KPBS AIRDATE: October 25, 1995
Romance — ignited, suppressed and rekindled — features prominently in three disparate productions: “Romeo and Juliet” at Sa n Diego State University, “Donkeys’ Years” at North Coast Rep and “The Rainmaker” at La Jolla Stage Company. They’re not all to everybody’s taste, but each has something to commend it.
First, Shakespeare. Here, of course, the play’s the thing. The SDSU Drama Department tries to tackle the Bard every year. This time, they seem to have wrestled him to the ground, Highlander style. To celebrate “Romeo and Juliet’s” 400th year on the world’s theatrical stage, director Peter Larlham has set his sights on attracting a young audience. The target: ninth graders, all of whom must read “R&J.” So the script is pared down, the costumes jeansed-up, the sword-play enhanced. It’s a very adolescent take on two fickle, confused, impulsive and intense adolescents. And it worked for the 300 junior high students who were there the night I was, and that’s a thrill. But some of the director’s choices were gratuitous, in my opinion. For instance, when Juliet refuses to comply with her father’s decree that she marry Paris , Capulet knocks his daughter to the ground and smacks his wife across the face. Provocative and contemporary, but highly unnecessary.
The star-crossed lovers, a timeless line omitted with the prologue, are very attractive, but the strongest performance is the athletic Mark Richardson as Mercutio.
Up at North Coast Rep, the whole company put in strong performances. Christina Courtenay’s direction of “Donkeys’ Years” is confident and excellently paced, loaded with sight gags and uproarious stage business. The weak link here is the play, a frothy farce by Michael Frayn that’s not half as funny as his later “Noises Off.” But Jim Johnston creates another credible character and Matthew Reidy inhabits another nutcase. Daniel Mann is a hoot as a foul-mouthed man of the cloth, John Steed is, once again, a lovable tightass, and Robert Stark wins the PeeWee Herman giggle contest. Christine Jeston effectively tries, in vain, to maintain her cool as the object of the affections of these aging British college-men, cavorting shamelessly at their 20th reunion. It’s theater lite, but it’s awfully well done.
Also well produced is “The Rainmaker,” Richard Nash’s 1954 comedy about Lizzie, a spinster, and Starbuck, a conman who ends a whole family’s drought. Kissing cousin to Professor Harold Hill, a bamboozler who hit the boards several years later in “The Music Man,” Starbuck brings faith, hope, and even a little music into some dreary, small-town lives.
Linus Weiss is an antic, agile Starbuck, and he commands the stage. His scenes with Linda Zweig’s strong-willed Lizzie are touching, and he gives a boost to her dull-but-goodhearted younger brother, nicely played by Bill Hill. The rest of the cast is quite competent, and Priscilla Allen has directed them well. The set is more than serviceable, but the lighting is erratic. Keeping in character, Weiss kicks off the La Jolla Stage Company’s 16th season, as its new artistic director, and resident magic-maker.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.