Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
March 3, 2012
It’s all a matter of faith. “God’s Trombones” is a rousing celebration of Bible stories and belief, relayed in poetry, song and dance. In “Next Fall” and “Visiting Mr. Green,” religion becomes a sticking-point in a relationship.
Mr. Green is a crotchety octogenarian. When 39 year-old Ross nearly runs him down, the younger man is compelled by the court to visit the recent widower every week for six months. They’re a comically mismatched pair: old/young, on the way out/on the way up, traditional, Jewish and kosher… and, well, something else. They dance around each other amusingly at first; one not really wanting to help, the other not really wan ting assistance. Then, there’s a turning point, revelations that engender a change of mind and heart.
Jeff Baron’s 1996 comic drama isn’t weighty; it even feels a bit musty. But at North Coast Repertory Theatre, in the hands of thoughtful, sensitive director Christopher Williams and his consummate cast, it’s practically a three-way tour de force. As Ross, Craig De Lorenzo has just the right mix of insouciance and secrecy. Robert Grossman, with shuffling gait, raspy voice and cantankerous demeanor, is flawless as the old man who still has a few things to learn.
The Manhattan apartment is as dowdy and disorganized as its owner. The costumes, lighting and sound bring evocative layers to the gentle, heartwarming story.
Humor and mismatches are also central to “Next Fall,” the widely acclaimed 2009 play by Jeffrey Nauffts that tries to be profound but doesn’t quite succeed.
Leapfrogging between present and past, the piece introduces optimistic young wannabe actor Luke, and his unlikely love interest, Adam, a 40 year-old smart-ass, cynical, hypochondriacal candle-seller. They embark on a fond but fraught five-year relationship, but Adam’s atheism butts up against Luke’s rigid Christian fundamentalism. Before they can resolve the issue, a serious accident drives them apart, and forces friends and family to re-think their positions.
At Diversionary Theatre, James Vasquez does a masterful job directing a superb cast, headed by deliciously deadpan Matt McGrath and delightfully ingenuous Stewart Calhoun. Jacque Wilke and Shana Wride add quirky comic touches. The play makes you want something more, but you couldn’t ask for more satisfying performances.
Being grateful and full of grace is what “God’s Trombones” is all about. The “Seven Negro Sermons in Verse” were written in 1927 by influential African American writer, poet, educator, activist James Weldon Johnson. Calvin Manson, founder/director of the Ira Aldridge Repertory Players, has marshaled some expert actors to ‘preach’ the glorious imagery, punctuated by joyful gospel singing and jubilant modern dance. It all adds up to an entertaining evening of faith, hope and glory.
In theater as in life, religion can foster harmony or dissonance.
“God’s Trombones,” a production of the Ira Aldridge Repertory Players, runs through March 11 at the Educational Cultural Complex in Southeast San Diego.
“Visiting Mr. Green” plays through March 11 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
“Next Fall” continues through March 25 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.
©2012 PAT LAUNER