By Pat Launer
Son of a Bush ! A Patriot takes a fall;
And a gal gets her Quince after all.
The Glass Menagerie has somber lights
And I Hate Hamlet has men in tights.
But for theater that’s totally off the scale
Check out The Love of the Nightingale.
THE SHOW: A Patriot Act: The Trial of George W. Bush, an interactive political courtroom drama, conceived, written and directed by (and featuring) Todd Blakesley, and produced by Sledgehammer Theatre
THE STORY: We all know the story. This is a full-on, non-partisan, legally intense “military tribunal of universal justice, as authorized by the Military Commissions Act of 2006.” You’re frisked as you enter, after you’re given an ID ‘badge’ to wear around your neck (you may create a pseudonym for yourself if you want). You also have to indicate whether you’re going to be a witness for the prosecution or the defense, whether you want to serve on one of three juries, or if you just want to be an observer. As a member of the ‘Press Corps,’ I was permitted to go upstairs to sit in on the sequestered jury deliberations. In this legal exercise, the charges against the President are threefold: War Crimes, Treason and Dereliction of Duty. Lots of facts and figures are presented (there are even flip-charts and overheads). The verisimilitude to a real courtroom situation is uncanny, and also a little unnerving.
THE PLAYERS/THE PRODUCTION: Blakesley, the evening’s mastermind, took the situation very seriously (a tad too seriously, IMHO), and so did the audience/participants, at least on the night I was there, which was a pretty critical one for the country – Election Eve. The data presented were detailed, but there wasn’t much there we hadn’t heard or read or seen (in “Fahrenheit 9/11” or even the online documentary “Loose Change”). But it was earnestly presented.
Blakesley and real-life veteran judge Dick Emmet served as the Magistrates. They were strict about the proceedings and tamped down any outbursts – of emotion, contention or humor — which was too bad, because those moments of passion provided the only drama of the evening. The case against Bush, as presented, is quite dramatic. But legalistic plays are really tough to pull off (few reach the heights of Inherit the Wind). Alas, it felt like a history/civics class cum jury duty. Very very earnest. Rather dry. And rather protracted (nearly three hours on election night; everyone was anxious and antsy for news, but very little came in during the evening). The attorneys – John Polak and Jim Granby for the prosecution; Kaja Amado and Fred Moramarco for the defense – were potent and spirited. The two ‘official’ witnesses, played by Jesse MacKinnon and Steve Oliver, were extremely convincing. A few other witnesses had been contacted in advance; they were unscripted and effective. Nick Fouch’s set was a credible courtroom, and Chris Hall’s bright lighting kept the audience visible at all times. It was a good opportunity for people to come up and spontaneously vent their feeling; some were quite articulate and emotional. It was an exercise in Democracy, though some seem to have forgotten that this was a dramatization; one jury’s findings (in a 5-to-1 vote) included a forceful statement that they didn’t find the court to be legitimate (HUH???). On several counts, the juries were unable to reach a verdict. One group found the defendant guilty of dereliction of Duty/Malfeasance in Office and imposed sentences of 5-10 years in prison. Commendably, everyone got to have his/her day in court. But it was a long one.
THE LOCATION: The 10th Avenue Theatre, through 11/26.
THE SHOW: Son of a Bush, another interactive non-partisan political presentation, brought to us by Gross National Product, a Washington, D.C.-based two-person comedy troupe
THE PLAYERS/THE PRODUCTION: The evening of comic sketches ranged from ho-hum to very funny. The ‘town hall meeting’ at the top of the show was a hoot; GNP founder John Simmons IS George Bush. He has nailed every single mannerism and speechism (“We need good nucular detergents”; “I believe in compassionism; my father wanted a kinder, gentile nation”; “My Department of Energy is gonna drill for hydrogen”). During the audience Q&A, he gave wonderful responses, some pre-planned, some apparently spur-of-the-moment. On Iraq : “Pullin’ out early is not an effective means of prevention.” On torture: “I believe in the Geneva Convention. We’re gonna hold it in Las Vegas .” On morality: “ Me and my wife enjoy a perfectly monotonous relationship.” On the environment: “I worry about the Clubhouse Effect. If we burn up all the golf courses, there’ll be nowhere to do business.” On Hillary: “The Senator from the great state of New York City is no devil. Hillary Clinton is no Dick Cheney.”
