KPBS AIRDATE: March 22, 1995
It’s just about spring, and dramatic ventures are sprouting up all over town. Some, like desert flowers, had a brief but colorful blossoming and they’re gone. Some are just about to bloom. And one budding production has closed down, only to re-germinate elsewhere. So, herewith, I present my vernal offering — a theatrical potpourri.
Let’s start on the campuses. Both SDSU and UCSD just featured brief runs of very unsettling pieces. San Diego State resurrected a rarely produced Ionesco tragi-comedy, “Jeu de Massacre,” here translated as “Drop Dead!” In an enormously inventive production, directed by Peter Larlham, faceless, gray, rag-doll corpses are scattered throughout the audience. Onstage, framed within an exciting, post-apocalyptic design by Marguerite Apolstolas, bodies pile up, victims of some mysterious plague. The moral fiber breaks down; all hell breaks loose. The 20 actors, portraying multiple characters with varying degrees of success, get to play out their dramatic fantasies of dropping dead in all sorts of climactic ways. It’s funny and farcical and terrifying and topical, all at the same time.
Hell’s broken loose on the UC campus, too. In a deconstruction of a deconstruction, which basically means turning the text inside out and upside down, guest director Robert Woodruff rips at “Skin,” the latest venture by local playwright Naomi Iizuka. Sometimes Iizuka’s lush-and-harsh language spirals out of control. Sometimes, despite Woodruff’s amazingly choreographed poses and moves, the production coils and corkscrews in so many directions, your head is spinning, from the myriad visual images and assaultive sound. But this piece, a well-veiled, updated riff on Buchner’s “Woyzeck,” is all about violent love, sex and death, and especially, alienation. It can have that effect on some audiences, too.
Speaking of alienation and disenfranchisement, government style, it doesn’t get any more deadly and than in the real-life story of the Tuskegee Experiment. In the 1930s and 40s, 400 Southern black men were allowed to die in the name of research, a U.S. Public Health Service study of Untreated Syphilis in the Male Negro. Nurse Eunice Evers was the unwilling accomplice who cared for the men through the 14 year venture. In “Miss Evers’ Boys,” doctor/playwright David Feldshuh exposes the drama, melodrama, politics, hypocrisy and sheer depravity of this ugly chapter in our history. The fledgling San Diego Black Ensemble Theatre, under the direction of talented actor-cum-director Damon Bryant, mounted a powerful and provocative production of this flawed but disturbing play. After a limited run at the Wikiup Cafe, the Ensemble has big plans. So watch for “Miss Evers’ Boys,” coming soon to a theater near you.
Now, with all this death and destruction, let’s move to “A Higher Ground,” and a show by the same name, dropping into the Lyceum Theatre this weekend, courtesy of Show B.I.S., spelled B-I-S, for Beth Israel Synagogue. Written, composed and directed by Cara Freedman, the rock musical stars 120 talented kids, ages 8 to 18, members of this award-winning, 8 year-old Jewish children’s theatre company. The story makes timely the ancient text of Jewish ethical and religious wisdom, Pirke Avot. In the midst of a school election, the play takes on gossip-mongering, misbehavior and materialism. The message, the music and the morality are upbeat. What a concept.
(MUSIC, under, “A Higher Ground”)
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.