By Pat Launer
A beautiful weekend for taking a chance
On Two Noble Kinsmen and Celebrating Dance.
And since the Park was where we Boomers began,
We paid a little visit to the Music Man.
“The Two Noble Kinsmen” is an enigma within a puzzle. It is a unique instance of tragicomedy that ends in simultaneous death and marriage. It’s the only time that Shakespeare collaborated with a ‘lesser’ playwright, John Fletcher. The question of Shakespeare’s share in the creation has evoked more discussion than all the other ‘doubtful’ plays put together (that is, those of uncertain authorship, attributed to Shakespeare). The drama has elements of classic legend, medieval romance, Elizabethan comedy and Jacobean masque. Though it remains one of The Bard’s least popular plays, it was, surprisingly, chosen by the Royal Shakespeare Company to inaugurate the new Swan Theatre in 1986. All this makes it fit perfectly into director Darko Tresnjak’s penchant for “bruised beauties,” the less-than-stunning wallflowers of the dramatic/literary world.
As artistic director of the Globe’s summer Shakespeare Festival, Tresnjak chose “The Two Noble Kinsmen” as one of the plays he’d direct. In some ways, it was an easy choice, since he’d directed a production last year for the Public Theatre in New York’s Central Park.
The New York Times called that smaller-scale production “compulsively watchable.”
As he did in his glorious production of “Pericles” at the Globe in 2002, Tresnjak creates gorgeous stage pictures, and keeps the action, language and story clear, visually varied and consistently appealing. And that is no mean feat, since there’s a lot going on.
The main story source is “A Knight’s Tale,” the first of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” which Shakespeare had already tapped for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The co-authors followed the source material about as closely as an Elizabethan drama could be expected to follow a 14th century verse romance. They reduced the level of divine intervention at the end, and added the subplot of the Jailer’s Daughter, barely hinted at in Chaucer and generally attributed to Fletcher. Only the first and last acts are credited by most scholars to Shakespeare.
Okay, so what’s it all about? The rather melancholy play pits love against friendship, and exalts the chivalric ideal. It takes place in Athens after the defeat of Thebes by Theseus. At the beginning, just as in “Midsummer,” Theseus is about to wed Hippolyta, the Amazon queen he has defeated in battle (Tresnjak even has them speak the same lines). The two kinsmen of the title are the incarcerated Theban cousins, Palamon and Arcite, who spy Theseus’ sister-in-law, Emilia, from their prison window. Each immediately falls in love with her, and their vowed “eternal friendship” instantly turns to enmity. Meanwhile, the Jailer’s Daughter has fallen in love with Palamon and helps him to escape. As a result of duels, threats of exile and death, rape and unrequited love, the Jailer’s Daughter loses her mind. But hers is a more dark, potent and interesting madness than Ophelia’s; plus, she gets a lot more stage-time (and, Bonus! She doesn’t die!). The story twists and turns as the two men continue to vie for Emilia’s attention, until one of them wins her while the other dies (chivalrously, still vowing loyalty to his cuz). In the end. friendship and gallantry triumph over rivalry and enmity and only the insane are happy in love.
One of the problems of the play is character development. Except for the Jailer’s Daughter (never given a name, alas) each of the people in the story is fairly one-dimensional. The Two Nobles are often indistinguishable and virtually interchangeable. And each character, again with the exception of the Daughter, remains generally unchanged from beginning to end.
It’s not a wholly satisfying play or production. Tresnjak’s vision is compelling, as is Ralph Funicello’s set, with its stately pillars and trees and its birdcages behind the human cage/jail in which the two Kinsmen climb and cavort like monkeys. As Arcite and Palomon, Brian Sgambati and Graham Hamilton are more physically than vocally agile. Both tend to trumpet and declaim to excess. But their physical business is impeccable and often comic. As Emilia, Karen Zippler is beautiful but vacant, and vocally weak. Dan Snook’s Theseus is regal and heartless; Sara Surrey’s Hippolyta is equally majestic though more sympathetic. Ultimately, it’s Bree Elrod, as the Jailer’s Daughter, who captures – and breaks – our hearts. She is not only jilted, she’s sexually violated. And the crazy ‘cure’ for her poor, damaged mind, thanks to a quack doctor (amusing Charles Janasz) is lots of sex and a Wooer who pretends (in a goofy, ragmop wig) to be the man she really loves. Amazingly, it works.
