Pat Launer on San Diego Theater
By Pat Launer , SDNN
Thursday, September 3, 2009
MINI-REVIEW of “The Forced Marriage”
THE SHOW: “Drink Me, or the Strange Case of Alice Times Three ,” a 2001 dark comic mystery, presented by Moxie Theatre
The men are disappearing. The women are into the occult. And one dogged Scotland Yard detective is trying to figure it all out.
We get a first glimpse of the guy alone, in a spotlight, trenchcoat collar turned up, hat brim pulled down, lighting a cigarette. Classic noir moment.
But Mary Fengar Gail’s play is also an homage to ‘ Alice in Wonderland’ and the English murder mystery. And oh yes, it’s slyly humorous , sometimes outright funny.
The playwright considers herself a fantasist, and amid the forceful women and feminist leanings in her works, there’s always a tinge of the other-worldly, or a sliver of magical realism. Here, we have black magic, goddess worship and a bevy (or would that be a coven?) of witchy women.
As Inspector General Fossmire (aka Fossie ) uncoils the twisted convolutions of the crime-spree –thousands of vagrant males disappearing from the streets of modern-day London, leaving behind not a trace, except their buttons — he’s confronted by a distraught mother, a couple of professors named Rime, who raised a highly idiosyncratic array of triplets (the Three Alices of the title). Now the trio is in self-imposed isolation, ensconced in hedonistic luxury, speaking in arcane, Jacobean English and communicating primarily in singsong nursery rhymes.
Fossie’s aristocratic mother, a rabid opponent of worldwide overpopulation (with some rather unorthodox approaches to ending same), is also implicated in the investigation, in not insignificant ways. It would be a shame to ruin the fun by revealing more. Suffice to say that though Fossie is a Mama’s Boy, still living at home, he does acquire a love interest: a female psychiatrist “sympathetic to witchcraft,” who helps him understand and unravel a good deal of what’s going on.
The black comedy, originally written in 2001, has had few productions (Gail told me she thinks not many theater companies have the guts to do such an offbeat, women-centered piece). The play underwent some changes during the Moxie rehearsals, and there are still a few inconsistencies, most notably in the proclamations of Lady Fossmire , who bookends the piece with her public discourses on “the millennium of misery.” Still, it’s a delightful and unpredictable ride. Gail has a unique voice, and a wickedly twisted perception of people and life.
Moxie and Gail have a past history (the 2007 world premiere of “Devil Dog Six,” a feminist view of the very male sport of horse-racing) and they share an off-beat sensibility. (As a side-note: Gail, who is the long-term mate of short-term Old Globe co-artistic director Jerry Patch, had a San Diego production years ago, when Kirsten Brandt , former Sledgehammer Theatre artistic director, directed “Carnival of Desire,” a fantasy about age vs. beauty, as part of the 8th annual Fritz Blitz of New Plays in 2001).
This is Moxie’s premiere production as resident company at the La Jolla Playhouse, which allows the company to stretch its wings, technically speaking. There are a few special effects that wouldn’t have been possible in most other theaters, and they add a delightful dimension to the proceedings. The bi-level set ( David F. Weiner ) sports two winding staircases (though an upstage exit might’ve made it easier – and less visible – for actors to descend unseen). The lighting (Mia Bane Jacobs) and sound (Rachel Le Vine) are aptly eerie, and the costumes (Jennifer Brawn Gittings ) are both character-appropriate and, in the case of the triplets, wonderfully whimsical. Same goes for the hair/wig designs (Missy Bradstreet), which have a decidedly ‘30s charm. The only thing missing is a dialect coach; some of those English vowels aren’t on-target.
Under the first-rate direction of Moxie co-founders Jennifer Eve Thorn and Delicia Turner Sonnenberg (both Patté Award winners for their directing acumen), the ensemble is excellent. Stephen Elton , artistic associate at North Coast Repertory Theatre, is making his local acting debut as the earnest but sometimes obtuse Fossie ; he’s quite convincing, in look and demeanor. Rhona Gold is marvelous as his patronizing, patrician Mum (her English accent’s the best, too). Laurie Lehmann-Gray and Kristianne Kurner (making her first foray outside her own theater, New Village Arts ) look terrific and display delectably subtle wit as the distressed mother and unflappable doctor. Mark Petrich is fine as the upper-crust, professorial Rime father and a lower-class detective. Riveting throughout are those irresistibly appalling Weird Sisters ( Jo Anne Glover , Morgan Trant and Melissa Fernandes), a salacious trio of evil, eternally entwined, speaking and singing in unison (and harmony).
