Pat Launer on San Diego Theater
By Pat Launer , SDNN
May 6, 2010
THE PLAY: “Golda’s Balcony”
She was Israel ’s “Iron Lady.” And she didn’t just have one balcony; Golda Meir, fourth prime minister of Israel , actually had two. One was at her peaceful garden home in Tel Aviv, overlooking the Mediterranean . The other was in the middle of the Negev desert, five levels beneath the earth, an observation deck overlooking a nuclear reactor. She spent so much time there the workers called it “Golda’s Balcony.”
That site in Dimona , and what it symbolized, forms the crux of the 2003 play by William Gibson that became the longest-running one-woman show in Broadway history.
It’s 1973, in the midst of the Yom Kippur War. An anxious, chain-smoking, 75 year-old Meir, called back out of retirement, has her finger on the nuclear button. The planes are loaded with bombs, with their sights set on Cairo and Damascus . She’s ready to give the go-ahead – unless Nixon and Kissinger come through with the F-4 Phantoms they’ve promised. Things are going poorly, and if she can’t convince Secretary of State Kissinger to send more conventional weaponry, she’s set to go. It’s a game of worldwide Russian roulette. This awful act could trigger mass retaliation and the destruction of more than just a couple of cities. The significance isn’t lost on Meir, who is prodding, consulting, meeting, agonizing, practically tearing her hair out. Her life, which is nearing its close (she confides that she has lymphoma; she’ll be dead five years later) wasn’t supposed to end up like this.
She was an idealist, a fierce Zionist, who set out to create “a model for the redemption of the human race.” And instead, here she is, an old battleaxe, poised to destroy it all.
When that reality gets to be too much to contemplate, Golda resorts to memory, recalling her early days in Kiev , when her father boarded up the windows to keep out marauding Cossacks who were carrying out state-sanctioned pogroms. She talks of her time in Milwaukee (where she picked up the Midwestern accent that seems to get weaker and stronger over the course of the play). She was a rebel from the get-go, running away from home as a teem to join her activist/socialist sister in Denver . And that’s where Goldie Mabovich met her husband, Morris Meyerson . She would live on a kibbutz with him (which he hated) and have two children (whom she often ignored). She moved away from their home in Jerusalem to be closer to the center of the political action, once she started playing important roles in government. And she would be repeatedly unfaithful (“I was no nun”), with various men of power. She has no guilt or regrets, she says, except toward the children.
All these stories keep circling around, finally coming back to that fateful all-nighter, meeting with the cabinet, waiting for a word from Kissinger, agonizing, wailing, losing control, taking control. It’s all backed by maps and pix of the real people involved (projections by Batwin and Robin Productions; lighting by Jeff Croiter ), and the sounds of missiles, battle and the Bach cello suite Morris loved so much (sound by Alex Hawthorn; original Broadway sound by Mark Ben nett).
In his second effort at a play about Meir (his first, which premiered in 1977, starred Anne Bancroft), Gibson speculates. No one knows if the planes were actually armed with nuclear warheads; in the play, Golda says they are. Gibson’s portrait of the prime minister is an honest, warts-and-all depiction, affectionate and multi-layered. She can be abrasive or nostalgic, wistful or intractable, hard-hitting and uncompromising. But she gives her all for Israel , the country she helped form and with which she had an aggressively maternal, defensive, possessive relationship until the day she died.
Beautifully, magnificently illuminating all the colors of Golda is the consummate actor Tovah Feldshuh . The actor helped create the role, which won her a Tony nomination on Broadway (one of four she’s received over the course of her stage career). She’s inhabited the character, in concert presentations she wrote, in an Alec Baldwin-narrated DVD that chronicles the evolution of the play, the actor and the woman; and in her bravura, tour de force performance, that she’s been reprising for seven years. It’s become a traveling production (she now owns the rights).
