By Pat Launer
Student shows make their fall debut:
…The Nightingale and Much Ado .
THE SHOW: The Love of the Nightingale , Timberlake Wertenbaker’s 1989 adaptation of the myth of Procne and Philomela, based on Ovid’s story of metamorphosis and Sophocles’ tragedy, Tereus
THE STORY: The Athenian sisters, Procne and Philomele (Wertenbaker’s spelling), are daughters of the Athenian king Pandion. When their father is abetted in battle by the warrior-king Tereus of Thrace, he gives away his daughter as a gift of gratitude. Tereus takes Procne back to his faraway land, where she is a lonely outsider who pines for her sister. Though he is a neglectful husband, Tereus returns to Athens to bring Philomele back for a visit. On the long voyage to Thrace , Tereus falls in lust with Philomele. She resists him, though her nurse turns the other way, seeing the outcome as inevitable. Tereus rapes Philomele. When she insists that she’ll reveal the horror that has befallen her, he cuts out her tongue. He hides her away and keeps her captive, telling each sister that her sib has died. In the original story, Philomela weaves the story of her kidnapping, rape and assault into a tapestry which finds its way to Procne. In the Wertenbaker version, Philomele manages to join the women of Thrace for their festival of Dionysus. She participates in a puppet-show, which enacts her narrative. Outside the castle gates, Procne’s son is persuaded by the guards to spy on the all-female event and, seeing his mother handling his sword, he impulsively invades the sanctuary. He is killed by his mother, in a passionate act of vengeance against her monstrous husband.
The play is a potent statement on ethics, politics and feminism. Violence, passion and revenge. The power of words and the consequence of silence. The horrors of war, the subjugation of cultural identity, and the importance of taking personal responsibility in the face of outrageous, immoral acts. Wertenbaker is very direct in making the ancient story topical and relevant. “Myth,” she bluntly tells us in the play, “is the oblique image of an unwanted truth reverberating through time.” “No one has ever been untouched by war.” “Without language, without the right to speak, brutality will triumph.” Painful truths make powerful theater.
THE PLAYERS/THE PRODUCTION: This short-lived UCSD production was glorious to behold. Every element of the design was marvelously integrated. And the focus remained completely on the story, which was made crystalline by the magnificent direction (Lori Petermann), wonderfully imaginative costumes (Michelle Hunt) and emotionally-charged lighting (Tom Ontiveros). Petermann, a highly skilled director (also credited as Mask Maker), is only a second-year MFA student, but she’s also a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab. Her stylized moves made outstanding use of Hunt’s hooped and ragged costumes, which clearly distinguished the civilized, philosophical Greeks from the more uncultivated Thracians. Every move was beautifully choreographed. The stark, black-shaded white masks and life-sized puppets, brilliantly designed by Hunt, were captivating. The excellent white-faced, kohl-black makeup (uncredited) also served to distance, abstract and attract.
The ensemble was excellent, with standout performances by the attractively contrastive blonde and brunette as the sisters: Liz Elkins as Philomele and Rebecca Kaasa as Procne. Their deep connection and intense emotions were consistently credible. Ryan Shams, always a potent performer, made a lusty, macho ogre of Tereus. Scott Drummond left his mark in the small role of the Captain, whom Philomele loves and Tereus promptly and violently dispatches. All these students will be graduating in 2007 (except for Petermann and Elkins, who still have a year to go). Catch them in whatever productions you can. These are the impressive and inspiring talents of tomorrow.
SIDE NOTE: The Love of the Nightingale was produced once before at UCSD. It was 1994, and the director was a young student named Kirsten Brandt; it was this production that made people realize she was a bona fide directorial talent. Same can be said for Petermann. Clearly, this is a play that inspires greatness. Brandt went on to become artistic director of Sledgehammer Theatre and now regularly guest-directs for the Old Globe. It will be fascinating to watch what else Petermann does in the next year, and where she goes from here.
Next week, UCSD opens The Labyrinth of Desire, a new adaptation of a Lope de Vega play by noted Hispanic playwright/translator Caridad Svich, a UCSD alumna. The piece was commissioned by the UCSD Dept of Theatre and Dance at the request of its director, MFA student Gerardo Jose Ruiz, for whom this is a thesis production.
THE SHOW: Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s 1598 dual love-story, a delightful battle of the wits and a nefarious scheme to instill doubt and distrust. Despite multiple mis-communications and an apparent death, ultimately, to quote the Bard, all’s well that ends well.
