Pat Launer on San Diego Theater
By Pat Launer , SDNN
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Mini Reviews of: “Rent,” New Perspective Festival, “My Name is Asher Lev”
The Nose Knows
THE SHOW: “Cyrano de Bergerac,” the 1897 masterwork by French dramatist Edmond Rostand; part of the Old Globe’s Summer Shakespeare Festival
You probably remember his protuberance, but not his other standout features: like his swordsmanship, rapier wit, poetic brilliance and medical knowledge. And did you know that Cyrano de Bergerac was a real-life character?
He was a 17th century freethinker, a popular poet, writer and duelist. By all reports (there’s even a statue of him in the town of Bergerac today), he had a big nose, but not nearly as colossal an olfactory organ as Rostand gave his oversized character. He was not a Gascon, like the fictionalized Cyrano, though he did fight in the 1640 siege of Arras , a battle of the Thirty Years’ War. The real de Bergerac, a contemporary of Molière, wrote proto-sci-fi novels that included space travel.
Rostand’s model for Roxane was Bergerac’s cousin, who lived with his aunt at a convent, where the real Cyrano was treated in 1654 for injuries sustained from a falling beam. As in the play, it was never determined whether the incident was accidental or deliberate. It’s clear that the love between Roxane and the cadet Christian is entirely fictional, and that Rostand creation spawns the most interesting parts of the play.
The dramatic Cyrano is in love with his distant cousin, but so fearful of rebuff, because of his freakish appearance, that he silently harbors the devotion, and suffers for it. When she calls him to her, he is elated, thinking this is his big moment and that she, too, has fondness for him. But alas, she has eyes only for Cyrano’s younger and handsomer fellow cadet, Christian. The man is a pleasant enough fellow, but a bit of a dullard, particularly inarticulate in the ways of courtship. So Cyrano volunteers to step in and feed him the words, write the letters; this allows him to pour out his heart, but also to have it broken. When Roxane later retreats to a convent, he visits her regularly, for 15 years, never revealing what had transpired in that early romance. Beneath the veneer of bravado, he is honorable, caring, principled to the last. When Roxane discovers the truth of the words and wooing, it’s already too late, and a tender, tear-jerking scene ends the play.
Cyrano, a delightful, swashbuckling, larger-than-life character, is also an arrogant braggart, but we’ll accept his few foibles, in light of his enormous wit and brilliance. Of course, he’ll brook no comments on his nose, though he expounds freely on it, at great – and hilarious – length. He refuses to be subservient to any man, and not having a wealthy patron, he winds up poverty-stricken, unlike his rival, the Comte de Guiche, who ends the play wealthy but barren and purposeless, envious of Cyrano’s life-long honesty, freedom and independence.
It takes a big space to accommodate this huge epic of a play, and a remarkable actor to fill the great man’s shoes. Patrick Page is perfection itself, offering us a multi-hued, complex character who is both admirable and insufferable, loud and brash, kind-hearted and tender. The astonishing performance is delicately nuanced, both thrilling and heart-breaking. Page has played the character before, but not with the splendidly warm, literate and lyrical translation by Anthony Burgess (“A Clockwork Orange”), that late master of linguistic legerdemain. Employing an American accent, as does the entire outstanding ensemble, Page makes the poetry pellucid, the emotions crystalline.
This is the first of the Shakespeare Festival openings, and the first non-Shakespeare play in the six years that Darko Tresnjak has been artistic director of the summer season. The production highlights this year’s repertory company spectacularly; the scope of the play is an ideal counterpart to the works of the Bard.
Dana Green is lovely and lively as Roxane, and Brendan Griffin is aptly coltish, doltish and handsome as Christian. Bruce Turk, a favorite in the summer Festival, is wonderful as the antagonistic de Guiche. Eric Hoffman, so hilarious as Falstaff in last year’s “Merry Wives of Windsor,” does another massive comic turn as the pastry chef Ragueneau. Katie MacNichol and Charles Janasz (an Associate Artist of the Globe), always welcome Globe returnees, are excellent in three roles each. The 13 MFA students from the Old Globe/USD Master’s program acquit themselves well.
The production is superb. Ralph Funicello ’s design for the three outdoor repertory productions is draped in huge swaths of cloth to delineate the act/scene changes: from an opulent red velvet, with sumptuous folds reminiscent of the plush fabric in old oil paintings, to white muslin for the bakery and flags for the battle scene. The lighting (York Kennedy) is stunning, and Christopher Walker’s crisp sound and evocative music beautifully enhance the various settings.
