KPBS AIRDATE: May 8, 1996
Angry women, dancing men, and an incredibly quippy couple. It’s a wild week in the theatre.
The anger shows up in “Confessions of Women from East L.A.” Four actresses tell the stories of nine Latinas, in the latest creation of playwright Josefina López. It’s aptly billed as ‘a work in progress.’
López can still be considered a wunderkind; at 26, she is the most widely produced Latina playwright in the country. San Diegans have been treated to her earliest effort, “Simply Maria,” and the funny and touching “Real Women Have Curves.” López continues to develop as a playwright, but her work still needs refinement and maturation.
“Confessions,” is about liberation — from stereotypes, from machismo, from the confines of cultural expectation.
There is a feeling of redundancy, of shrillness at times, of incredibility. But when the pieces work, the result is radiant, as in the stories of the macha pseudo-slut Lolita; Calletana, the struggling corner corn-seller; and Yoko Martinez, who is dying to work in a Japanese restaurant so she can snag “a man who doesn’t scream.” The playwright hits the theme of empowerment awfully hard, often didactically. Between this show and “Six Women With Brain Death,” there’s enough male-bashing to choke a stallion.
But director William Virchis has the right idea in trying to maintain a light touch, and the company is terrific, especially the versatile Catalina Maynard and the street-smart Pola Allen. Though these women may not meet their ideal mate, the marriage of co-producers Teatro Máscara Mágica and the Fritz Theatre is a match made in heaven.
Also heavenly is the music of Louis Jordan, which is shaking up the Theatre in Old Town. Jordan was the legendary singer-composer who, holding the all-time record for Top 10 Rhythm and Blues hits, is considered to be one of the fathers of Rock ‘n’ Roll. His songs are jazzy, bluesy, sassy, sly and satirical.
The revue in which they’re featured, “Five Guys Named Moe,” is a lot less.. um, shall we say, motivated. In the tradition of “Forever Plaid,” “Beehive” and “Suds,” this show is basically an excuse to sing some great songs. The storyline, flimsy and transparent as a gnat-wing, concerns the lovelorn Nomax who’s singin’ the blues, when all of a sudden, out of his radio pop five guys named, for no apparent reason, Moe.
Their task is to coach the lovelorn Nomax, with classics like “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t Ma’ Baby?,” novelty numbers such as “I Like ‘Em Fat Like That,” and excessive repetition of the catchy calypso singalong, “Push Ka Pi Shi Pie.” They sing, dance, get a conga line going and generally “Let the Good Times Roll.”
The audience is called up onstage to banter and boogie, everyone is engaging and upbeat, but I just kept feeling they were all trying too hard. The show was a big hit in London and New York, but something was missing here; these guys are all veterans of the show, but neither the singing nor the dancing was jaw-dropping-fabulous, and that’s what’s got to carry the show. It sure ain’t the conga-line. But if that’s what gets you up outta your seat, go for it.
If, on the other hand, verbal acrobatics is your thing, you can’t do better than Noel Coward, and Noel Coward can’t be done better than he is right now at the Old Globe.
Globe Associate Artistic Director Sheldon Epps has staged a pretty flawless production of “Private Lives,” a hugely funny and sophisticated comedy of manners that, though a little frayed in a couple of spots, is still making audiences howl, even after 66 years.
The play centers on an elaborate and outrageous coincidence. Amanda and Elyot, five years after the end of their tempestuous marriage, wind up in adjacent hotel suites on their respective second honeymoons. Their repartee is delicious, a wry, cynical update of Shakespeare’s biting Beatrice and Benedick, a magnificent mix of dispassion, sentimentalism, ennui, whimsy and word-play. It has to be done just right, and it is.
Kandis Chappell and Robert Foxworth are perfect; their Amanda and Elyot are clearly hypnotized, magnetized by their own seductive wit. Their passion and volatility turn to violence, but the opening night audience didn’t seem to mind. They even laughed at the enormously un-P.C. mutual physical abuse and lines like “Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.”
Well, when a period piece is true to its period, I guess there’s a willing suspension of disingenuousness. Everyone ate it all up; and it was more than satisfying. Special kudos to set designer Ralph Funicello, for underscoring the deco decadence and the play’s supreme symmetry. And to actor Granville Van Dusen, who made Amanda’s new husband, the pompous Victor, into a genuinely sympathetic simp. As “the other woman,” Sibyl, Andee Mason was considerably less successful in creating a credible character.
But this production is a must-see. Anyone who says Noel Coward plays are musty must be musty himself.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1996 Patté Productions Inc.