By Pat Launer
The Adoption Project is Taking Flight
While Beauty has a Beastly night.
THE SHOW: The Adoption Project: Triad , written by Mo’olelo’s new associate director, Kimber Lee
THE BACKSTORY/THE STORY: Lee, a Korean-American adoptee, spent three years researching and interviewing those involved in the adoption process. A reading and community workshops were held last year to help hone the piece.
The play views adoption through women’s eyes, from three perspectives: an adult female adoptee, her adoptive mother and her birth mother. Each is dealing with a sense of loss, loneliness, emptiness, and honest communication. When the daughter, Aggie, gets pregnant, she’s unable to answer any of the family history questions, so she hesitantly, fearfully, decides to try to track down her birth mother, with the help of her tech-savvy lesbian friend. Telling her adoptive mother is another story. So is making the fateful phonecall . In the interim, we meet a host of ancillary characters, from a nutty adoption judge to Barbara Walters, to a soap opera mother and daughter. The tone swings from dramatic and intense to funny and silly, which tempers the emotional depth that surrounds the issue of adoption on all sides.
THE PLAYERS: The cast is outstanding, some of San Diego ’s best: Jo Anne Glover continues her run of wonderful, heart- ful performances. As Aggie, she reveals the many faces of a smart, witty and truly confused young woman. She’s also very funny in the overwrought mother-daughter soap opera scenes. Sandy Campbell reveals her considerable acting chops, which are impressive. Best known for her sparkling soprano, she’s proven that she can capably handle both comedy and drama. As Aggie’s adoptive mother, she may not be quite as tight-assed and status-conscious as the text describes her, but the awkward moments of mis-communication with her daughter are heartrending. And Campbell is a hoot as Barbara Walters (sans ‘r’ and everything!), herself an adoptive mother, asking annoying questions in a series of fantasy TV interviews. Linda Libby, as always, is a comic marvel and a chameleon. She’s hilarious as Blue, Aggie’s dykey techno-nerd friend, who helps with all the online research for finding a parent. And Glover goes at her with comic vengeance as an array of Blue’s ridiculously inappropriate girlfriends. Libby also takes a whacked-out adoption judge way over the top, to great effect. They make a marvelous trio, each handing the other the bits of costume that define the various characters, under Seema Sueko’s ever-more-confident direction. They aren’t dancers, and though they handle the moves of Eveoke’s Erika Malone a tad stiffly, the evocative actions, flowing chiffon and all, convey the links and similarities, the distances and longing, among the characters. Because Lee is trying to capture so many elements of a highly complex topic, she doesn’t get to really go deep into the issues or characters but within those confines, the actors do a fine job of fleshing out the details.
THE PRODUCTION : The production values are simple. Basic set pieces and costumes ( Paloma H. Young), and a backdrop on which the characters intermittently scribble and scrawl, expressing their passionate emotions: GUILT, FEAR, etc. This idea is mirrored in a public art installation within the Centro Cultural gallery, curated by community artist Jodi Tucci Brisebois , who’s also credited with scenic design. The audience is invited to add its own thoughts, feelings, pictures, memories and mementoes on the subject of adoption. Meanwhile, back onstage, the cavernous space provides echoes and difficulty hearing during overlapping dialogue. Those pillars are killers; they really interrupt sightlines. But these are quibbles. The production is engaging, dramatic and informative, and this project certainly fulfills the mission of Mo’olelo – to create new works based on research within various communities. The company continues to do impressive and socially responsible work.
THE LOCATION: Mo’olelo at Centro Cultural de la Raza , through April 1
a searing, funny, autobiographical solo show, written and performed by Adriana Sevan . The tragic-comic piece was developed at the Sundance Theatre Lab and premiered in L.A. at the SOLOMANIA Festival in May, 2006.
THE STORY: Sevan was making plans to be maid of honor in the wedding of her movie-loving, materialistic friend Rhonda, dreading some of the Jewish Princess extravagances, when 9/11 happened. Her friend barely escaped from the Twin Towers and was seriously injured, at death’s door. Sevan pretty much walked away from her own life (ignoring her acting career and shell-shocked boyfriend), totally devoting herself to helping her friend heal, bringing her humor, shamanic wisdom, wise words from her Abuela and a wacky otherworldly spirit guide, Esperanza Middleschmerz (“I am de hope in de middle of de pain”), as well as symbols of Rhonda’s spiritual protector, Yemaya , the Yoruban goddess of the sea. In the end, the friendship collapses under the post-traumatic strain.
Sevan goes back and forth in time, from fantasy to reality, dark despair and deep tragedy to wild-eyed, side-splitting comedy. She switches characters on a dime. And she comes to a great realization at the end. In fact, the night I was there, she announced that she had just changed the ending of the piece, which keeps evolving, as she does. It was less fanciful, less the hoped-for positive outcome than the hard lesson learned: “Love isn’t doing. Love is being.”
This represents one of the thousands of backstories of 9/11 – the plight and pain of the caregiver, and the need to take care of oneself, too.