THE STORY: The reluctant love affair between the brilliantly combative Beatrice and Benedick is one of the wittiest romantic clashes in all of dramatic literature. The more staid courtship of Hero and Claudio narrowly avoids catastrophe by means of a plot manipulation that ultimately achieves a happy ending. Every misguided character proves, at some time, fully susceptible to flattery, fawning and professions of love. At the outset, the soldiers, fresh from battle, arrive in Messina for some diversion. Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon, is accompanied by his two valiant friends, Benedick and young Claudio, as well as, the dastardly Don John, bastard brother of the Prince. Their host is Leonato, governor of Messina , and father of the innocent and virtuous young Hero, with whom Claudio falls madly in love. There is comic relief in the prolix, self-important constable Dogberry who, despite his verbosity and ineptitude, manages to untangle the nasty plot that Don John has engineered to wreak havoc and tear the young lovers apart. But the greatest pleasure comes from the dazzling verbal sparring of the two marriage-averse know-it-alls, the sharp-witted and sharp-tongued Beatrice and Benedick.
THE PLAYERS/THE PRODUCTION: Without a killer B&B, the play really doesn’t work. Thankfully, Globe director Richard Seer has two wonderful MFA students to work with. Kate Turnbull and Chip Brookes are terrific together. They’re smart and quick and argumentative, but thanks to their friends’ clever ruse, they fall as hard for each other, as credulously, as anyone. And it’s so much fun to watch it happen. They have an excellent connection, and we believe every minute of their performances. Joy Farmer-Clary is lovely as the naïve ingénue, Hero, and Chris Bresky is cute as her impetuous suitor. Aaron Misakian is aptly depressive and nasty as Don John and Rhett Henckel is forceful as his brother, the far nicer but also rash Don Pedro. Dogberry and his sidekicks/henchmen aren’t as funny as they should be. But everything else works very well. Seer is a superb director; he knows how to plumb character, and when to let a production breathe. His use of well-placed pauses and silence is excellent. And the physical comedy is delectable (Benedick hiding behind or falling into the fountain, Beatrice crawling in among the audience). The songs and dances (movement by Liz Shipman, former artistic director of the Kings County Shakespeare Company in New York ) are nicely executed, with a unifying tango theme allowing for some sexy moves. The design team is all pro: Mike Buckley works wonders with (cracked) marble walls and benches (and the all-important fountain, here more like a well). Corey Johnston’s costumes are attractive for the men (red-coats and all) but a tad drab for the women, heavy on beige, gray and brown tones. Chris Rynne’s lighting and Paul Peterson’s sound punctuate the action perfectly. The language is handled beautifully, and almost without exception, it’s delivered clearly and crisply, so we never miss one of those crafty, cunning quips.
THE LOCATION: On the Cassius Carter Centre Stage, through 11/19
NEWS AND VIEWS
…Get out your cash, and cash in on some really cool theatre stuff: As a benefit for the MFA Musical Theatre program, SDSU is holding a one-day-only sale of theater/film/television books, scripts, programs, posters, LPs and more. Rick Simas tells me they’re selling off more than 600 books on theater, film and TV, and more than 1000 LPs (original cast recordings, film soundtracks, composer and vocalist collections (Cole Porter to Judy Garland, Rodgers and Hart to Barbra Streisand). Paperbacks and LPs are just 50¢. Nothing is over $5. Cash only. The sale starts at 8am Saturday, Nov. 18, in the Drama Building , room 5B on the SDSU campus. Info at: 619-594-8363 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
… ‘Tis the season for giving to others. North Coast Repertory Theatre is holding a gift drive to benefit the children in their “Behind the Mask” outreach program. This five year-old drama workshop project, created by Joe Powers, director of the NCRT Theatre School and Educational Outreach, serves San Diego children separated from their parents due to abuse. Now through December 15, the NCRT box office is accepting new, unwrapped gifts appropriate to kids age 9-17. For info or to make a donation: 858-481-2155 or www.northcoastrep.org.
