Pat Launer on San Diego Theater
By Pat Launer , SDNN
Thursday, December 3, 2009
READ REVIEWS OF: “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Camino Real”
You’re a Green One, Mr. Grinch!
THE SHOW: “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the family favorite, in song (book and lyrics by Timothy Mason, music by Mel Marvin), at the Old Globe Theatre
Is it my imagination, or has anyone else noticed that, as the world has gotten more scary, the Grinch has gotten less so?
The very first musical Grinch (1998) was Guy Paul, who had a decidedly nasty demeanor and a frightening, Gene Simmons-like serpentine tongue. He actually made some little ones cringe. The latest Grinch, Jeff Skowron , also makes the kids scream – with laughter. He’s very very funny, and he’s got a gorgeous basso voice, as well as some pretty nifty moves. So, while he doesn’t make the most profound of Scroogean transformations, he does entertain, to the max — or, the Max, which is the name of his dog, played delightfully , in young and older versions, by frisky Logan Lipton and bemused, nostalgic Martin Van Treuren (who was in the Broadway version of the show in 2007 and 2008).
Other reminders of that first “Grinch” long ago: audience member Tiffany Scarritt (now Tiffany Jane, a professional singer in L.A. ), who was the very first Cindy-Lou Who, at about age 10. Now her mom, mega-talented actor/singer Leigh Scarritt , is the teacher of the current Cindy-Lou, Shea Starrs Siben (alternating with Anna Bahen ), who’s carrying on a family tradition; Shea’s older sister, Skylar , was Cindy-Lou for a couple of years, starting in 2006. Siben is the youngest Cindy-Lou ever, I think: just six years old, an adorable, talented hunk of ham, and a pint-sized delight. Comic actor-singer Steve Gunderson is playing Papa Who for the seventh time. And exceeding even that impressive record, Eileen Bowman is celebrating her 12th year as Grandma Who.
The show, which still looks like an energized, pop-up, 3-D embodiment of the book (wonderfully imaginative set by John Lee Beatty and costumes by Robert Morgan), has undergone a number of changes over the years, since Jack O’Brien first co-conceived and directed it. First (very wise move), the songs from the animated film were added in (including the ever-popular “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”). The paean to crass commercialism, “Last-Minute Shopping” was replaced with a gentler, more apt message: “It’s the Thought That Counts.” The borrowings from the Broadway rendition (2007-8) make the whole endeavor seem more schmaltzy and contrived, less pure and sweet than the original. The Grinch has changed his appearance, too; his costume is less shaggy, his face isn’t very green or furry or foreboding.
Still, kids large and small go ga-ga over the story of that small-hearted, hirsute “One of a Kind” (the title of a bouncy, show-stopping vaudeville number) who tries to stop Christmas, but learns, from lovable, precocious and irresistible Cindy-Lou Who that the real gifts of the holiday are intangible. The ensemble is high-caliber, the staging (original choreography by John DeLuca , with additional choreography by Bob Richard, restaged by James Vasquez ) is lively and clever, and the 8-piece Who- chestra , under the baton of music director John Samorian , sounds just great.
These are Who- ters the whole family can enjoy!
THE LOCATION: Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park . ( 619) 23-GLOBE; www.theoldglobe.org
THE DETAILS: Tickets: $39-79 for adults; $20-29 for children age 3-17. Tuesday-Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., through December 27.
NOTE: No 8 p.m. performance on 12/5; no performance 12/10 or 12/25. Additional performances at 5 p.m. on Dec. 5, 12, 19.
THE BOTTOM LINE: BEST BET
THE SHOW: “Camino Real,” a 1953 play by Tennessee Williams, at UC San Diego
It was a wild departure for Tennessee Williams. Both loved and loathed. Theater critics dubbed it his best play (Clive Barnes) and his absolute worst (Walter Kerr). It was a whopping failure when it opened on Broadway in 1953. Close on the heels of his stupendous successes (“The Glass Menagerie,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “The Rose Tattoo”), the hallucinatory drama baffled and confounded audiences. It still does. But a too-short-lived, jaw-dropping production at UCSD provides a don’t-miss opportunity.
The setting is a run-down, mythical town, a purgatory where doomed archetypes, fictional and literary, gather to contemplate advancing age, impending irrelevance and maintaining hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.