It is Tresnjak’s skill and inventiveness, coupled with Linda Cho’s creative costuming, York Kennedy’s lovely, multi-layered lighting and Christopher Walker’s evocative, often-romantic soundscape, that pull it all together and keep us engaged. The play was probably written in 1613, just three years before Shakespeare’s death. Whether that factors into the bleak view of love and human nature remains a mystery, one of the many shrouding “Two Noble Kinsmen.” But if you love Shakespeare, you’re very likely fascinated by anything he had a hand in… and Tresnjak’s the guy to take you on this dark, shadowy ride.
WHO SAID HE DOESN’T KNOW THE TERRITORY?
Brain Wells, producing artistic director of Starlight Theatre, knows Harold Hill – and he knows his brass from his oboe. He just became “The Music Man” again, a role he last played at Starlight in 1997 – and he did a luscious job of it. Meredith Willson’s musical classic, set in River City, Iowa, 1912, is chock full of delectable songs – and in this production, a wonderful array of dance numbers. Director/choreographers Jack Tygett (who trained Wells at USIU) and his wife, Joyce Schumaker (a Starlight performing veteran in her own right) have cast wonderfully: Wells nails the snappy talk of the Professor, and has credible chemistry with lovely, golden-voiced Laurel Peterson Wicke as Marian the Librarian. Equity actor Jeff Asch is a funny little fireball as Marcellus Washburn, Hill’s former partner in crime. The barbershop Quartet is played by a bona fide barbershop quartet, the finely tuned Tuesday Night Alibi, who also appeared in Starlight’s last “Music Man.”
The secondary characters are all first-rate actor/singer/comics: Linda Libby sparkles with quick wit and a thick Irish brogue as Mrs. Paroo; Melinda Gilb is riotous as the Mayor’s wife; John Polhamus, he of the glorious voice, as Mayor Shinn (unfortunately not a singing role) and then there’s adorable, talented, 8 year-old Ari Lerner (who happens to have played my young son in “Mendel, Inc.” a few months back — another cute kid with a lisp!). What a voice! And what stage presence! His two older sibs, Jessica and Lev, were onstage with him. Delightful musical family.
There was another juicy backstage story in this production. The actor originally cast as Tommy Djilas, the ‘bad boy’ from the other side of the tracks who’s mad for the Mayor’s daughter, took sick on the Sunday night of the first weekend of the run. There was no understudy, so for the second act, three chorus guys stepped in for the dance numbers and Aaron Marcotte was thrust into the limelight as Tommy. With only two hours of real rehearsal time after that, he fully assumed the role and did a wonderful job. His dad, KPBS News Director Mike Marcotte, should be right proud. Aaron is charming onstage and off, and deserves to be seen a lot more on local stages.
The 15-piece orchestra, under the baton of musical director/conductor Parmer Fuller, sounded aptly brassy and robust. The singing and dancing were outstanding, and everyone looked great in Kathy Auckland’s enchanting costume and wig designs. Somehow, the freezes were more amusing than annoying in this show, and they were implemented with crisp, drill-team precision. All in all, a highly satisfying and extremely well executed production — one of Starlight’s finest — packed with gifted kids, dynamic adults, and of course, an unforgettable score.
BABY, DO YOU WANNA DANCE?
It was really a walk in the park to experience Eveoke Dance Theatre’s free Celebrate Dance Festival, which ran over the weekend in several indoor and outdoor venues. More than 70 groups were featured, but in a few hours’ time, I caught six of them. Since any group can participate, the level of skill and performance varied widely, from young kids doing Mexican or Irish step dance to older women trying their hands (er, feet) at tap. And then there were the real pros… Sarmishtha Sarkar, for instance, a classical Indian dancer possessing extreme beauty, grace and expertise. Her hands alone are a wonder to watch. And the Butterworth Dance Company, a four year-old local group performing the eclectic modern choreography of Traves Butterworth. Though he came to dance late, his young, graceful and attractive company has had a lifetime of experience. I’ll be looking to attend other performances by this Company (next is at the JCC in La Jolla, Sept. 11) – and, in case you’re interested, they’re having open auditions on Sept. 19 at the APA Studios in Mission Valley.
During the Festival, Eveoke founder/director/choreographer Gina Angelique was her usual ebullient and inspirational self, encouraging the audience, motivated by what they’d already seen, to attend more dance performances in the coming year. It was heartening to see how many people came into the Casa del Prado on a spectacular summer day, and how many gathered outside at the fountain and at the lily pond of Balboa Park for performances and workshops. One of the latter was conducted by two young Eveoke veterans, both of whom have blossomed under Angelique’s guidance, rhythms and social awareness. Both Anthony Rodriguez and April Tra were extremely shy when they began, but last weekend, they were so self-assured, engaging and interactive, leading the workshop and teaching loads of people fun hiphop moves. It was a thrill to see them come so far, both socially as choreographically. Rock on, Eveokers!