Once again, director Darko Tresnjak proves himself to be a master of the large cast, and the deep character study. This is one glorious classic that should not be missed at any cost. Never mind the 3+ hours; the time fairly flies, you’re so caught up in the story and these wonderful, eloquent, humorous, flamboyant folk. Rostand brought ‘panache’ into the American lexicon. Tresnjak brings it onto the Festival stage.
THE LOCATION: The Old Globe’s outdoor Festival Stage, in Balboa Park . (619) 23-GLOBE (234-5623) ; www.oldglobe.org
THE DETAILS: Tickets: $29-68. Tuesday-Sunday at 8 p.m. , playing in repertory with “Twelfth Night” and “Coriolanus,” through September 27.
THE BOTTOM LINE: BEST BET
David and Giulia
THE SHOW: “Restoration,” a world premiere commissioned by the La Jolla Playhouse
In 2004, an art restorer, Cinzia Parnigoni, landed the plum job of spending a year cleaning and revitalizing Michelangelo’s David. Perhaps actor/writer Claudia Shear, who in her Off Broadway hit, “Blown Sideways Through Life,” which chronicled her 60 some-odd jobs (accent on the ‘odd’), thought she could add another one, at least fictionally. So she collaborated once again with director Christopher Ashley , artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse, to create “Restoration,” a world premiere which feels very much like a work in progress.
Shear plays Guilia, an ill-tempered, unrefined perfectionist who refers to herself as “a has-been, a never-was.” She seems angry at the world, though we never really find out why. When her old teacher/mentor barges in, with the opportunity of a lifetime, she’s surly and unappreciative. It seems he nearly destroyed her career years ago (in a very hazy and poorly defined incident) and now he’s about to restore it, and catapult her to ‘scrubber’ stardom. She never fully forgives him for the earlier affront. Although he recommended her for the high-profile job, he’s totally against the controversial project, believing that art should age naturally and show the ravages of time, not be artificially returned to its original state of innocence. “Look what they did to the Sistine Chapel!,” he exclaims. Nonetheless, in a “Machiavellian” plan, he pushes her forward.
She makes it over several hurdles, winning over, however reluctantly, two women on the committee. And with that, Shear has created a fantasy family. The mentor is the on again/off again Dad, who can’t be relied on for consistency of love and support. The older woman who oversees the project is the prickly surrogate Mom, who provides consistent encouragement, accepting her ‘offspring’ warts and all. The younger woman on the project, Daphne, is the competitive sister who was blessed with both looks and brains. She’s “long and thin” and beautiful, though she does reveal the perils of being pretty; we also watch her deal with the slow death of her mother (dirty diapers and all), though this side-story doesn’t add much to the central narrative. David is the object of desire, the Perfect Man that Giulia loves with all her being; but he’s cold, unfeeling, unresponsive – and unreal. The genuine flesh-and-blood semi-suitor is Max, the security guard in the Accademia rotunda where David stands. He’s human, flawed (he has a limp, and he’s married – with an eye for pretty young women); he’s also smart and gentle. But Giulia treats him badly, too. Then there’s the cleaning woman, who serves no particular function, and the Nonna who encourages Guilia to kiss the statue (none of the female characters is really germane to whatever meager plot there is).
Although the play is billed as the tale of a woman who restored Michelangelo’s David, and vice versa, we don’t see much arc, journey or ‘restoration’ in Giulia. Perhaps she’s a tad less irascible and disagreeable at the conclusion. She makes a stab at some apologies, tries to mend a few fences. But she’s not particularly good at it, and she isn’t particularly likable, at the beginning or the end. We don’t really sympathize with the protagonist, and she doesn’t give us much to care about. The text, which can be funny at times, and magical at others, is also strewn with monologues of the didactic variety. Still, we are fascinated by the concept, by the idea of what it must have been like to spend all that time with the most gorgeous of artistic creations.
As Shear proved in her Obie-winning performance in “Blown Sideways” and her Tony nom for “Dirty Blonde” (about Mae West), she’s a compelling actor. The rest of the cast is also wonderful. As Professor Williams, Alan Mandell, looking like John Gielgud and acting like the BBC’s art historian/host Kenneth Clark, is first-rate. Kate Shindle is lithe, lovely, very well dressed (costumes by David C. Woolard) and a little icy as the striking Daphne. Natalija Nogulich, well remembered for her stellar performances in “Hedda Gabler” at the Playhouse (1987) and “The White Rose” at the Globe (1991), does fine work as three very different characters, none of whom really leaves a mark on the proceedings. Though his Italian accent wavers, Daniel Serafini-Sauli is the most human, humane, likable, non-stereotypical of the characters as Max, the security guard. He has humor and heart. We like him, we feel for him, we want him to have more of an impact on churlish Giulia.
