KPBS AIRDATE: June 21, 2002
In case it isn’t enough to see bell-bottoms and tie-dye on the streets, the 60s and 70s are back onstage, too. At both the Fritz and Diversionary Theatres, the costumes alone are worth the price of admission. It’s 1962 at the Fritz, where the backdrop of “Down South” is the Cuban Missile Crisis, which virtually no one in this wacked-out world is taking seriously. In this goofball comedy, recently penned by Doug Field, the title unfortunately refers to biology, not geography, that is, women’s nether regions and what is and isn’t being done to them. Wives get sort of liberated, learning from each other, and the boys start to enjoy each other, too. It’s basically a one-joke evening, with not much to say about geo-politics or sexual politics. But the performances, along with Paul Doss’s costumes, are terrific.
Julie Ann Compton is hilarious as a big-haired housewife who comes into her own, so to speak, thanks to her new-found friend, a sexy bombshell played to the hilt by Lesley Gurule. Deja Ginsberg’s nerdy neighbor is a lot less defined or convincing as a character, but the guys are pretty amusing, especially Robert Borzych as a clueless, closeted husband, and Jim McKinley as a big-bellied bowler. Director Mike Kelly puts in a brief appearance as a frankly un-closeted husband. Like the spousal sex lives, the play droops, but these folks are doing a dynamite job with less than explosive material.
Same can be said of Diversionary’s “Fifth of July.” Part of Lanford Wilson’s Talley trilogy, this one’s really weak compared to the Pulitzer Prize winning “Talley’s Folly,” written just a year later, in 1979. Set in 1977, the piece concerns a disaffected Vietnam veteran who returns to the Missouri homestead to feel sorry for himself. With the help of off-the-wall friends and family, he’s persuaded to go on with his life. Not much message here, but some really juicy characters — more like caricatures — for actors to chew up and relish.
Director Tim Irving is having a ball with the company and the material, even if it isn’t very deep or meaningful. But his cast is dazzling. Dan Gruber is wry, sarcastic and believably gimpy as the disabled Vet, Greg Tankersley is sweet as his boyfriend, Sally Stockton is suitably ditsy as an aging aunt, and though Moriah Angeline looks a bit old for a teen, she’s a funny one. Manuel Fernandes is a hateful hoot as the gold-digging, wheeler-dealer husband of the captivating and irresistible K.B. Mercer, who steals the show with her frenetic, neurotic heiress who’s a wannabe country singer. David Weiner’s set is a winner, and the costumes, designed by Corey Johnston, are to die for, but they’re as likely to have come from a local department store as a vintage shop. Everything comes around again, even pointless tales told in lackluster ways by players too good for their play.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc