Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
May 13, 2011
The one thing that unites three dramatically, thematically distinct plays is premature death. But stylistically, this world premiere, U.S. premiere and American classic couldn’t be more different: a snarky British comedy, a despairing drama, and something of a bio-fantasy.
The world premiere of William di Canzio’s “Dooley” is the story of physician Tom Dooley, who worked tirelessly in several Southeast Asian countries during the era of Communist paranoia. He was a revered Navy man. But he had one flaw, in the eyes of the military, along with his cocky bravado and disregard for rules. He was gay, so he was forced out of the service with a Less than Honorable discharge.
A hero and humanitarian, in line for Surgeon General, Dooley was victimized by a hidebound system of homophobia and hypocrisy. After his early death in 1961, at age 34, President Kennedy cited him as an inspiration for the Peace Corps.
Wafting through Di Canzio’s play is the Greek god Thanatos , beautifully and ethereally played by Shaun Tuazon . Robert Borzych , absent from San Diego stages for too long, is pitch-perfect as Dooley. Michael Mizerany’s choreography effectively punctuates the imaginative direction of Cynthia Stokes. The lighting and sound wonderfully balance the earthbound and the other-worldly. The play could use some tightening, but this excellent, thought-provoking production is a don’t-miss at Diversionary Theatre.
On a tighter budget and smaller scale, Triad Productions has once again mined the depth and humor in a dark play. Artistic director Adam Parker and his talented ensemble get the tonal shifts just right in “Curse of the Starving Class,” Sam Shepard’s 1978 family drama about poverty, fate, the failure of the American Dream and the genetics of dysfunction.
Charles Peters is terrifically terrifying as the alcoholic patriarch, and Rhiannon Jones, though a bit young for the role, breathes defiant life into the burned-out mother of this physically and emotionally famished clan.
On the largest scale, the Old Globe is presenting the American premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s 74th play, “Life of Riley.” Known for his structural complexity, Ayckbourn here intertwines the lives of three couples, as they react to the impending death of the title character, who never makes an appearance onstage. George Riley, a “hippie Peter Pan” with a passion for Pink Floyd, provides both a threat to the floundering couples and an impetus for them to rediscover their relationships. Carpe Diem, the play is saying, and when you go, it’s best to exit soaring.
For all its cynically comical considerations of mortality, middle age and marriage, the piece feels like a trifle. Despite the impressive performances, especially from the cluelessly droll Colin McPhillamy , it’s hard to care deeply about any of these less-than-savory , oh-so-English types. But Richard Seer’s direction is crisp, and the design is outstanding.
Choose your theatrical poison: untimely death seen as comedy, tragedy or inevitability.
Triad Productions’ “Curse of the Starving Class” plays through May 28 at the 10th Avenue Theatre.
The world premiere of “Dooley” continues through May 28 at Diversionary Theatre.
“Life of Riley” continues through June 5, in the Old Globe’s Weiss Theatre in Balboa Park.
©2011 PAT LAUNER