Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
June 17, 2011
Brutal parents, crazy siblings, wacko friends. Which can cause more pain? It’s a tossup of comic and tragic proportion in a passel of hurt-filled plays.
On the humorous side, there are two quirky recent works that are better in concept than in unfulfilling reality.
Moxie Theatre’s “Ten Cent Night” is a flaky little piece, set in Texas and written like the unheard country song that forms its title. Tote ‘ em up: two sets of twins, two parental victims of suicide, a barrel of alcohol, a hint of incest, and an array of oddball couplings. Not quite funny, insightful, deep or eccentric enough, but it’s centered by a superlative performance by the irrepressible Karson St. John, one of San Diego’s best and most versatile actors.
The InnerMission production of Adam Bock’s “Swimming in the Shallows” is all about the stages of relationship. There’s a lesbian couple facing – and fearing – marriage; a discontented wife who wants to divest herself of all her belongings, including her husband. And a profligate gay man who finally finds true love – with a shark. Alternately spacy and silly, the play, like its title, doesn’t find much depth. The production tends to meander a bit, but director Carla Nell has marshaled a game and comical cast.
The real meat of the week is the serious stuff: two deeply disturbing dramas. First, there’s ion theatre’s reprise production of Neil LaBute’s “bash,” the play that got him excommunicated from the Mormon church . Matter-of-fact, murderous Mormons are at the center of three monologues that will make your hair stand on end. In the three years since they first inhabited these skin-crawling characters, Rachael Van Wormer and Brian Mackey have grown enormously as actors. Under the taut, assured direction of Glenn Paris, they are superb, unflappable, heart-stopping and not to be missed.
Now we come to the Great American Classic, Arthur Miller’s 1949 masterwork, “Death of a Salesman.” It’s a daunting, Everest of a challenge, and New Village Arts reaches the pinnacle, with an outstanding ensemble and all the timeliness of a devastating story about growing older, living a lie, losing your job, and being disappointed in your children. Under the muscular and sensitive direction of Kristianne Kurner, Jack Missett nails Willy’s anger, frustration and slipping grip on reality; John DeCarlo does his best work ever, as Biff, his father’s Great White Hope; and Dana Case rips your guts out as the indomitable Linda Loman, the fiercely loyal wife who breaks our hearts as her heart is broken. It’s a great, great play, in an excellent production, simply designed, wonderfully presented.
Your affection for the flaky may attract you to the comedies. Your fascination with casual cruelty and monstrous deeds might draw you to “bash.” But your sheer love of theater should compel you to witness the “Death of a Salesman.”
“ bash ” runs through June 18, at ion theater on the edge of Hillcrest.
The InnerMission production of “Swimming in the Shallows” plays through June 26 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.
“Ten Cent Night” ends on June 26 at Moxie Theatre, near SDSU.
Death of a Salesman ” continues through July 3, at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.
©2011 PAT LAUNER