In this hot political climate, it’s a shame that the creators of “Boomers” (at Lamb’s Players Theatre) didn’t add a little edge to the revamped version of their popular, perennial hit parade of nostalgia. Menopause is a welcome addition (onstage, if not in life) and that dreaded post-50 letter from AARP. But there are so many resonances of the emotions – and even the anti-war activism – of Boomers Then and Now that I was sort of offended it wasn’t even alluded to.
When I first saw the show in 1993, it was sweet and sentimental. But the world has changed… a lot, since then. And if Kerry Meads and Vanda Eggington were going to revisit the piece for the new millennium, I think they could have taken a tad more risk. Now, it feels a bit frayed, a little like cutoff jeans. And a mite sappy, though divorce does enter the picture along with multiple mates, single motherhood, Alzheimer’s, entitlement and Social (in)Security. It really struck me this time (the third, I think, that I’ve seen it) that many of the raunchiest, hardest-rocking songs and singers are glossed over or omitted.
Also, though the many, brilliantly-interwoven medley/mosaics are admirable, when some songs are especially well done or energizing, they’re truncated way too soon.
There are other disappointments in this incarnation. Keith Jefferson, an enormously talented actor/singer, seems miscast and out of place. The Beamer-driving Yuppie, Preston, has become a Buppie, but it doesn’t quite work. And Jefferson seems to be singing out of his range (vocally and stylistically) in the first act. In the second, he finally gets to let loose a bit, in a knockout rendition of “Heard it Through the Grapevine” and in some spectacular dance-moves. Lisa Payton-Davis is a knockout with Aretha’s “Respect” (reminiscent of her star-turns in the long-running “Beehive” at the Theatre in Old Town). Susan Berkompas is a solid and credible presence, but she doesn’t get much solo time. Chris Turner, a Lamb’s co-founder, is consistently comical as the hippie/druggie Boomer who can barely remember the ‘60s, and he does a bang-up job with all the hardest-hitting rock numbers. David Cochran Heath, who adds gravitas to any proceedings, is a hoot as the stuffy professor of the ‘class’ in Boomers 101—chronicling the rise and fall – and recent rise?? – of those born from 1946-1964. Co-creators Kerry Meads and Vanda Eggington alternate the role of former Prom Queen, Susan, who gets most of the solo numbers. Meads does some of her best work ever; her voice is perfect for these songs, and she really makes them sing. It felt a little creepy, though, when she kept being paired up with her ex-husband, Rick Meads (still cute, if gray – artificially? – and still in excellent voice), especially in songs like “Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Too Late, Baby,” and “If Ever You’re in My Arms Again.”
The band is terrific – G. Scott Lacy on keyboards, percussion by David Rumley, Rik Ogden on guitar, Oliver Shirley on bass and Adrienne Nims playing a killer sax (as well as flute and percussion) – under Vanda Eggington’s musical direction and with her fabulous arrangements. As always, Jeanne Reith’s costumes are spot-on, though Jefferson could look a lot Yuppier. So, if you just want a pleasant walk down memory lane, don’t miss it. But if you think you’ll feel the absence of the pebbles in the path and the political thorns that prick you every day in the news, take a different route to the homesick restaurant. At the Lyceum, through September 12.
GURNEY BEATS BUSH!
The typically refined, reserved, crowd-pleasing playwright A.R. “Pete” Gurney is going after GWB with a machete. His latest play, a scrumptiously seditious political comedy, “Mrs. Farnsworth,” is making its West coast premiere in San Diego in October.
Writer/professor/actor/director Federico (Fred) Moramarco, who snagged the local rights under the banner of his Laterthanever Productions, held a fundraiser on Sunday for the upcoming production at the ARK Theatre. The classy, red-white-and-blue event was well attended, and guests were treated to food from Little Italy, (a few too many) young, budding opera stars of tomorrow, and a sneak preview of the show, which stars Rosina Reynolds, Jim Chovick and the producer/director’s actor-son, Steve Moramarco. Very tantalizing and provocative. (See my article about the play in the September issue of On Air magazine).