The lovely, fine-boned Feldshuh is totally transformed, thanks to a fat suit, pendulous breasts, phlebitis-enlarged legs, aging makeup and a false nose. She is Golda, and we are mesmerized. She assumes the voices and subtly different accents of various Israeli leaders (including David Ben -Gurion and Moshe Dayan) as well as Kissinger and Jordan ’s King Abdullah. She’s jocular, teasing, flirtatious and hard as steel.
But this isn’t just the story of a woman; it’s a tale of passion, courage, dedication, of the birth of a nation, a State and a people that will do anything to maintain its tiny little corner of the planet. “Survival,” Golda explains, “is a synonym for being Jewish.”
THE LOCATION: The Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park . (619) 23-GLOBE; www.theoldglobe.org
THE DETAILS: Tickets: $29-77. Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sun day at 2 p.m., through May 30
Bottom Line: Best Bet
NOTE: Tovah Feldshuh , whose stage career was launched at the Old Globe 30 years ago, returns to her old stomping grounds as the Globe’s Shiley Artist-in-Residence for 2010. After her knockout opening night performance, she spoke to the audience, expressing her joy at being back at the Globe, and making a heartfelt plea for peace: “If in our lifetimes, we could see the Berlin Wall come down and Communism fall, surely we can effect peace between Arab and Jew in the Middle East .” Amen to that.
Read Pat’s interview with Tovah Feldshuh here: http://www.sdnn.com/sandiego/2010-04-25/things-to-do/actress-tovah-feldshuh-takes-%e2%80%98golda%e2%80%99s-balcony%e2%80%99-to-old-globe
Gender- Ben ding the Bard
THE PLAY: “The Taming of the Shrew”
Talk about your high concept. Someone at the spunky, fledgling Intrepid Shakespeare Company thought it would be a good idea to play “The Taming of the Shrew” as a love story between two women. Okay… that could be interesting. Then, they cast two women in their sixties. Could be tricky. And then, they set the whole thing up as a madcap comedy (musical intros like “Be a Clown” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”), enacted by a troupe of actors who enter and grab their costumes from a trunk. (Shakespeare set up his play with an often-omitted farcical ‘Induction’ about an inebriated tinker, conjuring the whole story as a drunken dream).
Each of these ideas, in itself, is a reasonable notion. But all of them together under the baton of three directors (who replaced the originally announced director) is just too much. Not to mention the lame and disturbing jokes on the blind (an unnecessarily unsighted character keeps walking into walls, facing the wrong direction, etc. Not very funny). Or the fact that the ‘show in a trunk’ conception never re-surfaces. Or that we’re meant to believe that the younger daughter of Baptista ( Fred Moramarco ) has to wait to marry till her 60+ year old sister is wed. (Never mind that the actor playing said younger sister, Wendy Waddell, is pregnant; but that was well hidden by a well-designed costume by Beth Merriman).
The best thing about the production is Sandra Ellis-Troy, always a solid performer. This is her Shakespeare debute , and she makes the language sing – and makes the conceit work: that she’s really a gold-digging Petruchia who masks herself as the male suitor Petruchio . What she was intending to do after she snagged the dowry isn’t quite clear, though a hasty escape seems likely. What catches her by surprise is , she actually falls for “Kate the Curst.” That would be Jenni Prisk, whose scenes of shrewishness seem to have been sharply abbreviated, so she gets little opportunity to establish a character. Mostly, we see churlish faces and angry delivery. Until the very end, when she very sanely presents the final speech that has so plagued scholars and women for centuries, when the ‘tamed’ Kate talks of wifely submission.
The directors, Intrepid co-founders Sean Cox and Christy Yael , along with company associate director Jason D. Rennie, have expressed their commitment to accessible – and brief – Shakespeare productions which will appeal to a young audience. This requires a good deal of text-shaving, and in the two productions mounted so far (“Macbeth” was their debut), lightning-speed line presentation, which doesn’t always serve to clarify, especially when there are so many characters and shifting identities. The cast is variable in skill, with Christopher Renda and Greg Wittman as ensemble standouts. The actors make good use of the simple set (Vince Sneddon), two large metal stairways, which allows for multiple playing levels in a space without a raised stage and an insufficient rake to the seats.
