Pat Launer on San Diego Theater
By Pat Launer , SDNN
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Quick Reviews of an array of one-night or last-night performances
THE SHOW: “State of the Art,” a one-act that premiered at the Fritz Blitz of New Plays in 2003 has now been expanded to two acts. Sigh. When he gets raves for his concept, what’s a writer to do, “do-wise” (to borrow an oft-used locution from the play)? He writes more – of the same. Craig Abernethy’s creation, about the creative process – specifically, playwriting –set in the writer’s mind, was delectable when it premiered six years ago. In its original form, there was a freshness about its conception and execution. Under the deft direction of Robert May, three actors performed physical calisthenics at the same time as they got a mental workout, trying to figure out a beginning, middle, end, setting, setup, characters, etc. for a new play. Director May has stayed with the piece throughout three productions and two incarnations. But the play hasn’t really benefited, and the latest production just felt sluggish and repetitive. The actors were working hard to be clever and likable. Only one performer (appealing, energetic Calandra Crane) retained the marvelous physicality of the original, undertaking all manner of calisthenics, including a Bozo punching bag-doll. (I’ll never forget Robin Christ in the original production, with her antic activity and yoga moves, not to mention her long-lasting headstand, during which she punctuated her comments with her very expressive feet). Charles Peters played the critic and Danielle DeCarlo the naïf. Each had moments that worked well. The space was right for the play: the intimate little Twiggs performance area. The ingredients were there. But it was far more amusing at a quicker clip, with less effortful wit and humor. As so often happens with play rewrites and augmentations, something got lost in the expansion. Brevity so often is the soul…
THE SHOW: “Culture Shock’s 10th Annual Choreographers’ Showcase” featured hip hop troupes from around the world. The sellout crowd of 800+ at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido , represented a wide array of ages and types. The audience enthusiasm screamed Rock Concert. The emcee for the evening, comedian Mal Hall (a regular on three local morning radio shows), explained that he wasn’t trying to be funny, just mostly stalling for time between sets.
Culture Clash San Diego opened and closed the show, and the final moments were a kind of cross-company competition, with individuals from the various groups stepping forward to demonstrate their most athletic, attention-grabbing, B-boy stuff. The two highlights of the evening, the most inventive choreography by far, came from the furthest reaches: the groups from New Zealand and Switzerland . The Kiwi troupe, Dziah , which had performed with Missy Elliott, had incredible power moves and comic antics. An array of shirtless guys repeatedly defying gravity, flying through space like animated martial artists, doing full-body spins, mid-air somersaults, comically riffing on “The Lion King,” “Back to the Future,” and other cultural phenomena. Just amazing. The Swiss group, Stylize Dance Crew, just about stole the show, with their wildly imaginative, astonishingly varied performance. These spectacularly versatile dancers managed to intertwine hip hop trick and blowup styles with tap, ballet and modern dance. It was a stunning display, an effective, if unexpected, commingling of styles. The audience went crazy, giving a standing ovation that lasted for minutes. It was a thrilling performance.
There were even some theater connections at the event: ace designer Mike Buckley masterminded the lighting for all the groups (a colorful, impressive feat, given only one rehearsal), and actor Amanda Morrow, part of the resident ensemble of New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad, was a featured part of Afta Shock San Diego, a group billed as “San Diego’s first dance troupe for the original hip hop generation.” That means these are “older” hip hop performers, which is to say, over 25! Surprisingly, given the level of skill, Afta Shock was making its debut at this event (they just formed in June), presenting a whirlwind history of hip hop influences, from James Brown to LL Cool J. Morrow, who has exhibited her agility in several NVA shows (ballroom dance in “Sailor’s Song,” cheerleading routines in “Be Aggressive”) did most of the high-profile flips during her group’s presentation.
The dynamo Angie Bunch, who founded Culture Shock in 1993 (it’s now in seven U.S. and two Canadian cities), received the recognition she was due, while she presented the Angie Bunch Award for Outstanding Achievement and Dedication to her former student and current Culture Shock San Diego artistic director, Sherman Shoate . The Sunday performances were devoted to Culture Shock youth groups, with dancers ranging in age from 7 to 18. Many were in the audience for the Saturday adult show, and two especially vocal, energetic 10-11 year olds sitting next to me even got themselves called up onstage to bust a few moves. All told, it was an exhilarating, electrifying night of talent, ingenuity and physical agility!
