KPBS AIRDATE: May 05, 2006
Folks unwilling to face reality are all around us – from the highest levels of government to the comical characters onstage. An old play and a new, a tragicomedy and a farce, both highlight, with dark political overtones, the delusional among us. Anton Chekhov premiered “The Cherry Orchard” in 1904, on his 44th birthday, just six months before his death. He wasn’t foretelling the oncoming Russian Revolution; he just knew that the world he knew was coming to an end and a new era was beginning. What makes the play timeless is that we can always see relevance and parallels for our own age. Take the indolence of a vain and fading aristocracy. Characters merely drift toward the future, with their minds and hearts rooted in the past.
The regal Madame Ranevskaya, owner of the beloved estate and orchard, has frittered away a fortune, sacrificing her youth, her wealth and the happiness of her family for love. Her denial of her past and paralytic delusions about her present and future, are offset by the crass materialism of the wealthy former peasant Lopakhin, who wants to turn the orchard into the Russian equivalent of condos. The production gets an extra dollop of poignance, serving as the swansong of retiring SDSU professor Anne-Charlotte Harvey, who’s joined onstage by other former and current faculty members. Her own bittersweet situation informs her Ranevskaya, who’s more melancholy, less vibrant than most in the role, more apprehensive about the future. The future, and the production, belong to professor Peter Larlham, who makes for an energetic, charismatic, if wrong-headed Lopakhin. Onstage, the teachers far outstrip the students, but they provide a compelling model of the many layers, levels and nuances Chekhov’s seemingly simple characters demand.
There are also types and archetypes in David Mamet’s “Romance.” The characters don’t even have names. In this courtroom comedy, Mamet’s first foray into farce, there designations are: Judge, Bailiff, Doctor, Defendant, Prosecutor, Defense Attorney. But though they start out in earnest, they quickly devolve into zany, foul-mouthed namecalling and rampant racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia. Of course, it’s all in good fun, and written in rat-a-tat satire of human nature, political correctness and our absurd system of justice. Against a backdrop of Israeli-Arab peace talks, the Defendant, a chiropractor accused of attacking a chiropodist, thinks he can solve the Middle East crisis by giving the negotiators an ‘adjustment.’ There are some fine performances, notably Peter Van Norden as the pill-popping judge and John Altieri as the leopard-bikini-clad boytoy.
But it’s all so silly and pointless, beyond perhaps showing what a farce contemporary life is. For those who relish inanity, insanity, nasty language and rapid-fire, overlapping, testosterone-fueled dialogue, put aside your own delusions of dramatic depth and knock yourself out at the San Diego Rep.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.