Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: JULY 2, 2010
Two families torn apart. One ancient, one modern. One mythical, one fictional. Both brought down by a misguided parent with misplaced priorities. One play is a titanic Shakespearean masterwork, the other a trifling, San Diego-set world premiere.
“King Lear” is often considered “the Everest of Shakespeare,” the role classical actors hope they’ll live long enough to inhabit. Robert Foxworth , a Patté Award-winning associate artist at the Old Globe and a recent transplant to North County , makes a formidable monarch. His Lear takes a terrible journey from pompous and pig-headed — judging his offspring by their fawning adulation — to wild, deranged and ultimately, humbled and heart-rending. Unfortunately, at the peak of his delirium, Foxworth has to compete with a storm so fierce and loud that, even shouting, he struggles to be heard. The other madman of the piece, poor put-upon Edgar, swindled by his malevolent, bastard brother, is wonderfully played Jay Whittaker.
Those are the most memorable performances in this noteworthy, if not definitive, production, ably directed by Adrian Noble, who for 13 years was head of England ’s renowned Royal Shakespeare Company. There’s a spate of gratuitous gore here, but the language is very well-spoken, and the relationships are crystalline. In a tale where eyesight is insight, two fathers, foolish old men duped by flattery and deceit, pay a horrible price for their myopia.
There’s a problem of vision in the latest work by Annie Weisman, the L.A.-based playwright who grew up in these parts. In “Be Aggressive,” which premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2001, she was uncompromisingly funny and quirky, aiming lovingly poison-tipped darts at her vapid, materialistic hometown. In “Surf Report,” she seems to have little left to say about San Diego . Her characters are stereotypes – a beach-version Valley Girl; an over-rich, overgrown surfer dude who’s a vulture, um, venture capitalist; a woman so devoted to his every need that she neglects her confused daughter and seriously ill husband to follow the monster boss and perhaps even have a tryst with him, though most of his paramours are the age of said daughter – oops! Spoiler! — and harbinger of predictable things to come. There are a few laughs along the way, but the action descends into melodrama, and these characters are so thoroughly unlikable we wouldn’t care if full-on tragedy felled them in the first act.
The production is stunning, though, the set an ultra-modern seaside villa fancifully ensconced in the curl of a wave. The surfing imagery and metaphors float tiresomely by. Under the direction of Lisa Peterson, the cast is fine, and convincing, though what they have to say is lifeless and trite.
Not every play’s a winner right out of the gate. And then there are those that, 450 years after their creation, still feel fresh and relevant and gut-wrenchingly real.
“Surf Report” plays through July 11, at the La Jolla Playhouse on the campus of UCSD.
“King Lear” continues in repertory, as part of the Summer Shakespeare Festival, through September 23, in the Old Globe’s outdoor theater in Balboa Park .
©2010 PAT LAUNER