As his debate opponent, Hillary Clinton, Christine Thompson is good (“I’m indicted to be here with you tonight”; “I look forward to an intelligent debate, at least on my part”; “From day one, I have always been for and against the war”), but not as good as she is with the songs (weak lyrics, well presented) or the physical comedy. She’s drop-dead hilarious in acting out the horrific catalogue of side effects of the popular drug, “Ambien.” The show features a few tossed-off local references, such as ‘”Francine Buzzhead,” and a few really clever turns: the You Tube “virtual candidate,” the ‘Iraqi Jeopardy’ gameshow; and the improv segment where audience suggestions help create another Congressional scandal. Some of the bits – like the at-first humorous one on North Korea, the musical of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the bubbleheaded psychobabble of two motivational speakers – went on too long. Not much new ground is covered. But there are some really riotous lines. And on the heels of an election season of many potshots and few guffaws, a little comic relief is indeed a relief.
THE LOCATION: At the Theatre in Old Town , through 11/12
BLOW OUT YOUR CANDLE
THE SHOW: The Glass Menagerie, the first installment of ion theatre’s NATion Project, focusing on American classics; The Grapes of Wrath runs Nov. 25- Dec. 10
THE STORY: Tennessee Williams’ mood-memory play is perhaps his most poetic, lyrical and frankly autobiographical. Like the narrator, Williams was a furtive poet named Tom who was stifled in St. Louis , cooped up with his mother, a faded Southern belle, and his fragile sister. In the play, Tom is looking back on the indelible images left by his family: a monstrously smothering mother, a hapless, emotionally and physically crippled sister, and the Gentleman Caller that he brings home from work one night.
THE PLAYER/THE PRODUCTION: This play was hurried into production after the rights to Odets’ Awake and Sing failed to materialize for ion. Perhaps it needed a little more time to percolate. All the elements are there, and the performances are solid, under Glenn Paris’ direction. But the production lacks a depth of soul, and it fails to break our hearts. This dramatic reverie has to float like a dream, wistful and ethereal. Here, it’s more like kitchen-sink drama. The play also has to feel intimate and cramped. The former is achieved more than the latter. We’re close enough to the action on the New World Stage, but the Wingfield apartment (designed by Claudio Raygoza), while making good use of the space, feels roomy and fairly spacious, not constrained and claustrophobic. Matt Scott is a respectable Tom, but he seems more annoyed and angry than pensive and sensitive. His frustrated, irascible outbursts are his best moments. As Laura, Sara Beth Morgan is gentle and soft-spoken, shy and retiring. But not deeply, painfully wounded. Perhaps intentionally (to show how much her mother has over-exaggerated her problem?), her limp is so minimal as to be barely noticeable. Her scene with the Gentleman Caller (Steven Lone) is a touching one (though I doubt that Williams gave him ungrammatical lines – “You should have came ..” ?? Unlikely. And while we’re on a nitpicking binge, the seminal Picasso painting is pronounced GWER-nicka, not gwa-NEEKA).
Although each character lives in a dream world, there’s a tad too much realism here. But the words belie the hard-edged reality. Dana Hooley does perhaps her best work. Her Amanda, is overbearing, relentless, disappointed, desperate. She harangues her children, foists her unrealistic expectations and all-consuming hopelessness on them. There is fantasy in her approach to life, but it’s clearly underlain with pain. A really fine performance.
THE LOCATION: New World Stage, on 9th Avenue , through 11/12.
ATTACK OF THE GREAT DANE
THE SHOW: I Hate Hamlet, Paul Rudnick’s hilarious 1991 comedy
THE STORY/THE BACKSTORY: The play comes to Vista steeped in national and local history. During its Broadway run in 1991, the star, the volatile Scottish actor Nicol Williamson, considered by many to be the Hamlet of his generation, played John Barrymore, the Hamlet of his generation. But apparently, Williamson, who has a history of onstage histrionics, was not too happy with his costar, young Evan Handler. During the dueling scene, the older actor started seriously yelling at the younger one, and to make his point, he took a sharp swipe at Handler with a ‘bare bodkin,’ drawing blood with his foil. Handler responded by making an unscheduled exit and he did not come back to finish the play.
Closer to home, the comedy had its local premiere at North Coast Repertory Theatre in 1994, directed by founder Olive Blakistone. I really loved that production, and was especially taken by its Barrymore, played by the promising Stanley Madruga, Jr. I adored his aptly overblown performance, but I thought he was a bit young for the role. Well, now he’s back to re-inhabit the delicious character and, flush from a stellar performance as Martin Heidegger in the drama Hannah and Martin, he’s perfectly and completely grown into the role.
