Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
October 21, 2011
Connection, disconnection and missed connections. Three different takes: musically comic, smartly quirky, and disturbingly dramatic. Take your pick.
In the “supremely silly” category, there’s the world premiere musical, “The Servant of Two Masters” at Lamb’s Players Theatre, complete with fart and snot jokes. Riffing on an 18th century play by Carlo Goldoni, it’s in the same style of commedia dell’arte , with stock characters like the penny-pinching patriarch and the scheming menial. And of course, the lovers. The twist here is that each pair of paramours is played by a real-life married couple.
The talent is terrific, with commendable comic chops, superb singing and an outstanding 4-piece band. The set, lighting and effects are first-rate, and the costumes, in kaleidoscopic colors, are gorgeous. But the music adds little to the harebrained machinations, and actually slows down the antic zaniness.
Film producer David McFadzean , former Lamb’s Player and co-creator of TV’s “Home Improvement” who, for some reason, doesn’t rate a Bio in the program, has written a book that sings, while his lyrics are less satisfying, despite pleasant music by Deborah Gilmour Smyth.
I’m putting my comic cash on Sarah Ruhl , and her wackily unpredictable 2008 mystical fantasy, “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” now at Moxie Theatre. Ruhl , a MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient and Pulitzer Prize finalist, has an eccentric view of life, love and relationship, and a stunningly lyrical, language-drunk way with words.
Her centerpiece here is drab, plain-Jane Jean, who doesn’t have much of a life of her own. So she takes on someone else’s. Seated in a café, annoyed by the constant ringing of a cellphone at the next table, she confronts the owner, and discovers that he’s …well, dead. She answers the phone — and all his subsequent calls — ultimately meeting his family, and finding danger, adventure and romance beyond her wildest imaginings.
This off-the-wall, hilarious and hallucinatory delight sports a spectacular ensemble, under the incisive direction of Delicia Turner Sonnenberg. Every performance is a perfectly polished gem, decked out in delectable costumes, dripping with symbols, pop culture references and flights of fancy. Miss it at your peril.
But if you need a more sobering view of relationship, try “Master Harold… and The Boys,” the 1982 masterwork by sometime San Diegan Athol Fugard . The taut, semi-autobiographical one-act harks back to Fugard’s South African childhood. Harold flexes his adolescent muscles, and steps over the apartheid line with his family’s black servants, to chilling effect.
At Community Actors Theatre, director Mark Henry leaves more room for reconciliation than most productions. Fifteen year-old Jacob Gardenswartz is excellent as young Hally and, having played the wonderful role of Sam before, Antonio “TJ” Johnson just keeps making it deeper and richer.
As I always say, there’s something for everyone to connect to in the theater.
The Community Actors Theatre production of “Master Harold… and The Boys” runs through October 30 at Community Actors Theatre in Oak Park.
“Dead Man’s Cell Phone” rings through November 6 at Moxie Theatre, near SDSU.
“The Servant of Two Masters” continues through November 20 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado.
©2011 PAT LAUNER