First to arrive is the delusional knight, Don Quixote, who’s immediately abandoned by his not-so-loyal squire, Sancho Panza . He spends the rest of his time searching for a new companion. Along the way, we meet the coughing courtesan Camille (Marguerite Gautier from “La Dame aux Camélias ”), the poet Lord Byron, the womanizer Casanova, the seductive, repeatedly-virginal gypsy, Esmeralda (from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) and, at the center of it all, a young American, Kilroy , a washed-up, former Golden Gloves boxer named for the World War II icon. He pines for the “one true woman” he left behind when his heart, “larger than a baby’s head,” gave out. All these fragile romantics are made inert by their own inadequacies, trapped in a hellish place they barely try to escape, fearful of the vast expanse of nothingness that lies beyond.
The non-linear story, if there is one (some see the play as Don Quixote’s dream, but that wasn’t a strong feature of this production) proceeds in a series of dreamlike “blocks” along the Camino Real (a distinction is made between the Spanish-inflected “royal road” and the titular locale which, the playwright asserts, should be pronounced “CAM- inno Reel”), a place where tattered reality confronts royal illusions. A cruelly cynical, dictatorial hotelier presides over the place, abetted by heavily armed henchmen and a trio of “Street Cleaners” who hover like jackals, ready to snatch up corpses and haul them away underground.
At UCSD, a stellar graduate design team has fashioned an aptly decrepit, decaying environment. The crumbling pillars and the ruins of a finely tiled fountain surround a circular staircase that seems to go nowhere, ending at a Magritte sky centered by a downward-facing doorway (terrific scenic design by 2nd year MFA student Ian Wallace). The costumes (2nd year Alina Bokovikova ) are a glorious hodgepodge of styles and colors, from bright reds and ruffles to skeleton suits. All the outfits are tattered, decomposing, symbolically falling apart like the exteriors and interiors of the place and its inhabitants. The lighting (3rd year MFA James Tan) is stunning, ranging from shadows to spots and floods, with marvelously dimensional projections of building facades. A thrumming sound (2nd year MFA Omar Ramos) underscores the action, unnerving the observers.
The overarching vision belongs to the hugely talented Adam Arian , for whom this is a final graduate project. It certainly was an epic undertaking, and he obviously tore into the daunting work with relish. Some members of his cast, which ranges from sophomore undergrads to graduating MFAs, are up to the task. Standouts are the immensely engaging Patrick Riley (3rd year MFA) as Kilroy , and thoroughly winning Cate Campbell as Marguerite (Camille). Both unravel a credible array of emotions.
At nearly three hours, it do go on, and it does get repetitive. An interesting philosophical mix of abstruse and on-the-nose. But a thrilling, rarely-taken ride, nonetheless.
INTERESTING SIDE-NOTE: “Camino Real” is the focus of “The Really Big Once,” a new work in development by the Target Margin Theater, a Brooklyn-based experimental company that performs throughout the City. The show, which sees the Williams play as a seminal piece of theater history , premieres Off Broadway next spring.
THE LOCATION: The Potiker Theatre, on the campus of UC San Diego, La Jolla . (858) 534-4574; theatre.ucsd.edu/season
THE DETAILS : Tickets $10-20. Wednesday-Saturday at 8 p.m., through December 5.
THE BOTTOM LINE: BEST BET
NEWS AND VIEWS
… Entrepreneurial Alliance : The “Group of Four” is an innovative coalition of local arts organizations creating a mutually supportive relationship. Orchestra Nova San Diego, Cygnet Theatre, Malashock Dance and the Museum of Photographic Arts are teaming up for a co-promotion aimed at providing San Diegans with low-cost options for exposure to multiple arts genres. The foursome is offering 2-for-1 tickets for members, subscribers and donors of each organization, as well as cross-pollinated publicity, promotion and marketing. A pioneering effort that should be replicated around the county, if not around the country. In tough times, we need to band together.
… Music of the Night: The SDSU MFA students in Musical Theatre will present their semi-annual showcase, a “Contemporary Works Portfolio,” featuring songs from modern musicals such as “The Light in the Piazza,” “Next to Normal,” “Shrek, the Musical,” “Spring Awakening” and “[title of show].” See the musical stars of tomorrow – and today. 12/7 at 7:30 p.m., in newly renamed Moxie Theatre (formerly Cygnet’s Rolando Space), 6663 El Cajon Blvd., near the SDSU campus.
