KPBS AIRDATE: December 03, 2004
Sometimes, you find high drama in the least likely places. A West coast premiere is tucked away in Rose Canyon , and a 40-year old classic finds a home in Vista . These productions, in new theater spaces, are worth going out of your way for. Both dig deep into the abyss to unearth veins of humor.
To some people, “The Lion in Winter ” is a comedy. James Goldman’s 1966 play, which became a smashing 1968 movie, sports brilliant writing and an endless array of biting quips. But this is one seriously dysfunctional family. It’s Christmas, 1183 and the Plantagenets are as nasty, wily and underhanded a clan as you’ll ever see. But what wicked fun it is to watch them cheat and connive, for political power and personal gain. The crown is at stake, as Henry II tries to choose a successor, from among his three malevolent sons, two of whom will later become Richard the Lion-Hearted and King John, of Robin Hood fame. The maternal unit of this beastly brood is the imperious, poisonous, ever-amusing Eleanor of Aquitaine. Throw in a cunning French king and a manipulated mistress, and you’ve got one helluva holiday.
At the beautiful new Broadway Theatre in Vista , director Randall Hickman highlights the razor-sharp wit and deadly games. Charlie Riendeau is outstanding as King Henry, equal parts devious, cantankerous, amorous and humorous. The rest of the cast is adept, the costumes are attractive and the dazzling play will make you realize that maybe your family isn’t so crazy after all.
A family of sorts takes shape in the lock-down unit of Rikers Island prison in “Jesus Hopped the A Train.” Young, angry, conflicted Angel is in solitary confinement, accused of an unintended murder. His only companions, up on the exercise roof for just one hour a day, are Lucius , the born-again serial killer, and Valdez, the cynical, sadistic guard. Angel also interacts with his court-appointed attorney, who’ll do anything to get him off – including encouraging him to lie under oath. Written by rising New York star Stephen Adly Gurguis , the play is ferocious in its language and themes, a fierce contemplation of religion and redemption.
Lynx Theatre’s Al Germani has selected and directed a sterling ensemble. Especially electrifying are the intense exchanges between Jeremiah Maestas as the pitiful, passionate Angel and Mark Broadnax , charismatic and convincing as the proselytizing Lucius . Denton Davis is downright terrifying as the malicious prison officer, counterbalanced by the gentle spirit of Gerry Maxwell as a nice-guy guard. DeAnna Driscoll plays the least fleshed-out character, but she makes the lawyer ruthlessly credible. At the end, you feel like you’ve witnessed a little corner of hell; it will haunt you and keep you thinking, long into the night.
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.