KPBS AIRDATE: December 21, 1994
The strains of holiday music are in the air — and in the elevator, at the mall, on the phone line. But one place they blessedly belong at this time of year is on theater stages. Some delectable old-time carols pop up regularly in the Lamb’s Players “Festival of Christmas.” And bilingual lyrics are provided to accompany the evening of singing at “La Pastorela San Diego.”
It’s a very musical Christmas onstage this year. And Lamb’s Players have plenty to sing about. They’ve just christened their new theater space, in the heart of Coronado. The renovation of the 50 year old Spreckels Building is a joy to behold. A lively mix of Neoclassical, Art Deco and modern architecture, the revamped structure is both curvaceous and angular.
No seat is further than seven rows from the stage, but it’s a bit of a climb to the top, and the audience has to look down on the action. No matter; the new theater will undoubtedly work out just fine, in the capable and creative hands of the Lamb’s ensemble.
The current production was one of the first of 13 “Festivals of Christmas,” most penned by Kerry Meads, who also directs. It’s a sugar-plum trifle, set on the English seacoast, circa 1889. A writer comes to an abandoned inn, the Angel’s Arms, looking for inspiration for a Christmas story. As he invents a tale, the principals magically appear to play out his imaginings, courtesy of the angel of the title. Margaret Neuhof-Vita has a ball with the costumes, and the Lamb’s regulars do the same with their overblown characters. Newcomers Season Marshall and Jessica Cole are delightful as two naive young girls, and Michael Hickey is dashing as the swaggering sailor. Most impressive are the voices; the singing is heavenly.
The message is in the music at “La Pastorela San Diego,” too. This is the most satisfying of the four pastorelas thus far produced by Teatro Máscara Mágica, a company dedicated to redefining San Diego theatre in terms of underrepresented resident cultures. This traditional Latino retelling of the story of the first Christmas focuses on the pastores, the shepherds, and pits good against evil, temptation against salvation. The text, written in Dr. Seuss-like rhythm but less clever rhyme, ranges from the sharply political to the downright silly. The music ranges from “Feliz Navidad” to the Village People’s “YMCA.” (I’m still trying to figure that one out).
As the shepherds make their way toward Bethlehem, they are caught in the crossfire between Lucifer — here played to hilarious, red-haired excess by the amazing and ever-versatile Linda Castro — and the Archangel Michael, who appears to the campesinos as César Chavez, Benito Juarez, and finally, a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger. In the hands of director William Virchis and his talented cast, “La Pastorela” is fun, musical, topical and spiritual, all at the same time.
On a much more somber note, I can’t let this week go by without paying tribute to one of San Diego’s most energetic and prolific theater artists, who died last week of complications from AIDS. Will Roberson, age 36, was an inspiration to us all. A tireless creator and supporter of theatre, he wrote and directed musicals, comedies, dramas and mysteries. He kept incredibly busy, in and out of town, doing 9-10 shows a year; mercifully, he lived past the opening of his last one, the deliciously Victorian “Christmas Carol” at the Rep. “I’ve always had enough energy for 65 people,” he told me in an interview two months ago. And somewhere, I know he’s still putting that energy to terrific and creative use.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1994 Patté Productions Inc.