Christopher Ashley has directed with wit and sensitivity. The design elements are outstanding: Broadway veteran and Tony Award-winner Scott Pask has placed us in the rotunda, with wainscoted walls that raise and lower as Giulia climbs up on the scaffolding to reach the various parts of the statue. And parts are all we see. The ingenious rotating monolith in the center, handsomely lit (by David Lander, who also did a spectacular job on “33 Variations,” at the Playhouse and on Broadway), features shadow-boxes displaying specific sections of the statue: the chest, foot, head, genitals. In the course of her work, Giulia makes love, as much as she can, to each of them (stealing a kiss, baring her breasts to be torso-to-torso with David). We almost never see the full statue, except in projections, part of the new technology Max gleefully shows off to Giulia. The playful moments are the strong ones. The portentous and art-lecture monologues mostly fall flat. Too much technical information is conveyed. There is obviously a lot of passion in the writer/actor; more of it has to waft into the story in future drafts.
THE LOCATION: The Mandell Weiss Forum at the La Jolla Playhouse, on the campus of UCSD; (858) 550-1010; www.lajollaplayhouse.org
THE DETAILS: Tickets: $30-65. Tuesday-Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m., through July 19.
… Breaking New Ground: CYC Theatre, the California Youth Conservatory , is the first youth theater company in the world to produce the full-score version of the era-defining musical, “Rent.” Recently, high schools and communities around the country have been canceling productions of the abbreviated youth version of the still-provocative, Tony Award-winning 1994 musical by the late Jonathan Larson, who got his ideas from Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème.” But Shaun Evans, fearless artistic director of CYC, who’s already mounted productions of challenging musicals like “Ragtime,” “Jekyll and Hyde” and “Les Miz,” went for the gold again, and the families of nearly three dozen young performers went with him. To help prepare them, Evans offered a week-long workshop, taught by Rodney Hicks, who performed in the original Broadway production, and much-admired actor/singer Karole Forman, who co-directed and choreographed this show.
The controversy surrounding youth productions of the piece is, of course, its theme and setting: under the shadow of AIDS , impoverished young artists and musicians struggle to survive and create in the thriving boho days of New York ‘s Lower East Side . There’s sexuality and homosexuality, drug addiction, disease and all manner of mayhem, not to mention plenty of raw language and arcane literary references. It’s commendable that CYC undertook such a heady, difficult project. But even with all the songs and text remaining intact, this still feels like a watered-down version of the show. The attempts at sexuality are weak, and there’s no credible connection between any of the three central couples: Roger and Mimi, Angel and Collins, Maureen and Joanne. The costumes don’t seem to reflect the poverty of the characters; they look very upscale and very 2009. And they’re wearing short sleeves and short skirts in the dead of a New York winter! But the singing is excellent throughout.
Sixteen year-old Joshua Pinkowski is agile and engaging as Mark, the filmmaker and narrator of the piece. Accomplished young actor/singer Luke Marinkovich , winner of the 1st annual Patté Scholarship and current student at the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, is fine, if muted, as Roger, the HIV-positive songwriter who can’t seem to write his “one last song.” Lauren Hunter, who received the Patté Scholarship Honorable Mention last year, is terrific as the bisexual, wild-woman performance artist, Maureen, and Katy Gutierrez is a commanding presence as her put-upon girlfriend, Joanne. Jason Marks is solid as Tom Collins and Dominique Petit Frere captures the sound, if not all the moves, of the angelic Angel. As Mimi, Merri Baehr has a sexy look and high blasting voice, and Deborah Terrell raises the roof with her “Seasons of Love” solo.
There was a Michael Jackson tribute the night I was there (“Ben” — the song about the rat??). The five-piece band, under the musical supervision of drummer/percussionist Danny King , was great during the show, and amazingly quick and resourceful when the singer lost her taped musical accompaniment. King started with some percussion backup and one by one, the musicians established the key and joined in. Wonderful improv work! Kudos all around, for taking on this challenge.
