KPBS AIRDATE: January 31, 1996
In my opinion, theater is most effective when it makes you think. And it goes even further, and deeper, when it makes you think, ‘What would I have done?’ Questions of philosophical significance are being posed on two San Diego stages, in Frank McGuinness’ “Someone Who’ll Watch over Me” at North Coast Repertory Theatre, and in Jonathan Tolins’ “Twilight of the Golds” at Sweetooth Comedy Theatre. One transports us to a tiny prison cell in Beirut, where three hostages are battling for their psychological survival. The other asks how far science should go to improve on the natural order of life. The themes seem rather portentous, but both plays are laced with laughter.
That’s where Sweetooth’s production loses its steam. Especially in the first act, the humor is New York Jewish, fast and furious. Director Margo Essman has shepherded her flock along some pokey pathway, and encouraged them all to chew their lines like cud. So many punchlines were swallowed, I thought I was at amateur night at the Comedy Store. There is, overall, a vast age discrepancy in the cast, with the older generation being quite credible, and the younger set being uniformly miscast. These kids aren’t sharp enough, quick enough, Jewish enough, to make the younger Gold family come alive. They do their best in the heavier scenes, as when gay son confronts homophobic father, but in general, I just couldn’t believe they were who they were supposed to be.
George Flint puts in the cast’s strongest performance as the doting father who loves his kids but can’t quite accept who they’ve become. Sue Kaye has some moments as the smothering mother. But the pregnant yuppie daughter and her geneticist husband don’t ring true. Nor does the play’s centerpiece, the opera-loving gay son who, against a backdrop of Wagner music and themes, is recalling the horror-story of how he broke with his family. There is too little Wagner here, and too little passion.
But that doesn’t dim the play’s powerful hypothetical situation, not extremely futuristic, wherein you can know all kinds of things before your baby is born; in this case, that he will very likely be homosexual. Given the freedom of reproductive choice, How close is this to Nazi eugenics? If a family rejects a gay baby, what does that tell its gay son? What are the implications for bigotry, evolution, morality and society? Clearly, the play is more provocative than the production, but it’s well worth a look nonetheless.
The same goes for North Coast Rep’s “Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me.” Again, the dilemma is crystalline, but the emotional layer is never more than skin deep. Three disparate men, from different backgrounds and countries, are chained to the wall of a cinder-block cell, struggling to maintain their sanity and humanity.
As the Irishman, Edward, Ron Choularton steals the show, with humor and bravado thinly cloaking sheer terror. As Adam, the American, Douglas Reger is less clearly defined. And Punit Auerbacher, as the prissy and pedantic Englishman, isn’t prissy enough, and the arc of his character’s dramatic change lacks lucidity. The final scene should be touching to the point of tears, but, devoid of our emotional engagement, it falls short of the great theatrical moment it should be.
And now, a quick post-script recommendation. No great theatrical moments in the Lamb’s Players revisit of “Boomers,” but it’s as fun and poignant and buoyant as it was the first time. Doug Waldo is a great addition as the persnickety professor, superciliously analyzing the Baby Boomer generation. No plotline here, but it’s a deliciously homegrown production, and a thrilling musical trip down memory lane, with a terrific backup band. Don’t miss it.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1996 Patté Productions Inc.