… A Panoply of Patté : Indulge your taste for talent. Attend The 13th Annual Patté Awards for Theater Excellence, a gala community celebration that honors the Best of the Best of San Diego theatermakers. If you’re a theatergoer or a theaterlover, you won’t want to miss it. Monday, January 18, 2010. Tickets are now available at www.thepattefoundation.org.
… Fightin ’ Women: “The Rules of Engagement,” a new play by local writer/actor Kevin Six , will have a preliminary reading with voluntary “safe sword play” for observer-participants. The piece, about women in conflict, was written for Babes With Blades, a Chicago theater group dedicated to providing opportunities for female stage combat. The author is interested in audience input. 12/11 at 6 p.m. in Swedenborg Hall, 1531 Tyler Ave.
…Wonder of Wonders: Carlsbad Playreaders presents a reading of “ Wonder of the World ” by David Lindsay- Abaire (“Kimberly Akimbo,” “ Fuddy Meers ,” “Rabbit Hole”). The 2000 premiere starred Sarah Jessica Parker as a wife who goes off on a journey of liberation after she finds out that her husband has a sexual fetish involving Barbie heads. Directed by Jill Drexler, the cast features San Diego faves Sandra Ellis-Troy, Amanda Sitton , David McBean , Wendy Waddell, Dana Hooley, Eric Poppick and Joey Landwehr. 12/7 at 7:30 p.m. in Carlsbad ’s Dove Library; www.carlsbadplayreaders.org
… Local premiere: Cygnet Theatre will present a staged reading of “Tragedy of the Commons,” by acclaimed La Jolla stage, screen and TV writer Stephen Metcalfe (“Strange Snow,” “Emily, “The Incredibly Famous Willy Rivers,” “Pretty Woman,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus”), who’s an Associate Artist at the Old Globe. It’s the story of a tired marriage about to be torn asunder. This will be the first audience for the latest draft of the play. Metcalfe directs Jim Winker, Monique Gaffney , Manny Fernandes , Francis Gercke , Veronica Murphy and Tim West . 12/7 at 7:30 p.m. at Cygnet’s Old Town Theatre. Wine, appetizers and talk-back with the cast and playwright/director to follow. (619) 337-1525; www.cygnettheatre.com
… R U Serious ?: Chronos Theatre Group presents a staged reading of the 1921 Czech sci-fi classic, “R.U.R.,” (Rostrum’s Universal Robots), by Karel Capek, the play that introduced the word “robot” to the world. 12/ 7 at 7:30 p.m., Swedenborg Hall, 1531 Tyler Ave. , University Heights .
… WILL- ing andABE -L: The San Diego Shakespeare Society and Write Out Loud present a reading of “Lincoln’s Shakespeare,” adapted from “Steeped in Shakespeare,” a scholarly essay that examines The Bard’s influence on the President. Vanessa Dinning and Walter Ritter prepared the adaptation; Veronica Murphy directs. 12/8 at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town . Info at www.writeoutloudsd.com or www.sandiegoshakespearesociety.org
PAT’S PICKS: BEST BETS
“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” – great fun for the whole family
Old Globe Theatre, through 12/27
“Camino Real” – a rarely seen Tennessee Williams classic, stunningly presented
The Potiker Theatre, on the campus of UCSD, through 12/5
“Bonnie and Clyde ” – an evolving new musical that has a good deal to offer (but still needs work)
La Jolla Playhouse, through 12/20
“The Seafarer” – spooky, eerie, funny and even thought-provoking; excellent ensemble
San Diego Repertory Theatre, through 12/13
“ Holiday Memories” – sweet and nostalgic
Scripps Ranch Theatre, through 12/12
“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” – marvelous production of a sprightly, funny, imaginative play
New Village Arts , through 12/6
Read Review here: http://www.sdnn.com/sandiego/2009-11-18/things-to-do/theater-things-to-do/picasso-into-the-woods-two-gentlemen-theater-reviews-and-news
Pat Launer is the SDNN theater critic.
To read any of her prior reviews, type ‘Pat Launer’ into the SDNN Search box.