KPBS AIRDATE: June 28, 1995
Some plays are timeless and universal. And some have very narrow audience appeal. Right now, San Diego stages are spotlighting the latter more than the former.
For a West coast premiere at the Lyceum in Horton Plaza, the Cambridge Theatre Company has brought its very solid mounting of “Bill W. and Dr. Bob,” co-produced with the San Diego Repertory Theatre and Access Youth Opportunity Center. The show was explicitly scheduled to coincide with San Diego’s largest convention ever, the 60th anniversary gathering of Alcoholics Anonymous, 80,000 international conventioneers strong.
Written by psychiatrists Janet Surrey and Samuel Shem (pseudonym for Steve Bergman), the play is more documentary than drama. It tells the story of a stockbroker and a surgeon, two drunks who help each other to heal, and join forces to form AA, systematizing the 12 steps to sobriety. It’s an interesting story, very well acted and well directed. But it’s not a highly theatrical piece, and it becomes preachy and repetitive. But you may know someone who needs to hear the message.
There isn’t much of a message in “Tintypes,” now showing at Lamb’s Players Theatre. The company made some attempt to link the flag-waving, retro revue to the history of the Lamb’s new home, the 80 year-old Spreckels Building in Coronado. But director Kerry Meads has encouraged her five talented actors to go way overboard. It sort of worked for Nathan Peirson as Teddy Roosevelt, but Deborah Gilmour Smyth chewed more scenery than was on the stage.
“Tintypes” is a very tricky musical, having no dialogue and no clear thematic through-line except for the song-list, which divides the numbers into categories, such as Vaudeville, Rich and Poor, the Factory. One melody melds into the next, and without set, costume or attitude changes, there’s nothing but 45 songs and a bit of stage business to get you through the 2 1/2 hour evening. There is no inventive variety here, just cuteness, with a capital K. It isn’t enough. The voices are good; Tracy Hughes is especially strong in her robust and unadorned versions of American traditionals like “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Motherless Child.” But overall, the production is both too little and too much.
Too much is what “Ruthless” is all about, and The Theatre in Old Town gleefully takes it over the top and off a cliff. With a killer kid center-stage and another lead character played in drag, you know this is summer camp with a vengeance. Steve Anthony is terrific as Sylvia, the queen of the deadly, kill-to-get-the-role actresses.
His daughter, Aleka Nicole Mesaros, can dance like Dad, and she can sure belt ‘em out, but she doesn’t always hit the notes on the nose. The rest of the cast is very good, the set and costumes are elaborate, and the lyrics are clever. The show is fun, but vapid. If you like a little meat on your theatrical bones, you might look elsewhere, but if you hunger for something overwrought and overdone, have I got a show for you!
Something much more under-done, and really quite loverly, is Christian Community Theatre’s “My Fair Lady.” Granted, there are thirty musicians in the pit and almost fifty singers and dancers onstage. And the costumes are spectacular. That’s not exactly underkill. But there isn’t much mugging and posing, just solid singing, dancing and acting. Jennifer Hollar is a marvelous Eliza, and Daniel Blevins a charming Col. Pickering. As Henry Higgins, Punit Auerbacher may not be able to sing (neither could Rex Harrison), but he shows us the soul beneath the pedant’s bluster. I just wish director Tom Schmidt would have played around with the dreadfully sexist ending. Otherwise, the show’s a delight and a treat for anyone who loves good old spectacular musicals.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.