KPBS AIRDATE: JULY 27, 2000
Two new plays, at our two most prestigious theaters. One at the Globe and one at La Jolla Playhouse. One says too little, and one tries to say too much. Both plays are flawed, and neither makes us care enough about the characters.
In both cases, the playing field is large. “Sheridan,” at La Jolla Playhouse, which focuses on playwright/ statesman/inebriate Richard Brinsley Sheridan, is set in London in the late 18th century, against a backdrop of the French and American Revolutions. “God’s Man in Texas,” though set in an imaginary, modern-day church, spotlights the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., in what’s called here “The Baptist Super Bowl.”
“God’s Man ” is a small play about a big theme: the irresistible seduction of power, and how it can corrupt anyone’s faith in anything. The aging pastor of a Disney-esque mega-church is juxtaposed with a young pastor, to whom the torch may or may not be passed. The issue of sons looking for fathers resurfaces in repetitive and contrived ways. And we get bogged down in the sermons, which, though well written and well executed, fail to touch, affect or move us.
Designer Robin Sanford Roberts has magically transformed the Old globe’s Cassius Carter Centre Stage into a solemn, red-carpeted sanctuary, and director Leonard Foglia makes excellent use of the space. The performances are exemplary: Robert Symonds as the older cleric and Robert Pescovitz as the younger one, with Andy Taylor as a reformed sinner, running interference between the two savers of souls. But David Rambo’s script, which premiered at the 1999 Humana Festival of New American Plays, needs some saving of its own.
Similarly, serious cutting is needed in David Grimm’s mammoth undertaking, the world premiere of “Sheridan, or, Schooled in Scandal.”. Grimm has a great deal on his mind: friendship, loyalty, morality, monarchy, politics, religion and hypocrisy, not to mention the profligate and self-destructive life of Sheridan, and his brief friendship with the young Romantic poet, Lord Byron. It’s too much for one play, even if it is spread over a lengthy three hours. The first act is especially long. But the writing is often clever and profound, and the play has genuine potential, if trimmed, streamlined and thematically simplified. Sherman Howard’s performance as Sheridan is finely nuanced and convincing. We see him as the classic tragic figure, a great man who brings about his own downfall. The most corrupt characters, played by Charles Janasz and Sandra Shipley, are deliciously evil. But the writer plays fast and loose with history, and makes a mockery of most of his unlikable characters. Mark Brokaw’s direction is spirited, if overly reliant on cheap physical comedy. The play is bawdy and funny at times, but the story could be more seriously dramatic rather than melodramatic, and should be honed to a much sharper point.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS news.
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.