Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: OCTOBER 1, 2010
This is a tripartite story about being lost – down the bleak, labyrinthine passageways of a twisted mind, or in real or metaphorical woods. It’s all about unrealistic expectations – of life, love and what constitutes happiness. Each of these shows is dark in its own way –comically, musically or psychologically.
“Notes from Underground” is the most unnerving and unsettling of the three. This new adaptation of Dostoevsky’s 1864 novella about guilt, shame and recrimination, was created by acclaimed director Robert Woodruff and stellar actor Bill Camp. The hyper-intense, 110-minute one-act premiered last year at Yale Repertory Theatre. And perhaps a college campus is the best place for it, a place where, presumably, they still read Dostoevsky. The stunning production is now at the La Jolla Playhouse, at UCSD. It’s snowing inside the seedy, squalid, St. Petersburg flat. The unnamed Underground Man speaks into a camera, so we watch Camp’s malleable face in reality and projected in supersize, perfect for his outsized emotional reactions to real and perceived slights. A provocative soundscape, played live onstage, underscores the action, which is not for the faint of heart. This is a grim study of despair, alienation and cruelty, fueled by self-loathing, self-delusion and self-sabotage. In his diary entry, the Man recounts a youthful humiliation; he promptly turns his degradation into gut-wrenching sexual aggression. This singular presentation is disturbing. If you can take it, it’s something to see.
The production and performances are what should draw you to ion theatre’s “Jack Goes Boating,” too. The black comedy, by former San Diegan Bob Glaudini , currently in movie theaters, is somewhat unsatisfying, a choppy, episodic series of scenes that chronicle the ascent of one relationship and the dissolution of another. Four blue-collar denizens of New York do a lot of drugs and don’t know what they want or where they’re going. Under Claudio Raygoza ’s finely calibrated direction, a splendid cast, headed by the ever-expanding talents of Brian Mackey and Steven Lone, brings considerable vitality to these generally unlikable, indecisive, unproductive characters. But their interactions and climactic moments positively sizzle.
Now if you expect the musical offering of these three shows to be the lighthearted one, think again. It’s Stephen Sondheim, after all. “Into the Woods” may seem to be a jocular take on familiar fairy tales, blending the stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel , Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk with a lesser-known one about a childless baker and his wife. There’s a witch, of course, and a vengeful giant. But the focus is on what happens after “happily ever after,” and the somewhat muddled second act has a hard edge and a dark tone. New Village Arts , in its tenth season and first musical, has marshaled a wonderful director, James Vasquez and a high-octane cast, to mine all the musicality and melancholy of the piece.
So gird your theatrical loins. Take the plunge into some dark dramatic waters.
“Jack Goes Boating” through October 9, at ion’s Black Box Theatre in University Heights .
“Notes from Underground” runs through October 17, at the La Jolla Playhouse.
“Into the Woods” continues through October 31 at New Village Arts in Carlsbad .
©2010 PAT LAUNER