All the intrigue gets sorted out in the end, but in a rather unnerving way. ‘Strange’ is right. And like all good fantasy, not too too far from some warped potential reality. Delectably done.
THE LOCATION: Moxie Theatre at the La Jolla Playhouse (Weiss Forum Studio) on the campus of UCSD . ( 858) 598-7620 ; www.moxietheatre.com
THE DETAILS: Tickets: $15-25. Thursday-Saturday at 7:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m , through September 27.
THE BOTTOM LINE: BEST BET
FREE THEATER !… That’s a great come-on for just about anyone. And ‘Outdoors’ makes it even more enticing. The Point Loma Actors Workshop, a performance-based acting company, is presenting its 2nd annual ‘Theatre on the Point’ production of Molière’s 1664 one-act , ” The Forced Marriage.” The show only runs for two weekends: the first was on Shelter Island , backgrounded by the beautiful Bay. This week (9/5-6), they’ll be in Ocean Beach . It may not be the most nuanced of productions, but it’s whimsical and fun, with period costumes and even a little audience participation. A few black panels provide a backdrop (and space for not-so-quick costume changes, which required a ‘seventh inning stretch’ for the audience, barely needed with a 45-minute running-time).
At the Shelter Island site, the group, under the direction of Hannah Ryan, made excellent use of the space, with some entrances originating on the grass, weaving through the audience. There were a few odd moments (the Mexican Hat Dance at the ‘break’ and a rock dance at the end), but everyone, young and old, seemed very much engaged. And the music that punctuates the action (Duke Pekin on guitar, David Billot , who also performed in the cast, on drums) adds a bit of extra spice.
The piece is a trifle, with Molière’s usual array of blunders and misconceptions about marriage. Most of his comedies sort themselves out at the conclusion, with a change of heart/will/mind by the deluded central character. But this play’s different. Sganarelle (Ron Kubicek , fine) gets his comeuppance, but not a happy ending.
He’s a middle-aged man who lustily plans to wed an attractive and very much younger woman, whom he thinks he can completely control. Fickle as he is, he’s greatly concerned about being cuckolded. So he seeks guidance from two comic philosophers (G. Lorenzo Crosby, over-the-top; and John Lee, solid), who spew endless streams of highfalutin’ absurdity, and provide no help or counsel whatsoever.
The lovely Dorimène (Rachel Bray, charming, in a huge white wig), who can’t wait to escape the clutches of her father, agrees to the wedding, with a plan in place for a hasty exit. When Sganarelle catches the ingénue with her young paramour, he reneges on his marital promise. But neither the girl’s father, nor her weapon-wielding brother, will capitulate. We can only imagine what ensues after the metaphorical curtain comes down.
This is a light, fizzy, entertaining way to while away an end-of-summer evening. Bring a blanket and/or a chair and enjoy. September 5-6 at 6 p.m., Ocean Beach Rec. Center Park (corner Ebers St. and Saratoga Avenue ). www.pointlomaactors.com
NEWS AND VIEWS
… POP Goes the Tour: The La Jolla Playhouse’s newest Performance Outreach Program (POP) Tour production is the world premiere of “Chile Pod,” a Playhouse commission by acclaimed, Minnesota-based Native American playwright Rhiana Yazzie , with original music by Gary Rue. The youth-oriented play centers on Carmen, a young Mixtec Indian girl, who’s trying to re-adjust to life after moving to Chula Vista from her native Oaxaca , Mexico . Directed by UCSD MFA graduate Sarah Rasmussen, the piece celebrates diversity, culture and belonging. A reading of the 50-minute play, which will tour local schools in February and March, takes place at the Playhouse on Friday, 9/4, at 6 p.m. Public performances will be held in March.