“Rent” continues through 7/5 at the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza . www.cyctheatre.com
… Tragic Power: I read “My Name is Asher Lev,” Chaim Potok’s breathtaking and heart-rending 1972 novel, shortly after it was published. I’d loved his best-seller, “The Chosen” (1967), but I was completely smitten by “Asher Lev.” I never quite forgot the book, or the character. He’s a marvelous creation; Potok, an ordained Rabbi as well as an award-winning novelist who died in 2002, said Asher was the character he identified with most.
Asher Lev is an artist who can’t help himself; he has to draw and paint. But he is forever chafing against his strict, Orthodox Jewish community (a fictional sect, the Ladover, based on the Chabad/Lubavich movement) that looks down on art as frivolous and is horrified by the forbidden representation of “naked women.” Like “The Chosen,” this novel confronts the conflict between father and son, tradition and modernity, and explores the very definition of humanity. It’s a brilliant, moving, universal and illuminating work of art.
A couple of years ago, Aaron Posner, who adapted “The Chosen” so effectively as a play, took a stab at “My Name is Asher Lev,” working with Potok’s widow. A few months ago, he premiered the drama at the Arden Theatre Company that he founded in Philadelphia . There is already talk of a New York production, so the full production rights aren’t being made available. But North Coast Repertory Theatre, which had done such a magnificent job with “The Chosen” in 2004, snagged permission for a staged reading, and made it a two-performance part of the Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival.
Steve Lipinsky was set to direct, and he contracted with an L.A. actor to play the title character. Two days before the first performance, the man took ill, and Lipinsky stepped into the role. He was marvelous, conveying all the emotion and ambivalence of balancing an artistic ‘gift’ and a family ripped apart by it. Asher Lev goes on to become a famous artist, and he creates a controversial painting called “Brooklyn Crucifixion,” which depicts his mother on a cross, torn between her husband and her son. Potok, also a painter, actually created a piece by that name, in Asher’s abstract expressionist style (an image of the painting can be viewed at: http://spectrummagazine.typepad.com/the_spectrum_blog/2006/07/art_chaim_potok.html ). That brings just a little more realism to a thoroughly credible, riveting fiction.
Linda Libby , one of our finest local actors, was moving as the forward-thinking and conflicted mother, seductive as the model, Rachel; and New York aggressive as the art dealer Anna Schaeffer. The outstanding triumvirate (the play is written for three actors playing multiple characters) was completed by David Ellenstein , artistic director of NCRT. It was a genuine treat to see him onstage again. He was masterful in a variety of roles: the hidebound Aryeh Lev, Asher’s father; the far more open-minded Uncle Yitzchak; the ancient but wise Rebbe; and the hopped up, demanding, captivating mentor, the artist Jacob Kahn. This was an enormously satisfying production, stunningly acted. It would be wonderful to see the play fully staged. Everyone in the theater felt the same; we’ll see how events transpire.
… One Night, One Perspective: I was only able to catch one of the three programs that comprised the third annual New Perspective Festival, which was held at Swedenborg Hall over two weekends this month. The Festival has filled the gap left by the long-running and much-lamented Actors Festival, which allowed local actors to try their hand at writing and directing. Under the aegis of artistic director Kelly Lapczynski, the Festival featured a total of 24 plays and 17 playwrights. Of the eight pieces I saw, most 10-15 minutes in length, there was a common concern: the brief playlets revealed an interesting idea that wasn’t taken to a satisfying conclusion. Many ended abruptly, without sufficient resolution. The direction and performances were earnest, but variable in professionalism and effectiveness. The comical topics covered were: board-game addiction (“Don’t Play Games with Me,” by Matt Thompson ); kleptomania and cremains (“The Earnest Importance of Being,” by Gary Seger); the trials of teaching unmotivated high school students (“Teacher Teacher,” by Paola Hornbuckle).
The intriguing plays with more serious subjects focused on: marital infidelity (“The Fling Thing,” by Peter Mitsopoulos and “Fine Can Be Fine,” by Lizzie Silverman); a theater director firing his mentor (“Cue to Exit”); dealing with a parent with Alzheimer’s Disease by out-sourcing the care abroad, (“He’s Not Him,” a black comedy by Craig Abernethy). The highlight of Program Three, and the winner of the audience-voted Best of the Evening, was “Love Unrequited in Three Galleries: Evening (European Gallery)” by Kevin Six, who wrote two other pieces (the other two “Galleries”) and directed “Fine Can Be Fine.”