For those who’ve never seen the play, it’s a speedy, two-hour romp that will undoubtedly gel over time. Kudos to Intrepid for its… well, intrepidness. While mounting two Shakespeare plays, the plucky little company is also inaugurating an ambitious program of bringing Shakespeare into the schools. “Shrew” runs in repertory with the rarely-seen “King John,” which opens on May 8 and continues through June 6. Seven cast members appear in both productions.
THE LOCATION: Intrepid Shakespeare Company at The Theatre, Inc. 899 C. St , downtown. (760) 652-5011; intrepidshakespeare.com
THE DETAILS: Tickets: $10-25. Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., some Sundays (5/9, 16 and 30) at 2 p.m. and some (5/23, 6/6) at 7 p.m., through June 6
THE PLAY: “GAM3Rs”
Propeller- heads, unite! ( at least, those of the online role playing geek variety). Unleash your inner orc . “Gam3rs” is here.
The one-man play, co-created and performed by Brian Bielawski , takes place in two worlds at once – just like the main character lives his life. By day, he’s a nerdy, cubicloid , tech support guy. But by night, he’s a Knight, a leader among men (and mages and gnomes and dwarves) from the kingdom of Albion . Disaster has struck; the Elves have stolen the Albions ’ Sacred Relic. Things have gotten so out of hand that Steve has brought his gaming to work (in spite of a turtle-slow computer). And so, in true Gen Y slacker style (he’s an MIT dropout), he’s a multitasking, hyper, obsessive/addictive, ADD, over-caffeinated, Mountain Dew-swilling mess… who’s forced to deal with innumerable (unseen) annoyances: smelly cube-neighbor, Boss from Hell, moronic phonecalls (like the one who dials up tech support – but doesn’t even have a computer!), maternal nagging (the MIT re-admission application is due tomorrow), a pissed-off girlfriend (oops! Forgot their second anniversary) and a cellphone that invariably misinterprets his voice commands.
Okay, I wouldn’t know a mage if I fell over him; although, in truth, I think I live with one. My husband is an enthusiastic online gamer, and he used to manage a tech support line. By his report, the terminal webhead geekiness of this play is right on the money – in the real and fantasy world.
But fear not, my technophobic theater pals. Even if you’re clueless about MMOGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Games), I guarantee that you will still laugh your Sacred Relic off from the “epic carnage” of this play and performance “made of awesome.” Amazingly (and this really happens), Steve has a “ ginormous team” of more than ten thousand players with him in mounting this attack – purposely planned for a Tuesday afternoon, when all the Elven players will, presumably, be at work or at school.
Bialawski is a hoot; he looks and sounds just right. And why not? He’s been an avid gamer since age 7, though he did manage to take time off to earn an MFA from the Old Globe/USD acting program. In 2005, he created “GAM3RS” (with Walter G. Meyer) and took it to New York ’s International Fringe Festival, and to MIT, USD and venues around the country. In 2008, he co-wrote and co-produced a TV sitcom pilot version of “GAM3RS,” a Manga version has been “ gamefully crafted by artist Karbia Yuan” (see photo) and a web series is in the works. This is a cottage industry, a self-contained package (it comes with its own chaotic cubicle!) that travels to schools and teaches (in post-show talk-backs) about the psychology, benefits and drawbacks of gaming, maintaining balance in your life, and perhaps a few more amusing topics.
ion theatre, in the midst of a comic trifecta (see “All in the Timing,” below; “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” opens 5/10), has brought the show in for a month of late-night performances. It would be “ douchebaggery ” to miss it.
Bialawski is a terrific, appealing, head-spinning performer. Dude! You can’t not like this show. It’s fast (one hour) and fast-paced. It’s funny (even for Muggles ). And it either introduces you to a new world, or shows you how bizarre, outrageous and adolescent the one(s) you’re in look from the outside. “I am not afraid to grow up,” Steve protests. “ Fudgerballs !”
So don’t be a “butt-monk.” Get out from under your cloaking fog. Enter the portal. And, take Steve’s advice: “Book the warlock choir for the after-raid party.”