THE PLAYER/PRODUCTION : The tech work on the production is outstanding. In a thrust stage arrangement, the audience on three sides, Victoria Petrovich has created a magical, subtly varying space, thanks to gorgeous, mood-establishing lighting by José Lopez. We get the feel of the sea, from the floating candles in glass bowls, nestled into the waving sand that rings the set.
Sevan is a magnificent performer. She’s warm and funny, intense, analytical and multi-lingual (she admits to having “Dominican blood”), great with accents and dialects (she totally nails Noo Yawkese ), physically agile, spiritually centered and graceful. Her story is a harrowing tale of healing and help, of the limits and boundaries of friendship and love. With a pitch-perfect performance, under the direction of Giovanna Sardelli , it’s a marvelous way to spend a brief, enlightening, life-affirming evening.
THE LOCATION: In the Lyceum Space, through April 1
RING THAT BELLE
THE SHOW: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, book by Linda Wolverton ; a huge production of the J*Company, with nearly 70 kids, age 7-18, onstage
THE PLAYERS/PRODUCTION : We’ll dispense with the story. Tale as old as time, etc.
The kids are terrific. Talented, committed, and professional — no mugging or slip-ups when I was there. A few leads singing outside their range (unfortunately, the two big-voiced guys who play Gaston and The Beast). But the leads are well performed, with 17 year-old Dorothy Guthrie displaying a superb musical theater voice as Belle (a little movement training would help, but she definitely has an emotional as well as vocal range). Christopher Pineda, 18, is outstanding as Lumière , very French and very funny. Adriana Yedidsion , 16, is quite sexy/French as Babette , the feather duster. Alice Cash does a fine job as Mrs. Potts. Jakob Hytken , 18, is appropriately English/fussy as Cogsworth , 18 year-old Brianna Oppenheimer is aptly operatic as Madame de la Grande Bouche , and 11 year-old Ari Krasner is a howl as the high-energy. high-flying Lefou , who’s tossed around endlessly by hunky Gaston (17 year-old Trevor Bowles). Phillip Bowen, 17, brings a great deal of heart to the Beast; my only gripe is that he doesn’t make that magical coup de théâtre, the transformation into the Prince. His makeup (uncredited) is excellent, but there has to be a way that he can change his ways and get the girl. Another guy (Curtis Gordon, built very differently) steps in at the last minute to win the prize. Disappointing. But that’s the only part that was.
Director Joey Landwehr has pulled out all the stops and called in the pros: the ever-changing set (with impressively rapid scene transitions) was created by David Weiner who, you may remember, designed 700 Sundays on Broadway, as well as in La Jolla; vibrant, multi-hued lighting by ace designer Jennifer Setlow; and elaborate costumes (designed by Cindy Kinnard for Christian Community Theatre), enhanced and goosed up by Shulamit Nelson, who by all appearances (the original renderings were on display) really perked up the dancing kitchenware for the “Be Our Guest” number. Highly inventive. The choreography, by Sarah Jordan, is well executed throughout. An enormous undertaking (and only two months in rehearsal!), wonderfully realized. Bravo to all!
Post-script: I loved the Kid-critique in the U-T, where the 9 year-old reviewer quoted a 6 year-old audience member, who said this was the best play she’s ever seen!
And while you’re in the JCC, check out the Gotthelf Art Gallery – wonderful display of work, in all mediums, created only by medical doctors. Talk about the healing arts…
THE LOCATION: the Lawrence Family JCC in La Jolla , through March 25
NEWS AND VIEWS…
… Sorkin and McAnuff, together again… Hot on the heels of their collaboration on The Farnsworth Invention, about which it is enormously frustrating not to be able to say anything (it’s a workshop, Page to Stage production, so no reviews), “West Wing” writer Aaron Sorkin will, with Des McAnuff, team up with the psychedelic rock band, The Flaming Lips, for a musical adaptation of the band’s 2002 album, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.” More to come, to be sure…
… Watch out for Foreign Bodies, the world premiere by acclaimed New York playwright Susan Yankowitz . The new thriller, which focuses on guilt, innocence and human sexuality, is being read as part of the inaugural season of Vox Nova, directed by Kirsten Brandt, former artistic director of Sledgehammer Theatre. Monday, March 26, 7:30pm in the Lyceum Theatre.
…Also on March 26, there’ll be a reading of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Our Town at Cygnet Theatre, in conjunction with Cygnet’s production of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker. D irected by George Yé.
…Hot news from the Old Globe… Harvey ’s coming, Harvey ’s coming. A world premiere musical, A Catered Affair, written by and starring four-time Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein, will open the Globe’s 2007-2008 season. With music and lyrics by John Bucchino (whose songs have been recorded by Michael Feinstein, Judy Collins, Barbara Cook, Patti LuPone, Audra MacDonald, Liza Minelli and Yo-Yo Ma), the Broadway-bound musical will be directed by John Doyle, who did such a knockout job with the actor-playing-instrument productions of Sweeney Todd and Company on Broadway. This is exciting news, indeed.
