KPBS AIRDATE: April 24, 1996
It’s been, as always, an active theater time in San Diego. New companies and venues are cropping up. Offbeat and traditional classics are getting new airings. I’m a sucker for something old, something new.
In the old-but-still-vibrant-and-chilling department, there was a terrific series of plays in repertory at San Diego State University, with faculty in featured roles. Anne-Charlotte Harvey was powerful in August Strindberg’s “Motherlove,” and students Gina Torrecilla and Kira Soltanovich did a wonderful job in Jean Genet’s “The Maids.”
Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” was sold out for its entire run, partly, I think, because it was the swan-song of the retiring Mack Owen, the teacher, writer, actor and director who’s influenced so many San Diegans. I once took a fabulously fun course in Accents and Dialects from him. Onstage last week, he was a doleful Didi to Peter Larlham’s hilarious Gogo. Much luck to Mack in his newfound freedom.
The wheel turns, the baton is passed. We have new faces and spaces… Tomorrow, the Alien Stage Company opens a one-week run of a very provocatively titled new play by local playwright Michael Hemingson. At the Rita Dean Gallery…. Friday, at Gallery Spagnolo in the Gaslamp, another in the UBI Rep series — “The Secret Thoughts of Clowns,” by local playwright Carey Friedman. It’s a dark fantasy of what really happened on the night Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen died. Through next weekend.
The Early Curtain Theatre is continuing its run of “Biedermann and the Firebugs” at the Wikiup Cafe in Hillcrest, which has been a fun theater venue, but is, sadly, scheduled to close its doors. The new company, Early Curtain Theatre, is dedicated to the actor, and boasts ”extensive rehearsal periods using ‘process’ oriented techniques.” Not all of their lofty intentions are evident in their premiere production. The actors generally play one note, and it’s an excessively loud one. There’s much more posing than clear presentation of text.
But the play is a wonderful choice: Max Frisch’s dark 1958 comedy holds up awfully well. Herr Biedermann naively but idiotically allows arsonists to set up camp and ultimately destroy his home, while a fiery chorus comments. The play may have been written as an indictment of those countries that didn’t actively oppose Nazism or Communism, but we’ve got plenty of isms and insipid behavior to apply it to today. This theater experiment wasn’t a total success, but the plucky new company is worth watching. Their theatrical hearts are definitely in the right place.
Speaking of heart, it doesn’t get any more sentimental than “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Lamb’s Players Theatre is presenting a luscious production of the classic romantic adventure. The Anthony Burgess translation of the Edmond Rostand original is sheer delight. No one is better suited to the poetic retelling of the tale of the swashbuckling braggart with the rapier wit and witty use of the rapier.
Actually, there was a real Cyrano de Bergerac, a big-nosed swordsman, scientist and poet who lived in the 17th century. But the myth, like the nose, has grown with time, and the story has become emblematic of pure and selfless love, and attraction to the soul rather than to the exterior trappings.
Deborah Gilmour Smyth has directed the tragicomedy with a light touch, emphasizing the word-play, sword-play and humor. Robert Smyth does battle with the wonderful, lyrical language and emerges victorious. Sara Tobin is a strikingly beautiful Roxana (who used to be called Roxane in all the earlier versions). The rest of the cast is variable, with an awful lot of mugging and overacting going on, though it works in the case of Barbara Williams as Roxana’s maid and Doren Elias as the poetic pastry-man, Ragueneau. Jeanne Reith’s costumes are gorgeous, and the fight choreography is very well done. Overall, the evening is great fun, presented with more than a little ‘panache.’
Meanwhile, on the East coast, San Diego plays a role in a New York triumph and tragedy. “Rent,” the most acclaimed musical since “A Chorus Line,” just won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The triumph belongs in part to “Rent” director Michael Grief, who’s the artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse. The tragedy comes in the untimely death of the author, Jonathan Larson, who wrote the play’s book, music and lyrics. Just before the Off Broadway previews, he died of an aortic aneurysm, at age 35. Heralded as the savior of the American musical, he never lived to make his Broadway debut; “Rent” opens at the Nederlander Theatre next week.
Back home, this is the last weekend of the 1996 Actors Festival. Among other offerings, check out Saturday’s production of the dark comedy “A Table for Three,” featuring two of San Diego’s — and my own — favorite actors: Linda Castro and Rosina Reynolds. The Festival always has variety and spice. Don’t miss it…… See you at the theater!
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1996 Patté Productions Inc.