THE LOCATION: ion theatre, BLKBOX @ 6th and Penn, Hillcrest. (619) 600-5020; www.iontheatre.com
THE DETAILS: Tickets: $18-20. Friday-Saturday at 10:30 p.m., through June 5
Timing is Everything
THE PLAY: “All in the Timing”
If you haven’t learned Unamunda yet, this is your big universal-language opportunity. Or you can find out what really happened on the day Ramón Mercader smashed a mountain climber’s axe into the head of Leon Trotsky. Or discover just how Philip Glass buys a loaf of bread. Or what three monkeys, sitting in front of typewriters, expected by theoretical psychology researchers to create “Hamlet,” are really thinking.
All are wacky scenes in the brilliant 1993 six- playlet creation by David Ives, “All in the Timing.” This is the third ion theatre production of the irresistibly intelligent comedy — and the third time’s a charm. Only Kim Strassburger remains from the original incarnation. The latest additions – all ion theatre company members — are great: Brian Mackey, Karson St. John and Steven Lone. They’re all extremely funny; it’s a stellar ensemble.
But Lone really stands out. His every move, accent and facial gesture is flat-out hilarious, whether he’s speaking the crazy invented language (“Velcro! Harvard U” – which is to say, Welcome, How are you? in “ Unamunda ”) or mis -firing on a date with St. John (“Sure Thing,” one of my other favorites) or sporting an oversized moustache and an exaggerated Spanish accent as Trotsky’s killer, he is to die for.
All four have fabulous moments; they riotously try to upstage each other for curtain calls. The Philip Glass segment, though it’s supposed to be sung like the composer’s monotonous, one-note, minimalist compositions, is instead intoned, with side-splitting choreography (this one, like “Sure Thing” and “Variations on the Death of Trotsky” is directed by founding executive artistic director Claudio Raygoza ; the other three pieces in the brisk, 85 minute evening, are directed by producing artistic director Glenn Paris). Raygoza’s moves are nonpareil – with uproarious nods to Fosse, kicklines , cheerleading and hip hop.
Low-brow meets high in a thoroughly entertaining evening. And for a double-dose of laughter, stick around for the late-night 10:30 performance of “GAM3RS.”
THE LOCATION: ion theatre’s BLKBOX at 6th and Penn, 3704 6th Ave. , Hillcrest. (619) 600-5020; www.ion theatre.com
THE DETAILS: Tickets: $10-25. Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m., through May 29
THE PLAY: “NINA: A Portrayal of the Life and Music of Nina Simone”
She was ” the voice of the Movement,” the “High Priestess of Soul.” Nina Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon , the seventh of eight children in a poor family from backwoods Tryon , North Carolina . By age 3, she was playing the piano, and she made her concert debut, a classical recital, at age 12. Her intention was to become the country’s first female African American concert pianist, but she was thwarted at every turn, first being rejected (twice) from the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (much later, recognizing the gravity of their error, they awarded her an honorary doctorate, as did Juilliard). She was able to attend Juilliard, but was forced to teach piano and accompany singers to fund her study. She always believed that her rejection from Curtis was racially motivated, and that incident started her on the path of social conscience; she was a staunch supporter of the cause of blacks and women.
When, in 1954, she sought a job at the Midtown Bar & Grill in Atlantic City , to support her education, she was told that she would have to sing as well as play. That changed her life. She took on a stage name (so her mother, a strict Methodist minister, wouldn’t know she was playing “the devil’s music”); Nina was adapted from the Spanish ‘ niña ’ and Simone was borrowed from the French actress Simone Signoret . She played a mixture of jazz, blues, classical, soul, gospel, folk, R&B, gospel and pop, recording more than 40 live and studio albums, but being cheated out of almost all the royalties (one of her less-than-stellar husbands was also her less-than-honest manager). She had a hard life, ultimately leaving the U.S. for Barbados and settling in France , where she died in 2003. Her influence was profound, and broad-based.