Out of the Mouths of Babes: Youth Theatre Report
… Green Giant
THE SHOW: “Zombie Prom” (book and lyrics by John Dempsey; music by Dana P. Rowe) is a perfect high school musical. In fact, it is a high school musical, set in the 1950s at Enrico Fermi High, in the shadow of a nuclear reactor. When the parents of Good Girl Toffee force her to break up with the leather-wearing supposed Bad Boy, Jonny (his primary rebellion is dropping the ‘H’ in his name) , he throws himself into the reactor, only to emerge as a mutant, nuclear zombie. They bury him at sea in a metal casket, but Toffee’s undying love brings the undead back from the dead. Poor green-faced Jonny just wants to resume his relationship with Toffee and graduate from high school — after he takes her to the prom. The principal, the tyrannical Miss Strict, wants none of it. But the kids have their day, their prom, and their resident zombie. It’s as silly as can be, glancing at a message of tolerance (“Equal Rights for the Undead!”) while spoofing various movies, musicals, songs and genres, in a delightfully self-mocking tone. The Coronado School of the Arts did a nice job with the show, though they surprisingly underplayed the “High School Musical” theme of acceptance. And though Jonny’s hair was electric green, his face was barely tinted, which diminished the humor factor. Nonetheless, big, tall Jake Gomrick played his role to the hilt, and as his main squeeze, Toffee, Cierra Bartelt exhibited a strong and endearing stage presence. Michael Silberblatt and Francesca Fromang provided comic relief as the sleazy tabloid journalist, Eddie Flagrante, and the tightly wrapped, autocratic principal, Delilah Strict. Their tango number, “Exposé,” was especially enjoyable. Dr. Barbara Wolf , chair of CoSA’s musical theater department, directed the 45-member cast, and a five-piece band did a fine job with the quirky score.
Some Enchanted Evening
THE SHOW: Speaking of tolerance and acceptance, the argument doesn’t get any more direct than in “South Pacific,” one of the all-time great musicals (currently running in a highly acclaimed revival on Broadway). This show was the kickoff of a yearlong tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein, by the J*Company Youth Company of La Jolla . Artistic director Joey Landwehr, wanting to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the show, noted that his young charges had never heard of any of the classic R&H musicals. So he taught them a good deal about musical theater history, and initiated a series of movie musical singalongs to accompany each show in the season. For the final matinee I attended, Landwehr was part of the huge, 56-person cast, standing in for a sick Capt. Brackett; he was on book, but he was terrific. It’s really good for the kids to see how it’s done, effortlessly and with authority. Dancing wasn’t the strong suit of this company, but the energy and enthusiasm were high, and the 15-piece orchestra was excellent. On cello was Jeff Myers, whose two actor/singer offspring, Becca and Danny Myers, were in the cast. Danny was one of the strongest performers in the cast, as the doomed “sexy lieutenant,” Joe Cable; he’s strong both vocally and dramatically, a rarity in youth productions. He always brings gravitas and credibility to his characters. As that cockeyed optimist, Nurse/Ensign Nellie Forbush , Danielle Smotrich had a charming stage persona. Darien Sepulveda displayed a warm, robust baritone as her love interest, the French planter Emile de Becque . Robbie Friedman nailed the look and swagger of that consummate wheeler-dealer, Luther Billis . But it was Satya Chavez as Bloody Mary who seemed mature way beyond her 17 years as that other wheeler-dealer, the Tonkinese island one-woman sales force, Bloody Mary, who tries to snag Lt. Cable for her lovely daughter, Liat (Danielle Levin). It’s commendable to pull off a big musical like this with kids this young (age 7-18). Friedman, who was making his youth theater farewell (he’s 18 and has to move on), credited Joey and the J*Company with making a real difference in his life. A touching end of the run. Next up in the R&H season: “The King and I,” Dec. 3-13. http://sdcjc.lfjcc.org/jc/
NEWS AND VIEWS
… Have a DRAMATIC Halloweekend : Try something different this scary season; get spooked at the theater:
Common Ground Theater is presenting a “Halloween Family Night Spooktacular ,” featuring food, games, giveaways and entertainment. There’s a Family-Friendly show for all ages, 5:30-7:30 p.m. and a “Scary 2nd Show” for teens and adults (8-10:30 p.m.). Friday, October 30, at Preferred Cremation and Burial, 6527 University Ave. (619) 263-7911; www.commongroundtheatre.org
Chronos Theatre Group offers its 5th annual Día de los Muertos performance, commemorating those who have passed on. The evening includes live music, visual arts, readings from Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and a traditional altar. Refreshments will be available, as well as a raffle with prizes from around the world. Sunday, Nov. 1, 7-10 p.m. at Swedenborg Hall, 1531 Tyler Ave. (619) 615-8928; www.chronostheatre.com
DangerHouse Theater Company presents HP Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch House,” the story of a young math/physics student fascinated by the legend of a local 17th century witch who claimed that she could travel through space and time. When his interest turns to obsession, he decides to rent out the room the witch once inhabited. While there, his witchy dreams and visions become horrific realities. The run concludes at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 28 and Nov. 2, at Queen Bee’s Arts and Cultural Center , 3925 Ohio St in North Park . http://dreamsinthewitchhouse.net/
The California Center for the Arts, Escondido is holding a free, family-friendly celebration of Día de los Muertos , an event focused on the annual installation of Eloy Tarcisio’s “ Muerte de todos ofrenda de participación .” Visitors are encouraged to leave personal objects at the installation altar, in memory of loved ones. Activities will include free art projects, an artisan-guided workshop and traditional refreshments. (760) 839-4138; www.artcenter.org
… FREE THEATER!: You still have a chance to nab some FREE theater tix , as part of the 5th annual, national Free Night of Theater, which continues through November 8. The program is taking place in more than 120 cities nationwide, with 750 participating theater companies. Spearheaded by the Theatre Communications Group in New York , the ticket giveaway is locally organized by the San Diego Performing Arts League. Tickets are available from such organizations as Cygnet Theatre, San Diego Repertory Theatre, Diversionary Theatre, the La Jolla Playhouse, ion theatre, San Diego Symphony, Playwrights Project, Orchestra Nova, San Diego Ballet, and more. Visit www.sdwhatsplaying.com and click on “Free Night of Theater 2009” to select and claim your tickets.