In “Love Unrequited,” an older man (Andy Boutelle, excellent) returns to a museum on his anniversary, to visit the site where he fell in love with his late wife of 40 years, a painter who died 25 years ago. Annie (Kimberly Ford, aptly ethereal) appears to him and they reminisce. Then, another couple (Ryan Mirvis and funny/antic Elizabeth Taylor) comes in with their officiant, a masked, caped crusader (Nestor Gabeldon), to have a quickie wedding ceremony in front of the same painting that entranced Arthur and Annie. The older couple realizes that these two “don’t love each other enough.” With Annie’s guidance, Arthur gets the two to be more honest and open, to express their love more deeply and sincerely. When he finishes that little task, and serves as the witness to the marriage, Arthur is ready to be reunited with his beloved wife. Sweet piece, nicely done.
The Best of the Best award went to David Wiener’s “Feeding Time at the Human House,” directed by Jonathan Sturch, who performed with Dawn Williams. The brief one-act, which was originally produced at the Challenge III Festival of short plays at Compass Theatre, won Best Play last month at the 15-Minute Play Festival in New York City. Congrats to David Wiener, artist in residence at the San Diego Shakespeare Society. In case you missed it, “Feeding Time” will have an encore performance at the University Heights Arts Open on September 20, at Swedenborg Hall.
Other Festival awards went to “Twisting the Cat” by Alan Kilpatrick, directed by Carla Nell , performed in Program One by Wendy Savage and Reed Willard, with Honorable Mention going to Kevin Six’s “Love Unrequited in Three Galleries: Morning (American Masters),” directed by Catherine Miller, performed by Ann Clegg and Anthony Hamm. The Best Actress of the Festival was Samantha Ginn, who appeared in Steve Koppman’s “Cell Shock,” directed by Jennifer Tyrer; the Best Actor Award went to Jonathan Dunn-Rankin in “Kathleen McLaughlin’s “Teed Off,” directed by Dennis Hollenbeck. Now that the Festival has established itself over three years, it’s time to raise the bar on the quality of the plays, directing and performances, with more oversight and fewer productions, if they don’t meet the more stringent criteria.
NEWS AND VIEWS
… Brava!: Victoria Hamilton , San Diego’s premier champion of the arts, was honored last week with the Selina Roberts Ottum Award for Arts Leadership by Americans for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. The award is targeted to someone who exhibits “outstanding leadership qualities and a demonstrable dedication to the arts and arts advocacy.“ Hamilton certainly fills the bill. She’s been a powerhouse in the local arts community, serving as executive director of the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture for more than two decades. She was “totally shocked” by the award, she said, which was delivered at the annual conference of Americans for the Arts in Seattle . “I was ecstatic,” said Hamilton . “This is a big deal in my field, the ultimate award. And it was the perfect place to receive it, because I started my arts administration career in the Pacific Northwest , more than 30 years ago. I slipped down the coast from border to border,” she said with a chuckle, referring to her beginnings in Bellingham, Washington, near British Columbia, with progressive moves down the coast to Tacoma, then Santa Barbara and finally, lucky for us, San Diego. The award is named for the late President of the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies, a precursor to Americans for the Arts; Hamilton served on the board of that organization. A hand-written note to her from the Mayor acknowledged that Hamilton has “changed the way we support the arts in San Diego .” He said she “continues to be an innovative force within City government.” Hamilton was also happy to report the just-confirmed news that San Diego will host the national conference of Americans for the Arts in June 2011. That event will undoubtedly spotlight San Diego ’s arts organizations and offerings, and should raise our national profile even higher.
…Nutty!: Marvin Hamlisch, Principal Conductor of the San Diego Symphony Pops, is at work on another musical theater project. He was brought in by Jerry Lewis to write the score for a new musical version of “The Nutty Professor,” to be directed by the 83 year-old Lewis, who starred in and directed the original 1963 film. The Oscar, Tony and Grammy-winning Hamlisch is best known in theater circles for his Tony-winning score for “A Chorus Line.” For book and lyrics, Lewis has hired Rupert Holmes, two-time Tony winner for “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” (1985), for which he wrote book, lyrics, music and orchestrations. More recently, Holmes was Tony-nominated for “Curtains.” This is Lewis’ Broadway directing debut; the show is scheduled to open during the 2010-11 Broadway season.