So it makes sense that Calvin Manson, whose prior musical revues have chronicled the lives of prominent African American singers (Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, et al.), would want to pay tribute to the great Nina Simone. His framing device is inspired by one of her signature songs, “Four Women,” which powerfully represents African American women of all skin tones, backgrounds and types. While the four performers sing, four compelling dancers (choreographed by Sandra Foster-King and costumed by Joshlyn Turner and Yolanda Franklin) energetically interpret the lyrics.
The singers then take over, dressed to represent four stages in Simone’s life: the innocent young girl, the social activist, the elegant performer, the African queen. With musical direction by Anthony Smith, and the backing of an excellent 3-piece combo (Smith, terrific on piano, Doug Walker on bass, Richard Sellers on drums), they sing two dozen of Nina’s songs, and alternate in telling her life story.
Some of her loneliness and hardship is conveyed, but not much of the volatility, anger and violence (perhaps this is in deference to Simone’s brother, Dr. Carroll Waymon , who gave his blessing to this production, and was present at the opening). Nina hated the characterization of her behavior as difficult; it wasn’t till after her death that biographers revealed her early diagnosis of bipolar disorder. No matter. What she left behind was a legacy of unforgettable songs that she either wrote or uniquely interpreted, and those are well represented here.
No one is trying to emulate her inimitable style. Ayanna Hobson comes closest, with her regal, African priestess look, syrupy-smooth voice and her ability to hit some of those signature low notes (Simone’s vocal range veered between alto, tenor and baritone). Hobson is especially strong with “Trouble in Mind,” the haunting “Strange Fruit,” and Nina’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood .” Janice Edwards perfectly captures the gritty growl seminal to numbers like “ Gimme Some ,” “I Put a Spell on You” and “Mississippi Goddamn” (another of Nina’s creations). Nicole Bradley shines in “Balm in Gilead ,” and poised 11th grader Sarah Roy does a fine job with the traditional song, “Take Me To the Water,” and leads the group in a stunning rendition of Nina’s powerful “Young, Gifted and Black.”
The show program has some grammatical errors, omissions (“I Put a Spell on You”; “Love Me or Leave Me”) and a mis -credit of “Revolution (Part 1 & 2),” which borrowed not just from the Butthole Surfers, but also the Beatles and Nina herself. There’s no credit given for the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” which is the finale. And the Asian-music rendition of “Alone Again Naturally” seems out of place and character. The singing is delightful throughout, though a few fewer songs might’ve accomplished just as much.
THE LOCATION: Ira Aldridge Repertory Players at the Sunset Temple , 3911 Kansas St., North Park. (619) 283-4574; www.iarpplayers.org
THE DETAILS: Tickets: $25 ($45 with dinner). Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. (6:30 dinner), May 7, 8, 14, 15; Sunday at 4:15 p.m. (3:00 dinner) May 9, 16, 23, at 7:30 p.m., through May 23
NEWS AND VIEWS
… The Next Big Thing: The La Jolla Playhouse has announced its next world premiere musical: a stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning Best Picture of 2006, “Little Miss Sunshine,” the deliciously quirky story of an eccentric family wending its wacky way to a child beauty contest. The music and lyrics will be by William Finn (“Falsettos,” “A New Brain”); the book and direction by James Lapine ( Pulitzer- and three-time Tony Award-winning book writer/director of the Sondheim musicals “ Sunday in the Park with George,” “Into the Woods” and “ Passion ,” among others). The two collaborated on the delightful “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (coming to North Coast Repertory Theatre in July). Mark your calendar now for the Playhouse’s new musical: February 15 – March 27, 2011 – and look for more info here.
… TONY TIME!: The announcements of nominations for the American Theatre Wing’s 64th Antoinette Perry (Tony) Awards include, as always, a number of San Diego connections. The highest profile local link is the musical “ Memphis ,” which premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse. The show snagged eight nominations (the fourth highest number for any show this year), including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score and Best Direction – for our own Christopher Ashley , artistic director of the Playhouse, where the rock ‘n’ roll musical premiered. “ Memphis ” has also snagged seven Drama Desk Award nominations, seven Outer Critics Circle Award noms and two nods from the Drama League Award. This could add a heap to the 26 Tonys the La Jolla Playhouse has previously won.
