Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: NOVEMBER 21, 2008
History usually goes by in a blur; as soon as it’s gone, it’s forgotten. But when it’s humanized and personalized, we appreciate it more and understand it far better.
And that’s just what theater does best. It takes some of the most significant, sometimes the darkest, pages from our history books and makes them intensely intimate. Two current productions wrestle with American racism, one living room at a time.
In Alfred Uhry’s “Driving Miss Daisy,” we’re along for the ride in the car of white, wealthy Atlantan Miss Daisy Werthan and her African American chauffeur – and we’re watching Southern history roll by – Jim Crow, Martin Luther King, Civil Rights, anti -Semitism. We see it all in context, as backdrop to one small relationship between two proud and stubborn people, who cross a great economic gulf and an even greater racial divide.
Whether you’ve seen the play or movie before, it’s still a touching tear-jerker. And Moonlight Stage Productions brings it to glorious life, in the detailed direction of Dana Case and the marvelous performances of Sandra Ellis-Troy and Antonio “TJ” Johnson. Each is perfect for the part, and as we watch them age and mellow, especially in this magical election year, we’re watching our country age and mature, and turn a bend in the racist road.
“Heartland” tells a less familiar story, one we’ve yet to come to terms with. The world premiere drama, by locals Anita Simons and Lauren Simon, is set on a family-run Wisconsin dairy farm in 1945. The Gertzoffs are German Americans, eking out a living after their patriarch has died. With no men on the premises, they apply for a program that puts German Prisoners of War to work. This pans out well, until the neighbors become increasingly uncomfortable with how cozy the family is getting with their helpers, and soon the FBI is at the door. The mother of three, like so many other wartime German Americans, is hauled off to jail, to a detention center, to a “Family Camp,” and then threatened with deportation to Germany . We all know about the Japanese internment camps; this is an equally unsavory part of our past that “Heartland” brings to life in a most engaging way.
At Mira Costa College , Patté Award-winning director Eric Bishop, chair of the Theatre Department, has marshaled an outstanding student cast, who have mastered accents and German language, and even learned a bit of swing and concertina-playing.
It’s an excellent production, evocatively costumed and designed – moving, disturbing, unnerving. How come we didn’t know all this? Thanks to Simons and Simon for bringing it home.
So take a trip back in time – to the South or the Midwest … and let theater transport you, inform you and enlighten you.
“Heartland ” runs through November 23 at Mira Costa College in Oceanside .
“Driving Miss Daisy” continues through November 30 at the Avo Theatre in Vista .
©2008 PAT LAUNER