… FREE DAY OF DANCE !: The three resident companies at Dance Place , NTC in Point Loma are offering a Free Day of Dance. Mark your calendar now, so you can check out Malashock Dance, Jean Isaacs San Diego Dance Theater and the San Diego Ballet, all day ( 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.) on December 26. Details to come.
… Making Theater History: According to lyricist/librettist Bill Russel , one of the creators of the Tony-nominated 1997 musical, “Side Show” (music by Henry Krieger), San Diegans Shauna Hart Ostrom and Shelly Hart Breneman are the only identical twins who have ever portrayed the conjoined twins who are the centerpiece of the show. The story, based in fact, concerns the rags-to-riches lives of Daisy and Violet Hilton , conjoined twins who, in the 1930s, made the transition from circus act to famous stage performers. The multi-talented Hart sisters, who are co-directors of the Actors Alliance of San Diego, starred in Premiere Productions’ local premiere of the show in 2006. Now they’re mounting their own production, under the banner of Harts Performance, Inc. This will be the company’s inaugural mainstage production, directed by Shaun T. Evans, with musical direction by Michael Grant Hall. The musical runs Nov. 14-29 at the Lyceum Space. (619) 944-7574; www.hartsperformanceinc.com
… Art Mirrors Life: Acclaimed actor Patrick Page (stellar in the title role of last summer’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” at the Old Globe) will be joined by his wife, Paige Davis, to perform a short run of “I Do ! I Do !, ” a musical that chronicles five decades in the life of a married couple. The show, by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, creators of “The Fantasticks ,” was based on “The Fourposter ” by Jan de Hartog ; a large bed famously takes center stage. The Pages (could her name really be Paige Page?) take the stage, too — at the Old Globe’s new Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. December 11-20. (629) 23-GLOBE; www.theoldglobe.org
… Youth on Parade: The Playwrights Project presents “Writers in the Next Stage,” an introduction to the world of live theater, as part of the ‘Center Stage: Performances for Youth’ program at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido . The Center makes performances available to students for only $2 per person. This year’s featured playwrights are San Diego residents Ben Kelly, age 13, and Laignee Barron, age 16. Kelly’s play, “Idaho Lament,” is full of clever dialogue and funny, Broadway-inspired songs, set to the story of a teen’s battle with bullies. Barron’s play, “If I Were Your Superhero,” is a drama about a young teenager, saddled with an alcoholic mother, who befriends a talkative boy with Asperger Syndrome. A discussion follows the performances. Tuesday, Nov. 17, at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. www.artcenter.org . The Playwrights Project Performance and Award Ceremony, with excerpts from the Lifestages Intergenerational Partnerships and introduction of the winners of the 2009 California young Playwrights Contest, will take place on November 7 at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla , 6:30-9:00 p.m. The 2nd annual Deborah Salzer Excellence in Arts Education Award will be presented to Courtney Flanagan, drama teacher at The Bishop’s School.
… Arts in Schools: In these days of dwindling academic funding, when the arts are often the first ‘frill’ to go, the California Center for the Arts, Escondido is hosting a free, four-part workshop series designed to provide teachers with fun and inspiring ways to incorporate arts in the classroom. Geared for grades K-8, the workshops focus on ‘Visual Thinking Strategies’ (11/5), ‘Using Drama to Teach History/Social Science’ (Jan. 14), ‘Teaching Language Arts through Photography’ (3/4) and ‘The Art of Science’ (5/13). The presentations are free, no prior experience is necessary and walk-ins are accepted on a first-come/first-served basis. Reserve a space at (760) 839-4173.
