Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: JULY 9, 2010
Which is harder – living up to your parents’ expectations, or your own? In a searing tragicomedy and a light-hearted musical, there are few parents in sight, but their influence is deeply felt – in a school spelling competition and in the fractious interactions between two estranged brothers. In both productions, the offspring have been affected by Parasite Drag, an aerodynamic term that refers to the friction or interference that diminishes power.
In his play called “Paradise Drag,” Mark Roberts, executive producer of TV’s “Two and a Half Men,” calls up images of Sam Shepard and his darkly dysfunctional sibling relations. Gene and Ronnie haven’t seen each other for years. Their lives have gone in distinctly different directions – one professorial, the other, janitorial. On a stormy Illinois night, they’re reunited as their sister lies dying, a long-ago victim of family horror who became a wild, homeless addict and is now succumbing to AIDS.
Highly educated Gene is lost in a marriage that’s loveless and arid; his wife, Joellen , is repressed and depressed. About to be ordained as a minister, Gene has forced her to live by rigid rules, cloaking himself in religion to hide his pain and shame. It isn’t working. Ronnie’s been a drifter, a loser, a womanizer. Like him, his floozy wife is crude and foul-mouthed, but they’re a lot less likely to suppress the excruciating truths of the family’s past.
ion theatre, inaugurating its fifth season of provocative plays, especially loves to sink its teeth into edgy drama. In this West Coast premiere, producing artistic director Glen Paris shepherds a superb ensemble, centered by a knockout performance from John Polak as the volatile, explosive Ronnie. It’s 85 intense minutes that will leave you breathless.
You’ll have to stop a few times to catch your breath during “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” too, but that’s because you’re laughing so hard. A local premiere, this spunky musical, by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin , spotlights the extreme anxiety and heartbreaking backstory of the highly competitive geeks whose parents push them to perfection – if they haven’t already driven themselves there.
SDSU professor Rick Simas helms a terrific and hilarious cast, with side-splitting standouts Omri Schein as the smug and ultra-smart nerd-king, William Barfee and Jacob Caltrider as the self-effacing and seriously wacko Leaf Coneybear . Behind the mirth, there’s a pathetic story of obsessed and compulsive kids. And in the tragic tale of “Parasite Drag,” humor leavens the emotional distress. In both cases, loss leads to self-reflection, and at last, the ability to move on.
So don’t wait for your parents’ approbation. Find your own moral compass, and point yourself in the direction of some really fine theater, of the comic of dramatic kind.
“Parasite Drag” runs through July 24, at ion theatre’s Black Box in Hillcrest.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” continues through August 3, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach .
©2010 PAT LAUNER