Lyons two decades ago, but assumed the role of Bono, Troy’s best buddy, this time. He was excellent, as were Mark Christopher Lawrence as Lyons and Patrick Kelly as the ever-striving son to whom Troy cannot show love or support. Kelly was a delight, as was young Madeline Hornbuckle, a 10 year-old who showed considerable poise in her first theatrical venture. Actor/director/playwright/novelist Bil Wright was superb as Gabe, Troy ’s simple, bugle-carrying, brain-damaged brother. A difficult role to finesse; a totally believable performance. It would be a major mistake for some theater not to pick up this production, intact. It deserves to be seen by a very wide audience.
Next up in the series: Seven Guitars, directed by SDBET artistic director Rhys Green. Oct. 23 and 24 at Cygnet and Oct. 30 at Horace Mann Middle School . Tix at cygnettheatre.com. Spread the word.
NEWS AND VIEWS
… Another new theater company — following close on the heels of Tonic Productions and Reconnoiter Theatre Company, which just premiered at 6th @ Penn, and the upcoming late-night production of Plutonium Theatre Company, Hemingway’s Rose — is The Collective, which bills itself as “a planet earth multi-cultural theatre company,” founded and helmed by Peter James Cirino, professor of directing and acting at SDSU. The group is mounting a multi-media update of Marlowe’s classic, Edward II, the story of England ’s openly gay king and his controversial relationship with a commoner. Sept. 8-24 at New World Stage. email@example.com ; 858-503-0881
… Sushi Takeout, the clever marketing strategy for the peripatetic Sushi Visual and Performing Art, continues this year, during the redevelopment of their new permanent home. This fall’s International Takeout Series includes artists from Zimbabwe and Slovenia , as well as a world premiere co-presented with the Patricia Rincon Dance Collective. First up is self-exiled Zimbabwean performance artist Nora Chipaumire, a regular with the renowned Urban Bush Women (the acclaimed dancing/vocalizing/storytelling ensemble, who’ll be appearing at Mandeville Auditorium, courtesy of UCSD ArtPower, on Feb. 24). Her latest creation, “Chimurenga,” is a politically relevant multi-media dance work, using movement, film, text and a sound installation “to describe the personal and collective trauma of surviving war and revolution in Zimbabwe .” (John and I were in Zimbabwe a year before all hell broke loose, and it’s painful to watch what’s happening now, at the hands of a monstrous president, Mugabe). Chipaumire appears at the City Heights Performance Annex, Sept. 22-24. Info at www.sushiart.org
…Speaking of UCSD ArtPower!, get ready for the appearance of that fleet-footed maestro of tap, Savion Glover, Tony Award-winner for the Broadway hit, Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk, who stops at Copley Symphony Hall on October 6 and 7. This time in town, he’ll be backed by a string ensemble. www.artpowr.ucsd.edu
…The Towel Lady is back! After a 10-year hiatus, the short play by award-winning local playwright Janet S. Tiger, will be performed as part of the University Heights Arts Open. This one-woman piece, about a woman hanging out her laundry, telling her unusual views on towels – and life – has been seen internationally. Now it’ll be seen for six performances at the Swedenborgian Hall ( 1531 Tyler St. ), at 1, 3 and 5pm on September 16 and 17. Free to the public, The Towel Lady features Rolly Fanton for the first five performances, with a generational shift for the 5pm show on Sept. 17, when 25 year-old actress Pin Chen steps into the role. “Usually, this is a part for an actress who grew up in the 1950s or earlier,” says Tiger. “And Rolly is perfect for my original script. But when Pin Chen auditioned, she gave a new view of this part. I’ve even updated some of the dialogue for her.” Diane Shea directs; refreshments and an art exhibit, will also be on hand. Info at: 858-274-9678 or http://playsbyjanetstiger.com/TOWEL_LADY.html .
…Center Stage Players artistic director Thomas M. Walker III reports that his group was asked to put together a USO-style show to perform at the reunions of two de-commissioned Navy ships (the USS Baltimore and the Samuel N. Moore). And they’ve already been booked for another de-com next year (the USS Albany). Looks like it’s all about kids and songs and gowns and aptly, South Pacific’s “Honey Bun.” These are private events, but for the curious and interested, Center Stage is presenting two free preview performances: Sept. 7 and 8 at 7:30pm. For directions, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
… Shawn Ryan , who appeared on NBC’s ‘ America ‘s Got Talent,’ currently on tour with his group, will be making a brief stop at Schroeder’s Club and Cabaret for two shows on Saturday, October 7. Get ready for an evening of jazz, cabaret and comedy.