… Pods: Check out the podcast of my weekly appearances on “ Madison in the Morning” at KPRI-FM. Every Thursday and Friday morning (some time in the 7-8 a.m. hour), we talk about a local theater production, thanks to the media partnership of SDNN. You can subscribe to the podcasts on KPRI’s Arts and Entertainment page (under Events/Stuff) at kprifm.com/pages/arts
… Puttin ’ on the dog: In the September 2009 issue of “Dog Fancy,” readers of the magazine named San Diego “ America’s Best Big City for Dogs .” Based on reader nominations, the voters considered the presence of dog-friendly activities, restaurants, businesses, dog parks, medical specialists, pro-dog legislation and other criteria. So, is America ’s Finest City going to the dogs?
… Theater comes to SeaWorld: Next May, SeaWorld San Diego will debut a new “theatrical” dolphin show called “Blue Horizons,” featuring bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales, exotic birds and acrobatic performers. According to early descriptions, “the show will blend the amazing grace of animals with the lavish splendor of a Broadway production,” to tell the tale of Marina, a young girl whose vivid imagination sets the stage for “a spectacular extravaganza. ” In preparation, Dolphin Stadium will be closed while the new stage, sound system, high-tech water features and 700 additional guest seats are constructed.
… Kudos to ConVis : Readers of “ Successful Meetings” magazine recently awarded the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau the prominent 2009 Pinnacle Award, for the 16th year in a row. The honor acknowledges an outstanding commitment to providing excellent hospitality, service, innovation and amenities to meeting planners and visitors. Con Vis also received the 2009 Award of Excellence from “Corporate & Incentive Travel ” magazine, for its outstanding meeting and incentive programs.
The READING CORNER
… Equality Now: Write Out Loud, the company dedicated to reading literature aloud, is offering a special presentation, in collaboration with Diversionary Theatre and ion theatre, to benefit the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation. “Prism, Prose and Passion” features stories of the LGBT community, written by Christopher Isherwood, Rita Mae Brown, Robert J. Hughes and others, read by Tom Andrew , Jonathan Dunn-Rankin, Linda Libby , Veronica Murphy and Camille Davidson. Sunday, November 2 at 2 p.m., at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd. Reservations at: (619) 297-8953 or email@example.com
… Senior Stakeout: “A Word of Secrecy” is a new serio -comedy by local playwright Allan Havis, based on a real event. This past May, an 85 year-old man, a retired U.S. Army Air Corps veteran who lived with his wife of 57 years in a retirement community in Monroe Township , New Jersey , confessed that he leaked classified U.S. military documents to an Israeli agent in the early 1980s. Why it took the government 23 years to charge Ben -Ami Kadish was a mystery to the judge. The case included allegations of espionage and even talk of the death penalty, but Kadish hobbled out of federal court without a prison sentence, just harsh words from the judge and a fine of $50,000. Those are the facts, ma’am. As Havis describes his play, “Someone’s gone absolutely rogue at Shapiro Senior Center , and the freakin ’ FBI is at the door!” A free public reading of the new work will star legendary comic Shelley Berman and legendary local theatermaker Arthur Wagner, in addition to Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson, Julia Fulton and Rhona Gold , directed by Ruff Yeager . Monday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m., in the La Jolla Playhouse Play Development Center .
PAT’S PICKS: BEST BETS
“The Lion King” – the king of beasts is back; a true spectacle, marvelously imaginative
Civic Theatre, through 11/8
Read Review here: http://www.sdnn.com/sandiego/2009-10-21/things-to-do/pat-launer-on-san-diego-theater-lion-king-joyful-folly
“Dog Act” – inventive, amusing, linguistically brilliant and magnificently performed
Moxie Theatre, through 11/22
“A Joyful Noise” – joyful, indeed! outstanding presentation of a historical drama
Lamb’s Players Theatre, through 11/22
“Talley’s Folly” – lovely performances of a sweet, gentle, touching late-life romance
North Coast Repertory Theatre, through 11/8
“Frozen” – dark, intense and very well done
ion theatre, through 10/31
“Nine Parts of Desire” – heart-rending stories of Iraqi women, wonderfully told
Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company, through 11/1
“Man from Nebraska ” – beautifully nuanced production of a quietly provocative play
Cygnet Theatre, through 11/1
“Creditors” – a brutal ménage à trois , excellently executed
La Jolla Playhouse, through 11/1
“Sammy” – a promising world premiere musical, in its earliest incarnation
Old Globe Theatre, through 11/8
“ Godspell ” – energetic, inspiring
Lamb’s Players Theatre at the Horton Grand Theatre, through 11/22
Pat Launer is the SDNN theater critic.
To read any of her prior reviews, type ‘Pat Launer’ into the SDNN Search box.