Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
September 13, 2013
Love is pinned and scrutinized in three local productions: two musicals and a ghost story.
Playwright Conor McPherson is a modern Irish Poe, who spins spooky tales. His 2004 creation, “Shining City,” is set in Dublin, in the shabby office of a therapist, a former priest who’s struggling with his faith, his identity and his girlfriend.
His patient is a haunted man whose wife recently died in a car accident. He’s wracked by grief and guilt. In one intense scene, he unburdens his ache in a riveting 15-minute monologue that includes infidelities and spectral wifely visitations. After a breath-holding buildup of tension, McPherson drops us hard with his predictable, on-the-nose ending.
Despite this flaw, the ion theatre production is impeccable. All the performances are strong, but the spellbinder is Claudio Raygoza, whose Irish accent is unwavering and whose anguish is palpable. Under the direction of Glenn Paris, this is another dark, shiny feather in ion’s cap.
Now, director Rick Simas, who teaches musical theater at SDSU, has a different obsession: dusty, forgotten musicals. The unfortunately-titled “Man with a Load of Mischief” premiered Off Broadway in 1966; Simas directed it in 1991. In his eighth production at North Coast Repertory Theatre, he visits the show again.
It’s 1810, in a threadbare, out-of-the-way English inn run by a dowdy couple, delightfully played by Ron Choularton and Annie Hinton, who put over their songs with personality and panache. The vocal heavy lifting goes to their four supposedly coincidental guests: a haughty Lord, a wise Lady and their high-spirited attendants. After head-spinning plots, plans and collusions, love triumphs at last.
John Clifton’s music is agreeable, if unmemorable; his lyrics, written with Ben Tarver, are clever. The set and costumes are noteworthy, and the piano, cello and woodwinds bring the score to life. The play’s a trifle, but it’s a pleasant diversion for an Indian Summer night.
Another case of neglected melodies is “Marry Me a Little,” an hour-long, 18-song revue of Stephen Sondheim outtakes, most cut from his big shows. They highlight his verbal ingenuity – and his cynical view of relationships, though there’s a welcome ray of hope at the end.
Diversionary Theatre makes the most of the 1980 piece conceived by Craig Lucas and Norman René — first by re-inviting wizardly director James Vasquez, who turns a static show about two lonely Brooklynites wishing for connection, into something vibrant and imaginative. This production celebrates marriage equality by alternating performances by two women, two men and one hetero couple. The malleable cast of four is energetic and talented; much of the music is minor key and melancholy, but somehow, the female version seems to up the effervescence factor.
No paragons of relationship rapport in any of these plays, but they might make you contemplate the state of your own union.
“SHINING CITY” runs through September 28 at ion theatre on the edge of Hillcrest.
“MARRY ME A LITTLE” continues through September 29 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.
“MAN WITH A LOAD OF MISCHIEF” plays through September 29, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
©2013 PAT LAUNER