Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
November 4, 2011
Two plays that take us back in time. Two eras, two extremes of the economic spectrum. The 1920s, a decadent time of butlers and bathtub gin. A heady period followed by the hard-luck ‘30s, a time of Depression, disillusionment and unemployment. A head-spinning cycle not unlike the one we’ve been going through. The style of the plays aptly captures their essence: “The Drowsy Chaperone” is a feather-light musical. “Of Mice and Men” is a heartrending tragedy.
Nobel Prize-winner John Steinbeck wrote his classic novella in 1937, and adapted it to the stage the same year. It’s the story of two displaced migrant ranch workers in northern California, a brains-and-brawn odd couple. George is the thinker, planner and long-time protector of Lennie , a physically strong, mentally weak hulk who loves soft things but can’t quite control his muscle or emotions. The dream that carries them hopefully from job to back-breaking job, is moving beyond their sad, transient lives to find a little security, and a sense of belonging. To settle on a piece of land, so George can run his own farm and Lennie can raise his beloved rabbits. That dream is systematically dismantled, in poignant and gut-wrenching ways.
Daren Scott, a member of the New Village Arts Ensemble, does a superb job in his second directing foray. With a generally excellent cast of 11, he perfectly captures the hardscrabble life of loneliness and isolation. Justin Lang and Manny Fernandes are outstanding as George and Lennie , symbolic and symbiotic pieces in this grim picture of power and powerlessness. The play foreshadows the wretched ending, building to a devastating but inescapable climax. Scott doesn’t shy away from the tough racial elements of the piece and that elevates its pathos. Marvelously designed, with wonderful original music by Bill Bradbury of MandoBasso , it’s a piercing and exhilarating experience. Do not miss it!
And if you need a little pick-me-up after going down that dark path, head to the Coronado Playhouse, and catch their joyful, whimsical production of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” The 2006 Tony Award-winning show is a deliciously bubbly musical-within-a-comedy set in the present but harking back to a glamorous past, a time of gay wedding parties — when that had a totally different meaning. The cast is great, each over-the-top character played to the hilt, thanks to director Thomas Fitzpatrick, choreographer Alisa Williams and costume designer Carol Whaley. There are many comical moments and musical delights. A special shout-out to Jim Williams as Man in Chair, the lonely, loveless guy who invites us into his living room so he can re-enact a vintage musical that never fails to perk him up when he gets the blues. It’ll have the same effect on you.
So, get up or get down – but get out to the theater!
“Of Mice and Men” runs through November 20 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad.
“The Drowsy Chaperone” continues through December 4 at the Coronado Playhouse.
©2011 PAT LAUNER