The onstage story focuses on a successful TV sitcom actor whose series is canceled. He moves to New York , where his agent snags him the role of Hamlet at the prestigious outdoor Shakespeare Festival in Central Park . The young man is terrified. “I hate Hamlet,” he opines. But his quirky realtor has found him a Gothic piece of theatrical history in the heart of Greenwich Village : the former digs of the legendary Barrymore, known as much for his carousing and womanizing as for his unforgettable portrayal of the melancholy Dane. (These days, he’s probably better known as Drew’s grandpa). Barrymore’s ghost appears to Andrew to carry on “a proud theatrical tradition”: every demented soul who undertakes perhaps the most complex role in the English language is permitted to summon an earlier player for assistance. Fortunately, the realtor can conjure the dead. So, dressed as the Prince, Barrymore proceeds to help Andrew with his lines, his interpretation – and his virginal girlfriend — and to rekindle an old flame of his own (ghosts can have sex? Who knew?). The play skewers perky but ravenous realtors; pitiless agents; vapid, money-hungry Hollywood producers; over-the-top actresses, and hard-drinking actors. Is there anyone else left in the world?
THE PLAYERS/THE PRODUCTION: Guest director Terri Miller Schmidt, who served as artistic director of the Newport Theatre Arts Center, has marshaled a talented cast, and kept the pace and timing ferociously funny. Stan Madruga is a marvel as the supercilious American actor with the pretentious British accent. His entrance is priceless, focusing on his own “Great Profile” (that’s one of the Barrymore monikers). He’s perfectly pompous and grandiose, and he’s perfectly outfitted: in tights, a cape, a doublet and a jeweled codpiece (costumes by Randall Hickman). Jason Maddy, recently strong in Premiere’s Side Show, demonstrates a strong sense of comic timing and outstanding physical comedy as the callow actor, Andrew. The duel between the two is superb. Jennifer Lee Vernon is fun as the very Noo Yawk realtor and Marci Anne Wuebben is comical as Deidre, an over-enthusiastic actress and Andy’s emotionally fervent but sexually reticent girlfriend. Deborah Wenck is amusing as the Germanic agent and Gary Peter Lefkowitz is aptly over the top as the hateful Hollywoodian. Director Schmidt also designed the attractive but low-budget set, which has the faded Gothic feel if not the requisite opulence. The whole effort is a hoot, and well worth the trip to Vista .
THE LOCATION: At the Broadway Theatre, through 11/12
COMING OF AGE, LATINO-STYLE
I caught a preview performance of the world premiere of Rick Najera’s Sweet 15: Quinceañera, directed by Sam Woodhouse, but since it’s a work-in-progress, there are no reviews allowed. So see it and judge for yourself.
At the San Diego Repertory Theatre, through 11/12
THEATER OF MYTHIC PROPORTION
Okay, it’s late and past my deadline, so I’ll write the full review next week, but by that time, it’ll be too late to catch the jaw-dropping production of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s The Love of the Nightingale. If you are a serious theatergoer, DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW! It’s the kind of stunning, riveting work that makes you remember why you go to the theater. The direction (Lori Petermann) is magnificent, every brilliant move and gorgeous stage picture choreographed and stylized. This is a Greek myth told with a marvelous, inventive sensibility, beautiful costumes and lighting, and excellent performances. Go! Run! See it! And hurry! – it’s only on through Saturday night.
