Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
July 15, 2011
Two people get lost in finding themselves. The man runs away from anyone who cares about him. The woman is rooted in place, stuck with an old ache of abandonment. Both find that fortune brings no solace and no measure of self-identity. The answer lies in “peeling the onion,” as one play puts it, moving on from the past, from dreams and fantasies, stepping into the new, the sincere and authentic. Similar story, in two strikingly different plays.
The La Jolla Playhouse, in a co-production with Kansas City Repertory Theatre, does battle with the mammoth 1867 verse drama that is Henrik Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt .” With its 50 characters barely contained in five acts, lasting five hours, the piece is a classic picaresque, the wild, satirical adventures of a roguish hero who makes his way through a corrupt society, surviving by his wits.
Adapter/director David Schweizer keeps returning to the unwieldy work. His latest streamlined version is like story-theater, a “let’s put on a play” setup, as the highly versatile cast of five reads the Norwegian folk tale of Peer Gynt and begins to act it out, becoming everything from a three-headed troll to a stuttering farmer, the soul-stealing Buttonmoulder to a doctrinaire Frenchwoman, an abducted bride, a scornful but adoring mother, a faithful but abandoned lover.
In Schweizer’s swift telling, nothing is sacred. His production can be silly and adolescent at times, or polished and imaginative, at once anachronistic and fairy tale timeless, veering wildly from literate wit to base, body-function gags. The fantastical imaginings and non-linear storytelling are not for everyone. But the clever presentation provides comic and dramatic rewards for those who take the journey with Peer.
Now, over at Diversionary, in a co-production with Moxie Theatre, “Poster Boys” also has its share of dreams and fantasies, though it’s based on a true story. Caroline Larion has a high-end job with a forward-looking advertising agency whose latest client wants to market its banking services to a gay audience. The couple selected as poster boys for diversity turns out to include Caroline’s former fiancé. This accelerates her private meltdowns in repetitive airplane sequences. Faced with fear of aging and waning creativity, Caroline is also forced to confront an angry Catholic Church, threatening to pull its funding from the credit union. Amid mounting chaos, Caroline must come to terms with her anxiety and with herself.
In this U.S. premiere of Canadian playwright Michele Riml’s pop-culture comedy, the fantasies (not to mention the Botox references) may become tiresome, but the characters and situations ring true. Under the assured direction of Delicia Turner Sonnenberg , the cast of four is delightful, each effectively evincing ferocity and vulnerability. It isn’t a perfect play, but it’s an intriguing one.
So, you can go classic or comic. Either one will get you thinking.
“Peer Gynt ” runs through July 24, at the La Jolla Playhouse.
“Poster Boys ” continues through July 31, at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.
©2011 PAT LAUNER