KPBS AIRDATE: August 27, 1997
It’s one of those theater-times when too much is happening and it’s hard to keep up. And it’s even harder to link together shows that have no thematic or stylistic commonalities. So forgive me if I throw a lot at you, but a lot is going on, and it’s a great sampling of what the theater — and San Diego — have to offer: one musical, one comedy, one drama.
You may already know that this is the 50th anniversary season of Starlight Musical Theatre. After some dead space and weak efforts, they’ve mounted a three-show summer season, with plans for indoor winter season. The Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park has just had a $1.6 million facelift, but it’s still a plane Jane. That’s plane as in aircraft. As in 22 dead-stops during the evening I saw “Singin’ in the Rain.” Maybe that money would have been better spent on a closed shell, a better sound system, or a new location.
Okay, that done, now I can say that the show looks great, the dancing is fine, the singing is good and the costumes are gorgeous. Though the fabulous 1952 film that inspired the show focused on the transition from silents to talkies, some of its jabs at Hollywood still hold true.
The leads are veterans of the show, and they do a confident job, if not a spectacular one. The most notable performer — the only one equally skilled in both singing and dancing — is David Brannen, who plays the Donald O’Connor comic relief. The leading man can dance but his singing is flat; the leading woman can sing but she’s kinda heavy on her feet.
I’m glad Starlight made it back for its Golden anniversary; I have high hopes for a more consistently watchable winter season — indoors.
I also had high hopes for another classic: “You Can’t Take It With You,” — and Lamb’s Players delivered the goods. This show is a great favorite of mine, with some of the most memorable one-liners and non-sequiturs in theater history. Beneath all the brilliant, Kaufman and Hart humor, there’s a lovely, timely message: Don’t do what you have to, do what you want to do. Do what you love. Each of these quirky characters is an irresistible, certifiable nutcase. Director Kerry Meads has assembled a cracker-jack cast, and fashioned a wackily wonderful ensemble. I especially liked Chrissy Vögele’s dancing, prancing Essie and Jim Chovick’s homily-spewing, huggable Grandpa. This one’s worth seeing — for a good laugh, and maybe even a good kick in the pants.
Now, on the more somber side, for an emotional kick in the teeth, there’s a little-known Tennessee Williams play getting a solid airing by Blue Trunk Theatre in conjunction with San Diego Black Ensemble Theatre at Ensemble Arts Theatre.
From 1967-1975, during his least healthy and least successful period, Tennessee Williams reworked the short piece that came to be known as “The Two Character Play.” It has no specified setting or locale; perhaps a theater, perhaps a deserted house; perhaps it is all in the mind. It is a play within a play, a fantasy within a fantasy, grounded in terror, loneliness, alienation and, even more autobiographically, the despair of artists who seem to have lost control of their art. The central characters are actors, brother and sister, recent orphans, possible partners in crime. They are abandoned, reclusive, perhaps insane. They cling to each other, enacting scenes, recounting horrors, expounding in some beautiful Williams images and words.
Happily, Glynn Bedington is finally back, giving us another glimpse of the thoughtful, meticulous direction that used to be her signature. Joe Powers and Lisa Pedace light up the small, claustrophobic space with luminous intensity and pinpoint focus. They get off to a shrill start, but once they settle in, they are both as intensely intertwined and symbiotic as their characters. This play isn’t often done, and it isn’t for everyone. It’s tough to take, but well worth taking in.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1997 Patté Productions Inc.