… “Bearing Exquisite Witness” is the provocative title of a three-day event, held in conjunction with the Women’s PeaceMakers Program at the University of San Diego ’s Institute for Peace and Justice. The intent is “to highlight the ability of the arts to transform individuals and reconcile communities who have suffered conflict and violence.” The Festival showcases playwrights, filmmakers, poets, musicians, visual artists and academics from the fields of theater arts and conflict resolution who are using the creative power of art to raise awareness, prevent violence, heal trauma and change policy. Among other participants, two local theater companies will be performing. On Thursday, 9/24, at 3:00 p.m., Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company will present a reading of “Dog and Wolf,” by La Jolla High School alum Catherine Filloux , who won the 2006 PeaceWriting Award from the Omni Center for Peace. Two of her other political writings, “Mary and Myra ” and “ Lemkin’s House,” have been performed locally. The cast for “Dog and Wolf,” which focuses on a Bosnian refugee, includes Robert Barry Fleming, Sandra Ellis-Troy and Seema Sueko , directed by Carrie Klewin . On 9/26, at 11:00 a.m., Moxie Theatre offers a reading of “Maria Kizito ,” by Eric Ehn , based on a horrifically true story, of a young nun in Rwanda who veers over the line between devotion and dementia. For the full schedule and other details of the Festival, go to www.sandiego.edu
… Theater with a money-back guarantee: Two small Chicago theater companies, Collaboraction and Teatro Vista, recently presented “El Grito del Bronx,” by Migdalia Cruz, which was commissioned in 1996 by the Public Theatre in New York (though it was never produced there). The dark drama concerns the relationship between a woman and her brother, a serial killer who’s dying of AIDS in jail. Enter the Chicago-based Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, which was committed to supporting companies producing shows that might be “particularly risky.” So it offered up to $10,000 in refund money for the 20 performances of the play this summer. To get the refund, audience members were asked (but not required) to stay till the end of the performance and to indicate why they were dissatisfied. Only 14 of the 3,000 people who saw the show requested a refund, at a total cost of $240. The company plans to return the unused cash to the Foundation, and might try the refund strategy again. This unusual attempt to attract new audiences and create buzz for a production caused hot debate in the theater community. Chris Jones, theater critic for The Chicago Tribune, wrote in his blog that the idea should die “a quick death,” because “art is not a light fixture.” It should be noted that the play was better attended than most of the companies’ other productions, and many audience members admitted that the refund offer influenced their decision to buy tickets. Some New York theater folks were disturbed by this “ commodification of the theatergoing experience.” The president of the League of Off Broadway Theaters and Producers asserted that theaters are “not in the business of providing free trials.” But the funding Foundation defended its experiment, as a way to encourage theaters and theatergoers to take chances in tough times. Food for thought. What do YOU think?
… Speaking of Money-Back Requests: The San Diego Actors Theatre, in association with L’Auberge Del Mar, is producing “Dive In Theater” a site-specific, original, “wet and wacky comedy” presented at the Inn’s lap pool. Written and directed by SDAT artistic director Patricia Elmore Costa , “Fiancée” is about Meryl the Mermaid, who just wants to find a mortal mate; Deek , who just wants to get rich; and John, the surfing scientist, who has suffered an unusual loss. Inspired by Meryl, and the film, “Lars and the Real Girl,” Deek sets about selling “Fiancées in a Box,” anatomically correct mermaid dolls that get returned by unhappy customers. During the show, the performers ( Teresa Beckwith, Jacob Caltrider and Javier Guerrero) swim, play and interact with the audience. Original music (by Teresa Henning, with guitar and vocals by Nicholas Costa), poolside monologues and a pre-show water ballet (from the YMCA team) are also part of the fun. September 18-19 at 7 p.m. at L’Auberge Del Mar, 1540 Camino Del Mar. Reservations and information at firstname.lastname@example.org
… A Mouthful of Mamet-news: As ion theatre gears up for its production of David Mamet’s Hollywood satire, “Speed-the-Plow” (9/9-26, at the Sushi Space in the East Village), the same play will be part of the new season at the Mark Taper Forum (Feb-March 2010), directed by Neil Pepe , who helmed the controversial 2008 Broadway production. That’s the one TV actor Jeremy Piven (Ari Gold in HBO’s “Entourage”) bowed out of in the middle of the run, claiming elevated levels of mercury in his blood, from eating too much sushi. This week, an arbitrator found nothing fishy about Piven’s premature departure, saying that he did not violate his contract. Mamet’s response to Piven’s ‘mercury defense’? “My understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer.”
