KPBS AIRDATE: August 2, 1995
It may be the heat of mid-summer, but San Diegans have some very cool choices. There is theatre of the masses and theater of the mind.
In the mass entertainment mode, there are always musicals. But unlike the usual mindless, techno-wizened ear-candy, the two hot offerings of the week are not just lively, tuneful and energetic; they also share a dark undertone. You might say they’re both a bit racy — in the cultural sense. We see standard-issue white racism in one, and insidious, imploded black racism in the other.
Up at Moonlight Amphitheatre, there’s “Big River,” Roger Miller’s melodic rendering of “Huckleberry Finn.” The timeless story needs to be revered and re-told, especially in Vista, where the book was probably banned…
And downtown at the Civic Theatre, we’re treated to the national touring production of “Jelly’s Last Jam,” the sexy, exuberant, bluesy tale of Jelly Roll Morton, self-proclaimed inventor of jazz. Maurice Hines may not be as charismatic as his brother Gregory was, but the dancing is still fabulous. So’s the whole brash and unflinching production. Don’t miss it. Both musicals run only through the weekend.
Now if you like to get in on the theatrical ground-floor, catch the second annual Fritz Blitz of New Plays, six weekends of hot stuff, starting tomorrow at the Fritz Theatre. And while you’re there, stick around for their latest late-night offering: “US,” Karen Malpede’s brutal play about love and violence and childhood abuse. K.B. Merrill and Duane Daniels are superb, and superbly directed by Karin Williams. The language and situations are incredibly rough, but the performances are finely tuned and amazingly athletic. See it if you can take it.
But if racism or brutality aren’t your thing, how about political philosophy? The La Jolla Playhouse just opened the West coast premiere of “Slavs!”, which is subtitled “Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness.” The deservedly-heralded playwright Tony Kushner is at it again, contemplating the Big Picture, this time seen through the grimy window of post-Perestroika Russia. A society (not unlike our own, is the intimation), which is in various states of decline and decay. Ideologies are failing, ideologues abound, lethargy is epidemic, consumerism is king, and lesbians are banished to Siberia.
Director Michael Greif is the ideal interpreter of Kushner, able to balance Serious Themes and goofball burlesque, leaving some slit in the door of despair for a glint of hope. He makes wonderful use of a crackerjack cast. But this play is not as broad or brilliant as the richly rewarding “Angels in America.” Though it may not be emotionally moving, it is intellectually thrilling.
Another feast for the intellect, an uproarious comment on the state of society, is “All in the Timing,” a hilariously literate series of six playlets by David Ives, presented by Ensemble Arts Theatre. If you’re at all familiar with Philip Glass, Hamlet, Trotsky or Esperanto, you’re gonna howl from this machine-gun delivery of satire and inspired linguistic lunacy. Parody, comedy, romance, absurdity — it’s all here, and it’s all us.
Director Maria Mangiavellano has teased the very best out of her chameleon cast, with standout versatility from Deanna Driscoll and Tim West. A side-splitting celebration of language and culture, this is also a local celebration, the inauguration of a brand-new home-base for Ensemble Arts, one of San Diego’s true theatrical treasures. It’s a housewarming you don’t want to miss.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.