Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
September 16, 2011
It’s all about life choices – whether you’re a teen, a King or a disenchanted Everyman. Three potent dramas, three lost souls scarred by dubious decisions.
The teen is Annie, one of three African American girls who judge their prospective boyfriends by their cellphones. Coming from poor, uncaring homes, everything they get is ersatz, exemplified by powdered milk, what playwright Kirsten Greenidge calls “Milk Like Sugar.”
In this world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse, a co-commission with Colorado’s Theatre Masters, the girls decide that the only way to get unconditional love – and cool designer gear – is to have a baby. So they make a pregnancy pact.
But Annie isn’t so sure. Her potential boyfriend thinks education is a way out, but her callous, butt-smoking mother, who was also a teenage mom, squelches that idea.
The language is raw, the ghetto dialect intense. But with TV reality shows like “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” on TV, and white Catholic Massachusetts girls making just this kind of pact in 2008, the topic is timely and provocative.
The production and performances are outstanding, under the astute and imaginative direction of Rebecca Taichman . Symbolically, the neon-framed walls of the set keep closing in on Annie.
The powerless have few choices, but when you’re King, you should be able to do whatever you want, right? Not in the case of Edward II, who turned his back on his country, queen and contemptuous Peers, falling desperately in love with a lowly male commoner named Gaveston , which precipitated considerable English bloodshed.
In Christopher Marlowe’s 1592 tragedy, under the excellent direction of the much-missed Richard Baird, UCSD alumnus Ross Hellwig does a spectacular job as Edward, heading a commendable cast of 15, the largest ever at Diversionary Theatre.
No emotional expense is spared on the brawls and brutality. It’s a thrilling ride, punctuated by a lobby display of caricatures of more recent leaders whose sexual appetites brought their own brand of self-destruction, from Elliot Spitzer to Larry Craig to Anthony Weiner.
Plus ça change, as the French say, or as the title character in “Thom Pain (based on nothing)” might put it: “Whatever.”
In this 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist by young Will Eno , Thom talks directly to the audience for an hour, telling fragmented tales from his hapless childhood, a failed affair, the myriad fears and mishaps that have traumatized him and rendered him inert. Presumably, Thom’s pain is ours. In the hands of Adam Brick, directed by Kristianne Kurner at New Village Arts, his mournful story, flatly and unemotionally told, is both a cautionary tale and an existential cry for connection. What you do with your life is up to you.
As I said, it’s all a matter of choice.
“Milk Like Sugar” runs through September 25 at the La Jolla Playhouse.
“Edward II” continues through October 2 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.
“Thom Pain” plays through October 2 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad.
©2011 PAT LAUNER