By Pat Launer
A Fritz Blitz fling will reprise in the Spring
But Moonlight’s Cabaret is relevant today.
The word ‘Vista’ typically has to do with ‘vision.’ Here, it’s a city that should be commended for supporting the arts and backing Moonlight Stage production. But it definitely prefers the short view — uncontroversial, squeaky-clean theater. This is a city that balked a few years back about the signature song, “Tits and Ass,” in the by-then 25 year-old “Chorus Line” (they wanted it out, or at least changed — to “Boobs and Butts.” Thanks to Moonlight artistic director Kathy Brombacher’s dogged persistence, the song stayed in the show as written).
Now along comes Kander and Ebb’s “Cabaret,” a 28 year-old show — and the City wants it cleaned up, too. Never mind that the musical is based in history and fact — the “Berlin Stories” of Christopher Isherwood (whose birth, 100 years ago, is being commemorated this year). His memories of the decadent world of pre-Nazi Weimar Germany morphed into John Van Druten’s 1951 play, “I Am a Camera,” and then again, in 1966, into “Cabaret.” Not only has the show been around for a long time, but the decadence is most definitively back. Not to mention the ever-increasing infringements on freedom.
But, to appease the gods of local theater (at least in that city), director Steve Glaudini had to tone down the drugs and the homosexuality, both of which are seminal to the show. (On opening night, Kathy Brombacher told me that a few people still walked out in a vociferous huff). The hedonistic Sally Bowles, by most accounts and in most productions, is pretty strung out on various now-illegal substances. Here, she merely drinks alcohol. But at the end, she’s as wasted as if she’d ingested (or injected) a medicinal arsenal.
To make up for what he couldn’t do in the realm of sexual debauchery, depravity and dissipation, Glaudini wisely underscores the more ominous — and no less relevant — elements of the show: the encroaching Nazi menace. Using the 1987 revival script (rather than the more recent changes in the ultra-seedy Sam Mendes production of 1994), he makes the Emcee (talented Eric Anderson, who looks like a scary skinhead) a lot more frightening and less ambiguous — both politically and sexually. Surprisingly, Glaudini underplays the chilling first-act closer, the anthemic “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” But he really spotlights the sad, emblematic relationship between the German boardinghouse owner, Fraulein Schneider (outstanding Debbie Prutsman) and the Jewish fruit-seller, Herr Schultz (the not-very-Jewish-seeming John Massy, Jr.). In some ways, their relationship eclipses that of the bisexual writer, Cliff (a bland, asexual John LaLonde) and Sally Bowles (excellent Susannah Hall), the clueless nightclub chanteuse who ostriches her crumbling world out of existence. But when she staggers out to sing her title-song finale, bedraggled and mascara-running, reality finally seems to hit her. Her rendition of “Cabaret” is not some upbeat, celebrational, life-goes-on/make-the-most-of-it cri de joie. This is the ultimate acknowledgment that, as Cliff had told her, “The party’s over.”
Glaudini has borrowed the mirror-on-the-audience backdrop from the 1987 production (the set here was rented), so we all get to feel the collective guilt and are sort of forced to answer Fraulein Schneider’s darkly pragmatic musical question, “What Would You Do?” But the fierce ending is all his, and it’s absolutely shocking and heart-stopping.
As he did last year with his wonderful, Patté Award-winning production of “Children of Eden,” Glaudini has used dance to outstanding effect (choreography once again by the gifted Angeleno, Lee Martino). Erin Anderson, she of the ultra-long legs, is a standout in the chorus as one of the lithest and most phlegmatic of the Kit Kat girls, as well as the socially overactive Fraulein Kost. The lighting (Steven Young) is, aptly, both glitzy and dark, in all the right ways. The costumes (Sharell Martin) are variable; Sally is dressed staid, almost frumpy at times; the look of the whole production just isn’t sexy or gritty enough.
The accompaniment and the singing are terrific, under the guidance of conductor/musical director Don LeMaster (who also played for the North Coast Rep production in 2003). The piece is more powerful when the band’s onstage (at NCRT, LeMaster was hilarious in German schoolgirl drag; but none of that sort of thing in Vista, alas). As the Emcee, Anderson is in great voice, and moves extremely well. Hall’s Sally is convincing, and she sings wonderfully, though she seems to be channeling Liza from the movie. I wish she’d put a little more of her own spin on timbre and phrasing; she’s certainly got the singing and acting chops. When all is said and done, it’s Prutsman as Fraulein Schneider, with her wonderfully understated, no-nonsense performance, who really touches the heart.
This production is definitely worth a visit to Vista… if you live there, maybe you could vote in a new regime!! You know how the saying goes these days: Regime change begins at home!!
THE BLITZ IS DEAD; LONG LIVE THE BLITZ!
