Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
June 6, 2014
How do you dramatize a life that reads like a telenovela?
In “Faded Glory,” Tim Burns used every trick in the book to present the wild and woolly life of Major-General Daniel Sickles, whose real-life exploits and escapades defy credulity. The play was written in 1973; its long-delayed world premiere is now at North Coast Repertory Theatre.
Humor courses through the captivating piece, set in 1914, as the aging and irascible general, who lost a leg in the Battle of Gettysburg, rails at his visitors, while making sexual advances to his nurse and the proto-feminist who’s come to paint his portrait.
Sickle’s life was tempestuous, but more is told here than shown. The inordinate amount of exposition is, however, conveyed in clever ways. There’s too much about the intrigues of the Spanish court, where Sickle served as ambassador – though it’s certainly juicy that he had an affair with Queen Isabella, then married her Lady in Waiting. Decades later, the estranged wife is in New York, and Sickle is frantically trying to avoid her. The unlikely intermediary is the drunk, droll actor John Barrymore, in a show-stealing performance by terrific Bruce Turk.
Under David Ellenstein’s light-hearted direction, Andrew Barnicle is a perfectly cantankerous and lecherous Sickle, and Shana Wride is superb as his no-nonsense nurse. Rachael van Wormer shines as the oddly-dressed artist, and Frances Anita Rivera is stunning as the fiery Spaniards: Isabella and Sickle’s wife. In multiple roles, Ben Cole is most effective as the flashback version of young Sickle.
The play could use some trimming, but it’s an unbeatable story, about an American hero and scoundrel, a philanderer who shot his wife’s lover and got off on the first-ever plea of “temporary insanity.”
His Congressional Medal of Honor was revoked, but it’s about to get it reinstated. That’s the setup, but what carries the show is the quips and quick wit. The pace is lively, the set a wonderfully cluttered pileup of memorabilia.
For a history lesson and bio-drama, it’s a damn funny evening of theater.
“Faded Glory” runs through June 22 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
©2014 PAT LAUNER