Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
December 7, 2012
Here’s a theater truism: New work doesn’t always work.
Three new plays opened this week, and while all reflected serious commitment, none was seriously successful. And each production defied another dramatic adage: Less is more. All seemed overdone, and trying too hard.
OnStage Playhouse snagged a major coup: the world premiere of “Persuasion,” Jane Austen’s final novel, in an adaptation by Jon Jory , long-time artistic director of the Actors Theatre of Louisville, where he founded the Humana Festival of New American Plays.
His “Persuasion” captures many of Austen’s plot points, presenting some 20 characters, played at OnStage, with varying degrees of proficiency, by 18 actors. The scenes are short and choppy, sometimes only encompassing 2-3 exchanges of dialogue. And the production gets too fussy, especially with unnecessary moving of chairs from one part of the stage to another for these abbreviated scenes. Don’t people stand any more ?
There are standouts in the ensemble, however, directed by Carla Nell: Kym Pappas and Christopher Renda as the inevitable match, Anne Elliot and Capt. Wentworth; and Kaly McKenna as Anne’s persuasive godmother, Lady Russell.
There’s variable dramatic dexterity in the cast of “Street. Art. Prophets.” as well, though the scenic design is noteworthy. This is an ambitious creation by Circle Circle Dot Dot , whose mission is to develop new work from lesser-known stories of our community. After exploring drag queens and fantasy roleplayers , they’ve set their sights on graffiti or street artists, showing how these impassioned souls often take nighttime risks to find an outlet for their creative energy.
Five plays, five actors, four playwrights, four directors, two choreographers. Impressive figures, but the numbers don’t add up. We learn a bit about these sometimes masked artmakers , but none of the plays is strong enough to stand on its own (“Glow,” by Delia Knight, is the best of the bunch). The dance and hip hop elements fall flat, and some performers rush or muffle their lines.
At Cygnet Theatre in Old Town, the level of quality is high, but the effort to replicate the huge, multi-year success of “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a 1940s radio drama doesn’t pan out. Artistic director Sean Murray has adapted the beloved Charles Dickens perennial, “A Christmas Carol,” but the conceit is misguided. Scrooge’s story is basically a dark 19th century morality play. Here, it’s played mostly for laughs, and that weakens the message and the emotional power of the piece. The amusing sound effects, as performed by Jason Connors, repeatedly steal focus. The cast is excellent, but the staging is too busy, and that also distracts from the story.
It isn’t easy to mount new work. Kudos to these companies for their vision and daring. But premieres are a process, and these creations are still works-in-progress.
circle circle dot dot’s “Street. Art. Prophets ” runs through December 15 at the ! 0th Avenue Theatre downtown.
“Persuasion” plays through December 22 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista.
“A Christmas Carol” continues through December 30 Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.
©2012 PAT LAUNER