KPBS AIRDATE: October 19, 2001
Knockoffs, spinoffs, riffs and revivals — they’re often pale shadows of the original. Even with the very best of intentions, and sometimes the best of talent, you find yourself harking back to your first emotional experience of The Real Thing. So it is with two current local theater efforts: “Wait Until Dark” at North Coast Repertory Theatre and “Love, Janis” at the San Diego Rep.
Randal Myler’s Janis Joplin musical is so vocally demanding it requires two singing Janises, alternating performances, as well as a speaking Janis. The two sides of the ’60s blues/rocker, dressed as identical twins, often share the stage and their stories. Like Myler’s earlier effort — “It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues,” “Love, Janis” is less a musical than a concert. Though it’s based on her letters home to her family, it reveals precious little about her life, her loneliness, or her romance with booze, boys, girls, drugs and excess. It’s really all about the music. And, as terrific and charismatic as Beth Hart is, especially in singing Janis’ ragged, rugged blues, when all is said and done, she isn’t Janis, doesn’t look even remotely like Janis, and ultimately makes us long for Janis — even when we’re rockin’ and groovin’ and stompin’ and singin’ along with her pull-out-the-stops performance. But the band that backs the singers is spectacular. And Amelia Campbell, as the speaking Janis, certainly looks the part and is convincing and compelling, though her words, taken from the book by Janis’ sister Laura, are overshadowed by the music. As a concert, the Off Broadway hit is a hoot, and if the audience is really hot, Beth Hart bares her breasts. Still, this isn’t a satisfying musical and alas, it isn’t Janis Joplin. It just made me want to go home and drag out my old Big Brother LPs.
Up at North Coast Rep, “Wait Until Dark” made me want to head straight to Blockbuster — to rent the chilling 1967 Audrey Hepburn/Alan Arkin thriller based on the 1966 play by Frederick Knott. Guest director Patrick Stewart has built some suspense into his production, but none of the spine-tingling terror of the original.
Jyl Kaneshiro does a fine job as the blind woman who outsmarts the thugs and psychos trying to con and terrorize her. And Rebecca Masci is thoroughly credible as the jaded adolescent who provides support and surrogate eyes. But the rest of the cast is variable at best and unconvincing at worst. George Ye’s eerie original music and Marty Burnett’s cluttered basement apartment are appealing. But the dramatic endeavor feels forced and the result is more diverting than devastating.
Janis’ advice was “Get it While You Can,” but these productions only capture a piece of the heart.
“MUSIC, under and out: “Piece of My Heart”)
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.