In the Mandell Weiss Forum on the campus of UCSD, through 11/11
NEWS AND VIEWS
…CHANGE OF PLANS: Due to the illness of a cast member, Lynx Performance Theatre has had to postpone the opening of Dutchman by Amiri Baraka. The 50-minute show will now open at 9:15pm on Nov. 16 and continues through Dec. 10. www.lynxperformance.com ; 619-889-3190
… Movin’ Out: After 16 years in the Theatre in Old Town , Miracle Theatre Productions is going out with a bang: two holiday shows. Last May, the State of California put the theater concession out to bid, but it only received one response, from Insta-Theatre, which (by default??) has been selected to operate the venue under a new name (to be determined). Meanwhile, the Miracle folks (co-producers Paula Kalustian, Jill Mesaros and Steve Anthony) are looking for another location, most likely in North County . For the holidays, they’re running two shows simultaneously: Sister’s Christmas Catechism, the seasonal adaptation of the hilarious hit, Late Nite Catechism ( Sunday-Wednesday, beginning Nov 14 ) and The Wonder Bread Years, a nostalgic look at childhood by the “Seinfeld” writer and stand-up comedian Pat Hazell (Thursday-Sunday, beginning Nov. 16). www.miracletheatreproductions.com
… Canines are a Gal’s Best Friend: Several notable San Diego actors will appear a reading of Women’s Best Friend: Women Writers on the Dogs in their Lives, edited by Megan McMorris. Participants include Julia Fulton, Moira Keefe, Ursula Meyer, Cynthia Stokes and Kim Walsh. Proceeds from book sales benefit the Rancho Coastal Humane Society. Admission is free; dogs (on lead) are welcome. Sunday Nov. 12, 11-1:00 at Cricket’s Corner Dog Park, 389 Requeza St. , Encinitas. Refreshments (and dog biscuits) will be served.
…Anne Frank sings! The *J* Company of the Lawrence Family JCC is about to open Yours, Anne, a musical adaptation of “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.” Preparation for the show has been enhanced by ‘pre-training’ with clinical psychologist Dr. Edith Eva Eger, who was 16 years old when she was sent to the Auschwitz death camp in 1944. Her experiences parallel those of Anne Frank, who died in Auschwitz at age 14. “Dr. Edie is a wonderful resource for the kids,” says *J* Company artistic director Joey Landwehr. “She’s an amazing role model for overcoming adversity through perseverance and by remaining positive and hopeful.” Each cast member has been provided with a diary, to record, throughout the rehearsal and performance period, their thoughts and experiences, just as Anne did. For additional insight and learning, there’s “Inside Anne Frank’s House,” a life-size re-creation of the attic where Anne and her family hid for two years; the exhibit will be on display at the JCC during the run of the show. Dec. 2-10; www.lfjcc.org ; 858-362-1348.
… You better watch out, you better not cry: Holiday shows are on their way. One of the first, besides The Grinch, opening here and, simultaneously, in New York , is Gian Carlo Menotti ’s one-act English opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, co-produced by Common Ground Theatre and St. Paul ’s Cathedral. Dr. Floyd Gaffney is the director and Michael Morgan the musical director of this touching, family-friendly story about a disabled shepherd boy, his despairing mother, and the Three Kings who stop for lodging. Nov. 30-Dec. 17 at St. Paul ’s, 5th & Nutmeg. A concert-only version will be presented at Christ United Presbyterian Church on Sunday, December 10, at 4:00 pm; 3025 Fir St. San Diego . Info at: 619-263-7911, 619-298-7261 x356 or www.commongroundtheatre.org
…Hello, young singers, wherever you are: Conductor John Nettles is looking for students, age 10 and up, to sing with the City Ballet Children’s Chorus for their production of The Nutcracker at the Spreckels Theatre, in December. The kids’ chorus performs in the Act I finale. A few ‘older’ students are needed to ‘reinforce’ the younger voices. Contact John at email@example.com ; 760-822-1472.
…Smile for Willy: Free holiday photos will be available to kids, families and Willy-lovers for the Nov. 18 performance of the Kennedy Center ’s touring production of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts. The lobby will open at 6pm and portraits will be taken by Grins 2 Go, on a first-come, first-served basis. Curtain is at 7pm. Pix will also be snapped for an hour after the show. Youth tix are only $5. 858-748-0505; www.powayarts.org .
…Theatre Memorabilia: 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. In the Drama Building , room 5B (on the north side), Nov. 18. Doors open at 8am; cash only. For info: 619-594-8363 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
..Dance, watch dance, support dance: Butterworth Dance Company is kicking off the holiday season with an evening of merrymaking and fundraising, featuring a silent auction, hosted bar, hors d’oeuvres, performances by the company and by ballroom dancers from the host site. December 2, 6-9pm at the Pattie Wells’ Dancetime Center , 1255 W. Morena Blvd. For tix/info: 619-501-5037; www.butterdance.org . And, for another spirited dance performance, check out Round 2 of 4×4, Sushi Art’s coolest new event, featuring emerging and established local dancers performing for 10 minutes on a 4’ x 4’ stage. This week’s new or in-progress work will be presented by Alison Dunn-Razzo, Sadie Weinberg (with Terry Wilson) and Alicia Peterson, among others. Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 8pm at Bluefoot Bar/Lounge on 30th and Upas in North Park .