… Sneak Peek at The Wives: Media, staff, sponsors and Old Globe board members were invited to a preview rehearsal of the world premiere, Broadway-bound musical, “The First Wives Club.” The composers, the legendary HDH (Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland), who wrote songs for The Supremes, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye and Martha and the Vandellas, weren’t present. But everyone else involved in the production was, including director Francesca Zambello, who was funny and articulate, in a brash, New York kind of way, and book-writer Rupert Holmes, as well as the designers and cast. The project began germinating three summers ago, and the intention was always not to just re-tell the 1996 movie, which starred Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton. The 1990s film followed the 1980s book, said Zambello, and now, “in the noughts, there’ll be, we hope, a great musical.” She stressed that the new show will not be about vengeance, but “women bettering themselves,” coming together and “bonding over the loss of their friend, and finding the meaning of friendship and family.” And it won’t be “just about three middle-class white women. The Goldie Hawn character is now black. So there’s a black couple, a Jewish couple and a very WASPy couple.” Holmes, who started out as a pop songwriter (“The Piña Colada Song” is his), called Holland-Dozier-Holland “one of the greatest pop-songwriting teams in American history, with 40 hit songs in the Top 20. The company performed four numbers: the anthemic “Ready for Change,” the ballad “My Heart Wants to Try One More Time,” the comical “You’re So Lucky” and the spirited “Jump for Joy.” Previews of the show begin July 17 and the opening is July 31. www.oldglobe.org
After the performance, I got a moment to chat with Rupert Holmes, who confirmed that while he’s working on “Wives Club,” he’s also meeting with Marvin Hamlisch (who’s conducting the Pops’ 4th of July extravaganza this weekend) to lay down the second act of “The Nutty Professor.” At the same time, he’s developing a new non-musical, “Witness for the Prosecution,” based on an Agatha Christie story that was made into a film (1956) and TV movie (1982). He’s already gotten the rights from the Christie estate, and he’s well on his way. Talk about your multi-taskers…
News from The East :
… The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $15 million increase for both the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for FY 2010. This increase, which would bring both agencies’ budgets to $170 million, exceeds President Obama’s budget request for the NEA by $8.7 million. It’s the highest proposed appropriation for the NEA since its $176 million peak in FY 1992. However, and that’s a BIG however, the Senate Appropriations Committee set NEA and NEH funding at only $161 million each, and the Senate is yet to vote. If you’re so inspired, contact your Senators to support arts and humanities funding.
… A recent gathering of more than 160 playwrights and producers, most of them female, heard the surprising results of a year-long research project that both confirmed and upended assumptions about gender bias in the theater. Emily Glassberg Sands, a Princeton economics student who’s headed to Harvard this fall for graduate work, undertook the study, but eminent economists vouched for its quality. Ms. Sands reviewed listings of 20,000 playwrights and found that there were twice as many males as females, and the males tended to be more prolific. She unearthed undeniable discrimination against female playwrights in the theatre community, but her study also revealed a shortage of good scripts by women.
In the second phase of her study, Sands sent identical scripts to artistic directors and literary managers across the country. Half the cover-sheets named a man as the writer of the script; half named a woman. The ‘women’s’ scripts received significantly worse ratings in terms of quality, economic prospects and audience response. Most shockingly, it was the female theater leaders who drove the results. That is, men rated male and female playwrights exactly the same, but women rated female playwrights lower.
For the third part of her multi-stage study, Sands looked at the 329 new plays and musicals produced on Broadway in the past ten years. Women wrote fewer than one in eight shows. That’s a well-documented statistic. But what Sands added to the mix is data that showed that the plays and musicals written by women earned more money, selling 16% more tickets a week, and showing 18% more profit overall than the plays written by men. And yet, producers did not keep the women’s plays running any longer than less profitable shows written by men. The conclusion was that producers discriminate against women playwrights, and also plays that feature female characters. There will undoubtedly be a great deal of fallout from these studies (the letters are already pouring in to the New York Times) but it did give many people pause. San Diego theater decision-makers, take note. Maybe we can reverse some of these trends locally.
PAT’S PICKS: BEST BETS
v “Cyrano de Bergerac” – stunning, magnificent production of a timeless, heart-rending classic
The Old Globe’s Festival Stage, in repertory through 9/27
v “Over the Tavern“ – Oh, those wacky Catholics! A laugh-a-minute comedy with a terrific cast
North Coast Repertory Theatre, through 7/12
v “The Lonesome West” – black comedy that makes for violent Irish fun
Triad Productions at the 10th Avenue Theatre, through 7/7
v “The Fantasticks” – musical, fanciful, delightful
Lamb’s Players Theatre, through 7/28
Pat Launer is the SDNN theater critic.
To read any of her prior reviews, type ‘ Pat Launer ’ into the SDNN Search box.