Most rousing and motivating speaker of the afternoon: Congressman Bob Filner, who said the situation in Washington is far worse than we imagine: “There is no democratic process in D.C.,” he avowed, urging everyone to do everything possible to enhance regime change at home, using, as Fred is, his or her own personal skills, talents and abilities to make a difference. Filner and Moramarco go back a long time; they were first-year professors together at SDSU 34 years ago. Now, Filner is a proud part of the “MAD Dogs” in Congress – a play on the ‘Blue Dog Democrats’ of yore, and an acronym for Move All Democrats now. Amid all the hand-wringing, he sounded a note of optimism, citing recent polls that show Kerry way ahead in projected electoral vote tallies. And, he added, “If he does well, we can win in the Senate, and even the House.” Any good political news these days is a pleasure… and Air America coming to the San Diego AM radio dial (even if it is supported, oddly enough, by Clear Channel – a clear indication that they anticipate success), is a very good thing indeed. Listen for Al Franken from 9-noon daily at 1360AM. Best bumper sticker banner of the “Farnsworth” event: Lick Bush — Stop Unwanted Presidencies.
THE POLITICS OF DANCE
L.A.-based Michael Mizerany, frequent lead performer in Malashock Dance productions, has formed his own modern dance company, MizeranyDance! A powerhouse performer, Mizerany was nominated for an Emmy in the award-winning Malashock film, “The Soul of Saturday Night.” He’ll be bringing his latest choreographic work, “Kruel Summer,” an allegory of government run amok, to St. Cecilia’s Playhouse before it heads to L.A. for an official world premiere. Watch for news here about the January production, which is so explicit and graphic, no one under 16 will be allowed in. That should attract young people in droves.
THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE
By now, you’ve probably heard about the godawful reviews that the La Jolla Playhouse-sprung “Dracula, The Musical” received after its opening last week on Broadway. Critics spared no vitriol in pen or pun. The best of the lot came from the NY Times’ Ben Brantley, who said, “Think of every appropriate variation you can involving the verbs to bite and to suck.” Ouch. Director Des McAnuff reports that business is good and the fans keep coming. An article in one of the NY papers last week speculated that, if repeat offenders for composer Frank Wildhorn’s “Jekyll and Hyde” were called Jekkies, the followers of this show should be called Drekkies. How many of them there are, and how long they’ll fly to the Bat’s side, is anyone’s guess. Last week’s grosses (for three previews and five post-opening performances) indicated that the Belasco Theatre, where the Bloodsucker’s in residence, had only 54% of its seats occupied, down 24% from the week before. (Just as a point of reference, “Hairspray,” playing in a somewhat larger theater, was running at 82% capacity, down 7% from last week).
LOOK AT US WE’RE WALKING…
Let’s make it an all-theater team! Melissa Supera Fernandes and Manny Fernandes have organized a group for AIDS Walk 2004. John and I are going; why not join us, September 26 in Balboa Park, for San Diego’s largest one-day HIV/AIDS fundraiser. It only costs $25 to be part of the team, but you can get others to contribute and pay your way. We’ve done the Walk before and it’s really fun… a leisurely stroll, really, but a kick with all the people, entertainment, cheering-on and goings-on. To sign up, go to:
http://www.kintera.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=45685 and select the Time Warner Team). If that link doesn’t work, go to www.aidswalksd.org . You know it’s a great cause – and it’s a great day in the Park. Hope to seeya there!
NOW, ‘DON’T MISS‘:
“Two Noble Kinsmen” – director Darko Tresnjak offers us a beautiful production of a less-than-perfect, partly-Shakespearean tragicomedy. Not all the cast is up to the task, but the creative team does stellar work, and even rarely-seen Shakespeare is worth seeing. Outdoors at the Globe, in repertory with “As You Like It” and “Antony and Cleopatra.” Last “Kinsmen” performance Sept. 24.
“Saturday Night at the Palace” — intensely brutal play about South Africa during apartheid. Tautly directed by Claudio Raygoza, with outstanding performances by Paul Araujo, Quardell Scott, and — especially chilling — Andrew Kennedy. Don’t miss it — if you can take it. At 6th @ Penn Theatre, through September 11.
“Twelfth Night” — The Globe’s Brendon Fox directs a local all-star cast in a lovely outdoor production set in the 1920s. Special benefit performances on August 28 and 29 at “The Folly” in La Jolla.
The Fritz Blitz – last week to catch this year’s Blitz – one of the best ever! Comedy, drama, magic and mayhem. At the Lyceum Theatre, through August 29.
“Las Meninas” — Sean Murray does it again! Gorgeous production, wonderfully designed, acted and directed. Comic but unsettling, a shockingly fact-based historical tale. At Cygnet Theatre, through September 12.
“Art” — a lovely pas de trois from a trio of Lamb’s favorites, in an intelligent, thought-provoking play. At Lamb’s Players Theatre, through September 19
Grab the tale-end of outdoor summer fun — at the theater!
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.