… A NIGHT OF READINGS: Nov. 20: the new Vox Nova Theatre Company presents El Jardin Secreto, a new adaptation of The Secret Garden by founder/artistic director Ruff Yeager (who has just pulled off his Frank N. Furter fishnets). Ruff’s bilingual version transports the action from bleak colonial England to Julian , California in the late 1880s. Directed by Deborah Salzer and featuring Laura Bozanich, Annie Hinton, Jeannine Marquie, Sandra Ruiz, Wendy Waddell and others. 7pm in the Lyceum Theatre. www.voxnovatheatrecompany.com.On the same night, the Chronos Theatre Group will present 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 (which just happens to be acting!). A cast of locals will be directed by Celeste Innocenti on the New World Stage at 7:30pm. 619-295-5047.
… The perfect chat for this post-election season: the Expressive Arts Institute is collaborating with Young Audiences of San Diego to present a Panel Discussion entitled: What is the role of theatre in peacemaking and social change? Panelists include: Doug Jacobs, actor/director and co-founder of the San Diego Repertory Theatre ; Seema Sueko , founder/artistic director of Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company ; Todd Blakesley, interactive theater maven and creator of A Patriot Act: The Trial of George W. Bush, now playing; and theater director and psychodramatist Yaacov Naor, director of the Expressive Arts Institute in Israel. Moderated by Judith Greer Essex, director of the San Diego Institute of Expressive Arts Therapy, the discussion will consider such issues as the connection between theater and social change, and whether or not theater – in all its forms — can be an adequate response to the times we live in. Nov. 15, 10 am- 12noon, 4007 Camino del Rio South, Ste 209 , SD 92104. Info at www.arts4change.com . RSVP to: email@example.com
.. UCSD alums in the limelight: Naomi Iizuka, along with playwrights Sarah Ruhl and Lee Blessing, was asked by New York ’s Slant Theatre Project to lay down five “obstructions” – “rules for fellow acclaimed playwrights to play by in creating new works.” The result is an evening of six new plays by writers Lisa Kron, Michele Low, Marcus Gardley, Evan Cabnet, Dan O’Birne and Mat Smart. Two of the directors are UCSD alums Suzanne Agins and Steve Cosson , and t he cast of 25 includes ex-UCSDers Daoud Heidami, Garrett Neergard and Brian Slaten. It’s a veritable UCSD takeover! The event, at Collective :Unconscious
in Tribeca, is ongoing through Dec. 2. www.slanttheatreproject.org
… Leaning Left: Palomar College Performing Arts is presenting the Clifford Odets classic, Waiting for Lefty, directed by adjunct professor and New Village Arts co-founder Francis Gercke. With its questions about unions, living wage, health care and the military industrial complex, the play is as relevant as it was when it opened in 1935. At the Howard Brubeck Theatre on the Palomar campus, through Nov. 19. 760-744-1150; www.palomarperforms.com.
… Last chance! See The Far Side of Fifty, words of wit and wisdom from 14 women, age 58-88. Sunday Nov. 12 (2pm) at the Lawrence Family JCC in La Jolla . lfjcc.org.
…Don’t miss musical theater heartthrob Brian Stokes Mitchell in his one-night-only performance in San Diego . The megatalented Broadway baritone (Ragtime; Kiss Me, Kate, for which he won his Tony) is doing a benefit performance for his alma mater, San Diego Junior Theatre. A new seating area and low-price tickets have just been added. Swoon as the irresistible performer puts his stamp on beloved show tunes and cuts from his new self-titled album. At Casa del Prado Theatre in Balboa Park , 7:30pm, Nov. 18. 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)
The Love of the Nightingale – one of the most stunning, imaginative productions of the year
At UCSD (Mandell Weiss Forum), through November 11
I Hate Hamlet – hilariously funny, and very well done.
At the Broadway Theatre, through November 12
Tuesdays with Morrie – a touching tear-jerker, featuring a thrilling performance by Robert Grossman
At North Coast Repertory Theatre, through November 19
Veterans Day commemorates the theater of war. Honor the vets – and the troops – by thinking of them while you’re safely ensconced in the other kind of theater.
© 2006 PATTÉ PRODUCTIONS, INC.