The 11thFritz Blitz of New Plays by California Playwrights started off with a big comic bang, and ended with a whisper of death. The closing weekend’s offerings were generally fairly somber in tone: dealing with a father’s imminent demise; waiting for the electric chair and coping with marital infidelity. On the whole, these last four plays were less eccentric and more derivative than the first two weeks’ delightful presentations. But there was some good work on display, and the evening was brief — all four pieces in an intermissionless 75 minutes.
San Francisco playwright Scott Morrow’s “Puppet Therapy” featured puppet sex — but “Avenue Q” got there first! In this slightly offbeat comedy, deftly directed by Tim Irving, Adelaide and Peter Levine (Susan Hammons and Andy Collins) come to seek couples counseling from Dr. Nash (a pointedly distracted Lee Lampard), because of her “cutting edge technique.” She has an eye-rolling assistant (funny UCSD student Bryce Chaddick) and absolutely no interest in her patients, who are given puppets to act out their anger and angst — which, miraculously, works. The use of the puppets is cute, but the ending peters out (even if the puppets, and ultimately the couple, don’t — coitally speaking).
James Caputo’s “Body Shop” has been seen locally in the Actors Festival, and the charming pairing of Rachael Van Wormer and Pat DiMeo was reprised for the Blitz. The two women meet in a funeral parlor and a bit of learning and bonding ensues. Nicely, simply directed by Natalie Sentz, and capably acted. Caputo’s quirky work is deservedly being seen more and more on local stages. His excellent shortie, “At Rise,” won “Best of the Fest” and “Outstanding Writing” awards at the recent Actors Festival. Last year, he was represented at the Ashland (Oregon) New Play Festival and the Palm Springs International Playwriting Festival. His full-length relationship comedy, “Maternal Spirits,” opens at Scripps Ranch Theatre on September 10.
“Time Share,” by Ron Weaver, is a silly comic look at prisons, wardens, bureaucracy and the electric chair. The play didn’t really say much and the direction (by John Anderson) was often intrusive, with choral speaking and silly business from two nuns in prurient discussions of Methods of Killing through the Ages. Ho hum.
George Soete also had two plays in the Blitz and 1-1/2 in the recent Actors Festival (he was one of multiple collaborators on “The M-Word,” for which he won an award for direction). “Seventeenth Wednesday,” directed by Duane Daniels and Robert May, concerns a “Tuesdays with Morrie” kind of situation, where a man is required to spend one day a week (in this case, Wednesday) with his dying father, with whom he’s had a very rocky relationship. The writing was clunky, especially at the beginning and the end of the piece (there seemed to be at least three potential endings, when audience members began to clap). At first, Tommy addresses us directly, explaining his unfortunate situation, being forced to spend a day each week with his father. Then he proceeds to repeat the entire story on a telephone call to his wife. In this solo monologue, Terry Scheidt did a commendable job of switching back and forth between his crusty, blue-collar father and his own more refined sensibility. But the direction often got in his way (too many cooks, perhaps?). Sometimes Scheidt had his back to the audience for extended periods. And then, after we’d been watching him switch effortlessly between characters for some time, suddenly that had to be done with cross-fades and abrupt lighting changes. Although men’s relationships with their fathers are certainly fertile fields for further exploration, this play just didn’t dig deep.
But — Bonus! Good news from the Fritz for next year. The magnificent production of “Viburnum” that was the highlight of this year’s Blitz, will be getting a remounting and full run next spring at 6th @ Penn… with the same cast: the marvelous Rhona Gold, D. Candis Paule, Wendy Waddell and Rachael Van Wormer). And following that — “Hair!” Maybe this IS the Age of Aquarius after all.
TEA FOR THEE… AND WILLIE
Okay, so how about Tea with the Bard? San Diego Shakespeare Society president Alex Sandie will join other local actors in scenes from “Macbeth” (Coronado Playhouse production, in which he was Duncan) and “Measure for Measure” (Poor Players’ current production) at an event sponsored by the Brandeis University National Women’s Committee (Rancho Bernardo chapter) on Tuesday, Sept. 14 at 12:30. The featured speaker is local theatermaker/academic Monica Wyatt, Ph.D., who’ll convince everyone who still needs convincing that “Shakespeare is Alive and Well.” Sandie will preview the upcoming San Diego Public Schools Shakespeare Festival, in the works for 2006. Shakespeare scenes, Elizabethan music, tea and scones. Sounds yummy (is that one of the thousands of words Shakespeare coined? I think not, though cater, madcap and rumination were used by him first — and they all may apply! Anyway. Tix are only $5. Call Pauline Greenat 858-673-0883; (firstname.lastname@example.org) for info and reservations.
LOOK AT US WE’RE WALKING, Take 2…
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; it’s 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:
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‘:
“Cabaret” – sanitized production (minus a lot of the sex and drugs) but no holds barred on the Nazi element; very powerful in that domain, with great singing, dancing and energy… and a devastating ending. Moonlight Stage Productions in Vista’s Brengle Terrace Park, through Sept. 5.
“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.
“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, extended through September 19.
It may be Labor Day…. but it’s no sweat to go to the theater — and there are great benefits!
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.