…And more exciting onstage news: The Jersey Boys are coming to Broadway San Diego this fall, Oct 17-Nov 11, 2007. (Theater) life is good in San Diego .
… And, news on the UCSD campus: Acclaimed playwright Naomi Iizuka, who got her MFA training here at UCSD (her B.A. is from Yale), returns to her alma mater to direct the MFA playwriting program. This is just the kind of high-profile talent the program needs to bump its already impressive results to an even higher level. You may remember her edgy work (Skin, Tattoo Girl, Polaroid Stories) produced at Sledgehammer Theatre or on the campuses. And then there was the glorious 36 Views at Laguna Playhouse in 2005. Great to have Naomi back! With all her recent commissions (Guthrie Theater, Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Kennedy Center , the Children’s Theatre of Minneapolis and the Mark Taper Forum) I hope she finds time to premiere some new work in San Diego .
… Those busy busy guys up at the Broadway Theatre in Vista, currently auditioning for upcoming productions of Peter Pan and Visiting Mr. Green, while they’re about to open Ricky Dean and the Doo Wop Girls (written and directed by Randall Hickman; see photo), they’re putting out a call for the first Broadway Theatre Playwriting Contest, with an extraordinary $1000 prize for the winning adult play and $500 for the winning youth play. Deadline for submissions is June 1. Go to www.broadwayvista.com for details.
…ONE BOOK, ONE SAN DIEGO – Jumping on the bandwagon of a year of the whole city reading the same book, Mo’olelo is presenting a reading of excerpts from the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Enrique’s Journey,” by Sonia Nazario . The One Book idea has been circulating around the country. This book is a chilling choice for our border region. Nazario spoke at KPBS a couple of weeks ago (KPBS and the City of San Diego Public Library are local sponsors of the project), and there are many discussions, city-wide, of her harrowing tale of Central American kids who travel thousands of dangerous miles to find the mothers who left them years ago to seek out a better life for their families, by getting work in the U.S. The reading takes place Wed. April 18 at 12:30pm in the SDSU Library.
…MARK YOUR CALENDAR .. and be there for the REAL stars… The 16th annual STAR Awards, presented by the San Diego Performing Arts League, honos 70 of the more than 20,000 volunteers who keep San Diego arts organizations alive and kicking; this year’s event, with a theme of “Inspiring by Example” and Dea Hurston as chair, promises to be another winner. Tuesday, June 12, 6:30-9pm at the San Diego Marriott. Don’t miss it.
… ONE NIGHT ONLY… An extra evening performance (7pm) for the already-extended and fabulously successful Glengarry Glen Ross has been added for the closing day, March 25. All proceeds will go directly to the cast and crew. So support your fellow artists, and see Mamet at his most scatological.
… Baryshnikov soars onstage again… Leaping into something new, Mikhail Baryshnikov will appear in an evening of four one-act plays by Samuel Beckett during the 2007-2008 season at New York Theatre Workshop, directed by Joanne Akalaitis , Obie Award-winner and founder of the acclaimed Mabou Mines.
… I Stand Corrected: Last week, I lamented the fact that San Diego was not in any way a part of the national Suzan-Lori Parks project, 365 Days/365 Plays, the largest theater collaboration in U.S. history. Although none of our professional theaters are involved, I’m happy to report, thanks to an update from Dana Case, that Palomar College has joined the College/University Hub of this theater experiment. Michael Mufson recruited students for Week 20 of the 365 cycle, which will be performed along with John Patrick Shanley’s existential tragicomedy, Savage in Limbo. March 29-April 1, on the Palomar campus, Room D-10, 1140 West Mission Blvd. 760-744-1150 ext. 2453.
… And now, for something completely different… a new way to showcase actor talent: “Hail Britannia” presents a multimedia showcase for 50 actors of all ages. With a theme of ‘Scenes from Film and Television from the UK ,’ this evening’s entertainment features each performer both onscreen and in live performance. Monday, April 23, 8pm at the Lyceum Theatre. RSVP required. 760-454-0382
‘NOT TO BE MISSED!’ (Pat’s Picks)
The Adoption Project: Triad – dance, art and drama combine provocatively to capture three perspectives on the complex, multi-faceted issue of adoption
Mo’olelo at Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park , through April 1
Taking Flight – beautiful, funny, tender, dramatic solo performance by Adriana Sevan , all about the limits of love and friendship in the wake of 9/11
Lyceum Space, Horton Plaza , through April 1
Restoration Comedy – funny, bawdy, well acted, gorgeously designed and costumed; the Restoration rides again… and women come out on top!
The Old Globe Theatre, through April 8
Glengarry Glen Ross – perfect Mamet pacing by a crackerjack ensemble
6th @ Penn Theatre, EXTENDED through March 25; extra performance added 7pm March 25
Fiddler on the Roof – wonderful nostalgia, wonderfully sung
At the Welk Theatre, through April 1
(For full text of all past reviews, use the Search engine at www.patteproductions.com)
It’s time to SPRING into a theater near you!
© 2007 PATTÉ PRODUCTIONS, INC.