Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
October 5, 2012
If you’re gonna spend 90 uninterrupted minutes listening to someone talk, he’d better be really entertaining — and have something worthwhile to say.
Solo shows can be tough on actors and audiences – as evidenced in two current productions.
The La Jolla Playhouse struck gold in its first two WoW or Without Walls offsite projects. The premiere, “Susurrus,” was a stunning dramatic journey with music, listened to on a personal iPod, while strolling through the San Diego Botanic Garden. Then came “The Car Plays,” a terrific series of ten-minute one-acts performed inside parked vehicles. Wonderfully creative efforts.
And now, the program’s third offering: “Sam Bendrix at the Bon Soir ,” a chatty cabaret performance presented in an actual Hillcrest cabaret, Martinis Above Fourth. Written by Keith Bunin and directed by Mark Rucker, the show is a lot less intriguing than its Playhouse predecessors.
Luke Macfarlane, from ABC’s “ Brothers and Sisters ,” is a credible actor, storyteller and cellist, relating his melancholy but familiar tale of forbidden and lost love. But his voice and vocal stylings are not up to the task of carrying a show, though he’s backed by an outstanding band: Charlie Reuter on piano, Kevin Cooper on bass and Danny King on drums.
It’s supposed to be Greenwich Village, 1958, but there’s little to convey that time or place, either in story or song. On his last night in the City, this bartender is drinking too much and spilling his guts, revealing the sad saga of the Man Who Got Away, punctuated by pop classics by Porter, Gershwin et al. Alas, the martinis were more showy than the show.
Now, if you want to watch a fascinating motor-mouthed meltdown, head over to Cygnet Theatre to see funnyman Phil Johnson in Craig Wright’s “Mistakes were Made .” Felix Artifex is a washed-up, third-rate producer, trying to break into Broadway, with a dour, 50-character play about the French Revolution. Eternally plugged into the phone, he juggles actors, playwright, designers and investors — ranting, raving, cajoling, sweet-talking, threatening, nearly weeping, as each, along with his ex-wife, falls away from him, and he crumples before our eyes. Though he has a steadfast secretary, nicely played by Jacque Wilke , she’s mostly an intercom voice. Poor Felix only has one real confidante – Denise, his purse-lipped, ever-attentive, oversized goldfish. And he overdoes it with her, too.
Under the expert direction of Shana Wride, Johnson gives a bravura performance, a neck-snapping emotional journey from anger to exhilaration, frenzy to despondence.
“Details are a gateway drug,” says Felix, who lives by his lies. But detail is the foundation of this production, from the set to the sound to the dramatic nuance. There are some red herrings – no offense to Denise – including a complex subplot about sheep and terrorists. The play has its weaknesses. But not the player.
“Sam Bendrix at the Bon Soir ” has been extended through October 17, at Martini’s Above 4th in Hillcrest.
“Mistakes Were Made” continues through October 21, at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.
©2012 PAT LAUNER