Meanwhile, amid the scads of high-profile movie and TV stars nominated (Jude Law, Denzel Washington, Scarlett Johansson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Christopher Walken , Alfred Molina, Laura Linney , Kelsey Grammer and the indefatigable Angela Lansbury) , there was an exciting UCSD connection. Maria Dizzia , who received her MFA in Acting in 2001, was nominated for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play, for her work in Sarah Ruhl’s Pulitzer Prize finalist, “ In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play ” (coming to the San Diego Repertory Theatre next spring). The show received two other nods: for Best Play and Best Costumes. Dizzia was last seen locally at the Playhouse in “Unusual Acts of Devotion” (2009).
The host of the Tonys hasn’t been announced yet (another round for Hugh Jackman , maybe, since he was on Broadway last year with Daniel Craig… a double-hunk whammy might be nice). Check out the Tony Awards on CBS on June 13. San Diego could triumph again!
… Get ‘ em while they’re hot: If you’re a theaterlover, you might want to head over to SDSU on May 12 or 13, between 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., for a special sale of items from the department’s excellent Theater Archive. Theater scripts, magazines, LPs, videos, old Playbills and more are on the block. Outside the Drama Building and the Don Powell Theatre, on the Campanile walkway. Further info is at (619) 594-8262.
…For Rent: The Temecula Valley Players are presenting the rock opera “Rent,” directed by J. Scott Lapp, with Evan D’Angeles as associate director/choreographer. Lapp recently assistant directed the world premiere musical, “Bonnie and Clyde,” at the La Jolla Playhouse, and he’ll follow the show to the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida for its pre-Broadway run in the fall. First news of that development – straight from Temecula! D’Angeles , who has performed on Broadway, was part of the first national tour of “Rent.” For a sneak-peek at the production, check out the promotional video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IW58QIhWJfI . The show runs May 13-23 at the Old Town Temecula Community Theater, 4201 Main St. (866) OLD-TOWN (866-653-8696); www.temeculatheater.org
.. Some Like ‘ em Short: The San Diego Asian American Repertory Theatre is presenting its first annual 10-minute new play showcase, “Inner Views: Asian American Voices.” Plays of 5-15 minutes in length were submitted from all over the country, each exploring perspectives of Asian Americans ( Pacific Rim or Indian Subcontinental cultures). This will serve as a preview of AART ’s upcoming work as the 2010/2011 resident theater company at the La Jolla Playhouse, which will include the second annual “Inner Voices” showcase. The ten new short plays will be helmed by five local directors ( Andy Lowe , George Yé , Peter Cirino , Gina Ma and Carolyn Henderson). The Festival runs 5/14-22, at Mesa College ’s Apolliad Theatre, 7250 Mesa College Dr. Tickets and info at: (619) 388-2621; www.asianamericanrep.org
PAT’S PICKS: BEST BETS
v “Golda’s Balcony” – inspiring story, tour de force performance
The Old Globe Theatre, through 5/30
v “All in the Timing” – smart and hilarious
ion theatre, through, 5/29
v “Gam3rs” – LOL funny
ion theatre, through 6/5
v “Ghosts” – crisp new translation and production of a searing classic
North Coast Repertory Theatre, EXTENDED through 5/8
Read Review here: h ttp://www.sdnn.com/sandiego/2010-04-14/things-to-do/theater-t hings-to-do/ghosts-weekend-with-pablo-picasso-plus-theater-reviews-news
v “Sweeney Todd” – a glorious production of Sondheim’s goriest (and most lyrical) musical
Cygnet Theatre, through 5/9
Pat Launer is the SDNN theater critic. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
To read any of her prior reviews, type ‘Pat Launer,’ and the name of the play of interest, in the SDNN Search box. Or, access her present and past reviews from the Arts & Entertainment pull-down on the SDNN homepage.