Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: APRIL 17, 2009
At the center of each of two local productions is a pair of sisters dealing with the death of their mother. And surprise! Both shows are comedies – one structured as an offbeat coming-of-age story, the other as a film noir, double-crossing caper. And both are delicious fun.
“Be Aggressive,” which premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2001, was written by San Diego native Annie Weisman, who set it in the Del Mar area where she grew up. On the surface, the play’s about the effects of cheerleading on impressionable, competitive high schoolers . But it’s also about: grief; parents ignoring, or foisting too much responsibility on their kids; adolescent girls’ unhealthy relationship with food; the mercenary vapidity of an upscale, privileged neighborhood; the paving over of wetlands to build freeways, and more.
Under the direction of Kristianne Kurner, the New Village Arts production crackles with pop art color and ebullient energy. It’s got a lot less of the sadness and pathos than the original, but it has a good deal of humor and heart, and three terrific performances, from Rachael van Wormer and Amanda Sitton as the sibs, and Amanda Morrow, whose choreography and cheerleading are great. It’s a funny and sometimes thought-provoking piece of theater, deeper than it seems, and the local references are especially incisive and amusing. Weisman got her start at the Playwrights Project here in San Diego , and this is the work that launched her onto the national stage.
“ Mauritius ” was also written from a woman’s perspective, though Theresa Rebeck’s male characters could have been ripped from a David Mamet play. Which is to say, they’re nasty, coarse, conniving and foul-mouthed. The supposedly grieving sisters sure give them a run for their money. Literally. Part of their inheritance is a stamp collection, with a couple of entries that are worth millions. Jackie wants to sell. Fierce and unrefined, she’s had a pretty lousy life, and she thinks it’s time she got her due. But her prissy half-sister just wants to preserve the collection and her grandfather’s memory. Enter three stamp-crazed men: a resentful aficionado, a wealthy thug and a loquacious would-be lothario. Talk about being aggressive!
The balance shifts, the suspense escalates and the plot turns with neck-snapping speed. It feels a tad manipulative; Rebeck’s stint writing TV crime dramas certainly shines through. The storyline is elaborate, but the characters, however colorful, are underdeveloped. And though the Cygnet Theatre production is attractive and well designed, there are odd inconsistencies in the time period portrayed. But the performances are superb.
So, whether you go for lost souls or found treasures, perky, ostracized cheerleaders or high stakes, low-life collectors, there’s a play out there for you.
“Be Aggressive” runs through April 26 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad .
“ Mauritius ” continues through May 10 at Cygnet Theatre’s Rolando space, near SDSU.
©2009 PAT LAUNER