Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: OCTOBER 8, 2010
Two tales of hope: bright-eyed in youth and still clinging with age. Love denied at both ends of the chronological spectrum, but only the older protagonist survives; the ill-fated young lovers never live to tell their tale. A classic tragedy and a modern drama — “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Road to Mecca ” – shine a spotlight on trust and community conflict.
South African playwright Athol Fugard , part-time Del Mar resident, concentrated most of his early work on the horrors of the apartheid regime of his native land. His 1985 “Road to Mecca ” only has tangential references to racial inequity; here, freedom is more of the personal and internal kind. Miss Helen, an aging Afrikaner, is based on a real character who lived in the desolate karoo desert where Fugard grew up. An imaginative and independent spirit, she flouts the local mores and church doctrines to fashion her own private Paradise: a yard-full of fantastical concrete sculptures, all facing East , toward Mecca . Helen’s fierce independence inspires a young city girl and repulses the local pastor, who, though he has secretly loved her for years, wants to put her in an old-age home. Her individualism is a rebuke to the town’s sense of rightness, rules and religion.
At the San Diego Repertory Theatre, under the direction of Todd Salovey , the conflicts have not quite congealed. The play is larded with issues and contrasts, from men vs. women, to darkness vs. light, art vs. dogma, youth vs. age, whites vs. blacks, birthing children or creative work. The cast, though quite capable, seems bogged down in the torrent of ideas. The accents are a bit wobbly, too. Though the talky play is fraught with discord and emotional outburst, it fails to engage, and is more lightweight and less satisfying than most of Fugard’s other work. But the production is attractive, and the life-size sculptures are something to see.
While South Africa has relocated downtown, the Bard has made his way to Encinitas. The fledgling Intrepid Shakespeare Company has found a home at the Roundabout Theatre, located in San Dieguito Academy. For their second season’s first production, Intrepid co-founders Sean Cox and Christy Yael are co-directing “Romeo and Juliet,” and including high school students as interns, onstage and backstage. The intention is laudable; the result, variable. The look is modern; the all-male, militaristic dance at the Capulet’s ball, where the lovers meet, seems out of joint, part Les Miz , part MTV. And the textual cuts sometimes strain credibility. The young couple sports the requisite impetuosity. The Nurse and Friar are well- meaning, Mercutio is aptly hot-headed. But the characterizations don’t run very deep.
In both productions, the relationships are not quite gelled, the arc and nuance are insufficient. What we get is promising rather than provocative.
“The Road to Mecca ” runs through October 17, at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in Horton Plaza .
“Romeo and Juliet” also continues through October 17, at Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s new home in Encinitas.
©2010 PAT LAUNER