Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: JULY 17, 2009
New ventures are always risky, especially in tough times. This week saw the debut of a new play and a new theater company. As is usually the case in these instances, both are works in progress.
Common Ground Theatre, which has been in existence since 1962, just named a new artistic director, Hassan El- Amin , a protégé of the company’s long-term director, Floyd Gaffney, the father of African American theater in San Diego . El- Amin directs the world premiere musical revue cum history lesson called “Jazz Queens Cast Blue Shadows,” written by San Diegan Anthony Drummond. The late Dr. Gaffney is credited as co-writer, but this often rather ‘blue’ piece about the blues is not his sensibility at all. The warnings about strong language and adult themes should be well heeded. Aside from a rasher of swearing, there’s sexual and homosexual reference, innuendo and activity, as well as drug talk and violence against women. In other words, leave the kiddies at home.
The legends at the center of the play are two powerhouses of the jazz world, which is why KSDS came on board as media sponsor.
Dinah Washington made her big leap to pop stardom in 1959, the year Billie Holiday died. I don’t think they ever shared a stage. What ties them together in this piece is the fraught histories that made them sing the blues — and the drugs that brought about their premature demise.
They start and end the evening in a duet, but mostly, scenes from their lives are re-enacted and interlaced. It doesn’t quite hang together as a play, and the two impressive singers only sporadically sound anything like the divas they’re portraying. But they look good, work hard, and are backed by a stellar four-piece band. San Diego has already seen shows about each of these singers, but for the uninitiated, this is an eye-opening introduction to their lives and their music.
Intrepid Shakespeare Theatre’s debut production is also an introduction – to the Bard. The mission of the fledgling company, founded by local actors Sean Cox and Christy Yael, is to make Shakespeare accessible, relevant, affordable — and brief. So they tear through a highly abbreviated version of “Macbeth,” the timeless tragedy of ruthless ambition.
The group seems so hellbent on coming in at an intermissionless 90 minutes that the poetry and brutality feel hurried and feverish. Few in the cast are up to the task of making the language crystalline and meaningful.
Cox co-directs with Angeleno Jason Rennie, as well as playing the title role, with Yael as his deadly wife. There are some vicious, intense and sexy moments. But the ensemble needs to take a deep breath, slow down and savor the brilliant language — so we can, too.
Both companies are to be commended for trying something new, especially in these trying times.
“Jazz Queens Cast Blue Shadows” run through July 26, at the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza .
Intrepid Shakespeare Theatre’s “Macbeth” continues through August 9 at Compass Theatre in Hillcrest.
©2009 PAT LAUNER