…Unique ‘39’: “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps,” currently at the La Jolla Playhouse (through 9/13), is the only nonmusical on Broadway right now. It’s outlasted just about every other straight play, without the benefit of star-power or elaborate sets. The show has been running for a year and a half, and has made it through three theaters, cast changes and of course, the recession. After Labor Day, when other shows with higher profile performers come off summer hiatus, “The 39 Steps” will have to relinquish its place of distinction as the only Broadway nonmusical. One can’t deny that the magic of theater it celebrates is a triumph over more scenically bombastic times and productions. Jeffrey Kuhn, who portrays some three dozen characters in the Broadway production, told the New York Times: “It has restored my faith in the simple power of theater.”
… Doing Well and Doing Good: The President, and Michelle Obama, have made volunteerism a central part of their ‘United We Serve’ initiative, which calls for building communities across the country. Now Americans for the Arts is getting onboard, creating a new web portal dedicated to promoting community service opportunities for arts groups, arts volunteers and artists nationwide. The new site is a place for volunteers in the arts to share stories and upload photos and videos related to their experiences. The plan is to showcase arts and humanities service activities as part of the National Day of Service and Remembrance on September 11. By demonstrating the impact of arts volunteerism, Americans for the Arts aims to encourage arts volunteerism support. So, go online, share your story, become a partner (sign up as a free national partner for United We Serve: ARTSusa ); sign the petition to show your support of President Obama’s proposed ‘Artists Corps.’ You can also find volunteer opportunities based on your location and interests. serve.artsusa.org
… The Moonlight Cultural Foundation, fundraising arm of Moonlight Stage Productions, kicks off its fourth annual “ WordsWork ” free play-reading series with Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama, “Seascape.” Part satire, science fiction, domestic comedy-drama, and philosophy debate, the play tells the story of two couples, young and old, human and lizard (played by Sandra Ellis-Tory and Charlie Riendeau – the older humans; and New Village Arts ’ Joshua Everett Johnson and Amanda Morrow as the younger reptiles). Jackie Cuccaro directs. At the Avo Playhouse in Vista , September 14 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free. Forum to follow. (760) 630-7650.
… Carlsbad Playreaders take audiences to that beloved fictional town, Tuna, Texas , where “the Lion’s Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies.” The first and funniest of the Jaston Williams/Joe Sears Tuna franchise, “Greater Tuna” will be directed by Mira Costa College’s Patté Award-winning theater chair, Eric Bishop. Greg Hall and Kelly Kissinger play the 20 wacko inhabitants of tiny, redneck Tuna. September 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Dove Library in Carlsbad .
… Write Out Loud, the company that reads literature aloud, in meticulously prepared presentations, next offers “From Russia With Love,” short stories with Russian authors and themes. Writers include Chekhov, Tolstoy, Nabokov and even a first-person account written and read by a refugee from Ukraine , now living in San Diego . The stories will shed light on Tsarist Russia, Soviet Russia and Russia today. Monday, October 5 at 7 p.m. in the Old Town Theatre. www.WriteOutLoudSD.com
…The San Diego Shakespeare Society continues its free monthly readings of the best of the Bard. You can be an audience member, or participate (bring your own copy of the text, or buy one at the Upstart Crow Bookstore & Coffeehouse where the events take place). The first Tuesday of every month, 6:45-8:45 p.m. October 6 focuses on “Henry IV, Part I.” November 3 it’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” and December 1 is dedicated to “ Antony and Cleopatra.” At Seaport Village , 835 West Harbor Drive . www.sandiegoshakespearesociety.org/events.htm
PAT’S PICKS: BEST BETS
“Drink Me, or The Strange Case of Alice Times Three ” – excellent production of a quirky, amusing and discomfiting mystery
Moxie Theatre at the La Jolla Playhouse, through 9/27
“Leaving Iowa ” – funny, poignant, reminiscent
Lamb’s Players Theatre/Coronado, through 9/20
“Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” – splendidly imaginative, superbly executed
La Jolla Playhouse, through 9/13
“ Godspell ” – inventive, energetic and inspiring
Lamb’s Players Theatre at the Horton Grand Theatre, open-ended
“Twelfth Night” – not perfect, but perfectly good fun
The Old Globe’s Festival Stage, in repertory through 9/27
“Coriolanus” – political and provocative
The Old Globe’s Festival Stage, in repertory through 9/27
“Cyrano de Bergerac” – stunning, magnificent production of a timeless, heart-rending classic
The Old Globe’s Festival Stage, in repertory through 9/27
Pat Launer is the SDNN theater critic.
To read any of her prior reviews, type ‘Pat Launer’ into the SDNN Search box.