.. Speaking of giving, the McDonalds win the prize. Marianne is known county-wide for her largesse, and her daughter Bridget Brigitte McDonald, is a committed activist, dedicated to giving back to the community. Last weekend, she performed at Hollywood ’s Egyptian Theatre at the 3rd annual Artivist International Film Festival and Awards – Merging Art & Activism for Global Consciousness. Other celebs in attendance: Daryl Hannah, Joaquin Phoenix, Matthew McConaughey. Bridget is devoted to helping to bring about healing and positive change, through her involvement with non-profit causes such as the Women’s International Center , 2Life18 Katrina Relief (she’s Creative Director and Artistic Liaison) and the San Diego Asian American Repertory Theatre (she’s the new VP). www.bridgetmusic.com.
… TAKE YOUR PICK OF READINGS on Nov. 20: Vox Nova Theatre Company presents El Jardin Secreto, a new, bilingual adaptation of The Secret Garden written by founder/artistic director Ruff Yeager, directed by Playwrights Project founder/exec director Deborah Salzer. 7pm in the Lyceum Theatre. www.voxnovatheatrecompany.com.On the same night, the Chronos Theatre Group presents a staged reading of two comic plays from the 13th century: Qui Hu Tries to Seduce His own Wife and Grandee’s Son Takes the Wrong Career, directed by Celeste Innocenti. On the New World Stage at 7:30pm. 619-295-5047.
.. How about a little radio drama? Scott Paulson’s your man. He’ll be the onstage radio sound effects guy for Cygnet Theatre’s radio drama re-interpretation of It’s A Wonderful Life. But before he begins that gig (opening Dec. 2), he’ll premiere his own live seasonal radio drama entitled Tarot Readings on Turkey Farm Road. The free performance features actors, a tarot deck, a turkey caller and Paulson on Theremin. Wed. Nov. 22, 12:30pm on the lower level of the Geisel Library at UCSD. On Wed. Dec. 13, same time, same place, he’ll premiere his new paper theater play (at his annual paper Theatre Festival), which includes his collection of intriguing educational toys, popular in the Victorian era). Go get ‘em, Scott!
… Early heads-up: “Challenge Theatre,” under the artistic direction of Michael Thomas Tower, is coming to 6th @ Penn. In this innovative approach to theatermaking, a topic and props were suggested to four local playwrights; the Challenge was issued on November 1. The subject was war, and each writer was assigned one of the following items that had to be featured prominently in the plot: a ticket stub, address book, wallet or key. The four who took the challenge are: Jim Caputo, Jason Connors, George Soete and Matt Thompson. The fruits of their labors will premiere as War and Quiet Flowers at 6th @ Penn Theatre January 7-24. AUDITIONS will be held this Saturday, Nov. 18, 10am-1pm at 1915-1921 Morena Blvd. Actors and singers (any age, race, gender) should contact email@example.com . Tower is “expecting something of real worth from these playwrights.” So take the challenge yourself; get involved or plan to go.
.. Every family’s got one… an interfaith marriage, that is. As part of a Theatrical Workshop on the subject, the award-winning play, Day of Atonement, by local playwright Janet S. Tiger, will be presented. A 2006 winner of the DFAS National One-Act Playwriting Contest, the play concerns two lifelong friends confronting their pasts during a fateful Yom Kippur. Diane Shea directs Rolly Fanton and Susan Benninghoff. For the post-performance discussion, Tiger will join Rev. Carla Friedrich of the Swedenborgian Church and Rabbi Scott Meltzer of Ohr Shalom Synagogue. Sunday, Dec. 3 at 7:30pm. Tickets just $5 at: 858-274-9678 or firstname.lastname@example.org . The Swedenborg Hall is in University Heights , at 1531 Tyler , SD 92103.
…Last chance to catch knockout Broadway baritone Brian Stokes Mitchell in his one-night-only performance in San Diego , a benefit for his alma mater, San Diego Junior Theatre. Saturday, Nov. 18 at 7:30pm in the Casa del Prado Theatre in Balboa Park . 619-239-8355; www.juniortheatre.com .
‘NOT TO BE MISSED!’ (Critic’s Picks)
(For full text of all past reviews, use the Search engine at www.patteproductions.com)
Much Ado About Nothing – lovely student production (Globe/USD MFAs), directed by the Globe’s estimable Rick Seer. Beatrice and Benedick are terrific
On the Cassius Carter Centre Stage, through November 19
Tuesdays with Morrie – a touching tear-jerker, featuring a thrilling performance by Robert Grossman
At North Coast Repertory Theatre, through November 19
Don’t forget to Give Thanks: for all the great things in your life – and all the great theater in your town.
© 2006 PATTÉ PRODUCTIONS, INC.