…Whether you’re on The Far Side of Fifty or not, you should see the show, which features words of wonder, wisdom and humor from 14 women, age 58-88 (my mother’s the 88). The September 30 (2pm) performance at the Avo Playhouse in Vista is a fundraiser for Operation HOPE, an emergency shelter for homeless families in North County . On November 12, the ensemble performs at the La Jolla JCC, to benefit the Foundation for Women. It’s for your benefit, too – whether you’re already there or on the way to 50+. Take your friends, mom, grandma . And don’t forget the guys. For the Avo performance: call 760-724-2110 or vistixonline.com; for the JCC appearance, contact Hewitt at email@example.com .
Readings , Readings , Everywhere …
… Lanford Wilson’s touching, Pulitzer Prize-winning Talley’s Folly, will be presented as in a staged reading, brought to you by Tonic Productions, helmed by the Globe’s ace director, Rick Seer, and starring Tonic’s Amy Biedel and North Coast Rep artistic director David Ellenstein. All signs point to a winning evening. Sept. 11 at 8pm at North Coast Rep and Sept. 12 at Cygnet Theatre (both at 8pm). Tix ($10-12) at ticketleap.com
… The Eunuch, written by the Roman comedian Terence (186-159 B.C.) gets a staged reading that re-invigorates the Classic Reading Series at 6th @ Penn, now under the artistic directorship of George Soete, who did such a fine job with this year’s Actors Festival. Five actors play 13 roles in this fast-paced comedy. With all its masters and slaves, pimping and prostitution, it may be B.C., but not PC – unless PC means ‘Pretty Comical.’
… Okay, so what do you think are the best movie musicals of all time? AFI, the American Film Institute, has just weighed in with its top 25. A jury of over 500 film artists, composers, musicians, critics and historians made the selections, and of course, there are some surprises, and a few omissions, as with any Best Of list. But here are the top ten. Number one: Singin’ in the Rain, voted the most memorable. After that, in descending order, it’s West Side Story, The Wizard Of Oz, The Sound of Music, Cabaret, Mary Poppins, A Star Is Born, My Fair Lady, An American In Paris and Meet Me In St. Louis. 1939 to 1972. So, what’s happened in the past 35 years??? Well, there was Chicago (2002), which came in at #12, Beauty and the Beast (1991) at #22 and Moulin Rouge (2001) at #25. The rest are oldies, but definitely goodies. Still, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers?? I dunno; what about Porgy and Bess, Damn Yankees and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum? Missing in action.
‘NOT TO BE MISSED!’ (Critic’s Picks)
(For full text of all past reviews, use the Search engine at www.patteproductions.com)
The Fritz Blitz of New Plays by California Writers – the first two weeks were extremely well done. Some of the plays were quite intriguing, and all were well performed and directed. Get the jump on some new works and new theater voices
At the Lyceum, through September 17
Copenhagen – deep, profound, important and impeccably acted
Cygnet Theatre, through September 24.
Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit – hilarious spoofs, now featuring an all-San Diego cast (all alums of the SDSU MFA program in musical theatre). Get ‘em while they’re hot!
At the Theatre in Old Town , ongoing
Lincolnesque – provocative, political and sure to get you thinking; excellently performed
On the Globe’s Cassius Carter Centre Stage, through September 10
Little Eyolf – a lesser-known play by Ibsen, with dark underpinnings and some highly emotional moments; an auspicious beginning for the new Tonic Productions
At 6th @ Penn, through September 10
Titus Andronicus – a lot of political references and many laughs along with the gore; as director Darko Tresnjak puts it, his production is “bloody good fun!” It’s inventive and terrific
In repertory on the Globe’s Festival Stage, through September 30
Othello – potent production. robustly acted and directed
In repertory on the Globe’s Festival Stage, through October 1
Labor Day and summer are behind us, but there’s oh-so-much theater up ahead!
© 2006 PATTÉ PRODUCTIONS, INC.