By Pat Launer
THE SHOW: “The Sugar Syndrome ,” the West coast premiere of a dark, hip comic drama by Lucy Prebble , at Moxie Theatre
The perils of internet chatrooms . Folks aren’t what they say or seem, and certainly not what you expect. When Tim strikes up an online relationship with Dani , he thinks he’s interacting with an 11-year old boy. When they actually meet, he’s surprised to find that Dani is a 17 year-old girl, a little on the wild side, exploring her sexuality and stretching the boundaries of her friendships. Although she and Tim are decades apart, they have something in common: an unhealthy obsession. Both have been ‘sent away’ for a cure; neither was effective. Young Dani still has an eating disorder and Tim, a former teacher who’s served prison-time, is still attracted to young boys. Dani also connects with, and sleeps with, the geeky Lewis, whom she met online. He genuinely falls for her, but turns out to be something of a stalker. And then there’s Dani’s mother, a dismissive, self-absorbed narcissist who’s more concerned with her husband’s infidelities than her daughter’s unsavory activities. There’s a somewhat shocking revelation at the end, as Dani’s disparate worlds collide and she gets a jolt of hard-edged reality.
This taut, riveting and well-written 2003 play isn’t courageous merely for its frank, funny and squirm-inducing confrontation of taboo subjects such as bulimia and pedophilia. What’s even more remarkable is that it was written by a 22 year-old, barely out of college, who won a newspaper competition for her writing. Prebble’s debut effort was nominated for both an Olivier Award (the English counterpart of the Tonys ) and the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for distinguished women playwrights. She went on to garner England ’s George Devine Award for Outstanding Debut Play and London ’s TMA Award (from the Theatrical Management Association) for Best New Play. Her intriguing title is explained by Dani’s mother, recalling war-time rationing, when people spent their meager coupons on a quick sugar-fix rather than on healthier, more substantial fare.
Prebble has a wonderful ear for dialogue, and her dark comedy is relentlessly intense and unpredictable. It’s just the kind of work Moxie Theatre relishes: a smart, slick, fearless, unabashed view of the world from a woman’s perspective. Moxie co-founder Jennifer Eve Thorn directs with a keen eye and a firm hand. Rachael VanWormer is superb as Dani , plucky, amusing and intrepid, taken by surprise in the end by her own loneliness, daring – and naiveté. Jesse Allen Moore has an endearing hangdog mien as the dorky, well-meaning Lewis. Sean Cox is cool, smooth and steely as the pedophilic Tim, who with his low-key honesty and openness, gains our sympathy – and then abruptly loses it. Terri Park is aptly distracted as the wife of an absent, dallying husband. Her too-late attempts at connecting with her troubled offspring are painfully pathetic.
Amy Chini’s scenic design is geometric and symbolic, a series of metal bars, gates and fences that suggest boundaries and barriers. The tri-level playing spaces are nicely lit (Mia Bane Jacobs) and the well-timed internet sounds (Rachel Le Vine) are effective. The character, class and age-appropriate costumes were designed by Jo Anne Glover.
This was a too-short run of a disarming play in an exceptional production.
THE LOCATION: Moxie Theatre at Diversionary Theatre (closed)
… “The MENding Monologues” was a one-night San Diego premiere, the male counterpart of “The Vagina Monologues,” Eve Ensler’s influential, 11 year-old creation dedicated to raising awareness and helping to combat violence against women and girls. There were thousands of benefit productions worldwide to celebrate this ‘other’ V-Day, nine in San Diego alone, and I was privileged to be part of one of them, produced by InnerMission Productions in association with Triad Productions and StepUp Theatre. There was a splendid turnout at the Birch North Park Theatre, with more than 600 people in attendance, laughing, weeping, being touched and inspired to act. Two days later was the San Diego premiere of “The MENding Monologues,” billed as “a love letter to women, a healing for men, and a call to end violence in all its forms.” The guys were good to their word. The pieces were originally compiled by Derek Dujardin of Sedona , AZ , who gave permission for local participants to add their own monologues. Dujardin was present at the performance and was pleased with the result. Rightly so. Director Christopher Burger, who joined the cast, also wrote several poignant pieces, as did locals George Soete , Chris Renda and Scott Amiotte (the latter two also appeared in the production). Like “The Vagina Monologues,” there were funny moments and horrifying ones (most shockingly, a litany of plastic surgery for vaginas). This presentation should be a counterpart of all Vagina Monologues productions henceforth; men and boys are abused, too. And the voices of men sympathetic to the plight of women need to be heard, as well. Dujardin is in talks with Ensler . Meanwhile, the significant proceeds for both events (“The MENding Monologues ” was a sellout at the 10th Avenue Theatre, and an extra, matinee performances was added) went to the San Diego Center for Community Solutions, whose mission is healing and preventing sexual assault and violence.
…Three performances of “Burning in China” were presented at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts, to coincide with the bicentennial of Lincoln ’s birth and the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. This was a West coast premiere of the one-man drama created by American poet/teacher Gary Moore, who’s written about the life of Lincoln for decades. The play is his real-life experience teaching in Shanghai in 1988, armed with nothing but 100 copies of the Gettysburg Address. He winds up staging a bilingual rap opera about Lincoln and the mythical Monkey King, who champion the ‘constitution of the human heart,’ just before students all over china took to the streets, demanding liberty. Moore, who created the show more than 15 years ago, was present for the performance I attended. This is the first time in a long time it’s been revived; Moore thought the timing was propitious. Directed by Caleb Deschanel (Oscar nominated for his technical work on “The Right Stuff,” “The Natural” and “Fly Away Home”), actor Jeff LeBeau has a big job on this fast-talking two-act. For his final of three performances, he seemed to be having sinus trouble, and also problems remembering which section of the piece came next, which gave a bit of a jerkiness to the production. Still, he’s a tremendous performer, very engaging, and it is a huge piece, which the author himself performed when he first created it. Unless it was forgotten in the memory slips, the Lincoln connection seemed tenuous at best, and unless we missed it, the Gettysburg Address was never mentioned. There was a big buildup to the rap performance, with insufficient payoff. But the reflections on a society in flux, on students on the cusp of revolt, were quite intriguing, and often exciting.
… “Portraits of Women: Short Plays by Alice Gerstenberg ,” a one-night staged reading by Chronos Theatre Group focused on the work of the innovative, early 20th century feminist writer (1885-1972). The five witty pieces were performed by four actors ( Teale Bossen , Justine Hince , Rena Lyon, Miranda Halverson), some of whom tried to memorize the work, to inconsistent effect. Under the direction of Harrison Myers, a couple of the playlets (Fourteen, Ever Young) were reminiscent of the uppity upper crust of Claire Booth Luce, and one smacked of the monosyllabic resignation of Beckett (The Illuminati in Drama Libre ). The (uncredited) costuming was attractive, and rather elaborate for a reading. Gerstenberg’s most famous comedy, the 1915 Overtones, reveals the inner and outer persona (or, in theater terms, the text and subtext) in the conversation of two women. Fascinating; it predated Eugene O’Neill’s better-known Strange Interludes by 12 years.
.. A fundraising strategy… Capital Stage in Sacramento kicked off a bold fundraising initiative geared for tough times. Taking a cue from the campaign fundraising efforts of the President, the company’s goal is to raise funds through small, individual donations. They’re seeking 2500 donors who’ll contribute a tax-deductible $25 each. The theater group reports that, one month into the six-month campaign, they’ve achieved 20% of their goal.
… More on the financial front… The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was one of the first federal agencies to release grant guidelines – for applying for economic stimulus and job recovery arts funds. The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act recently signed by President Obama provided $50 million to support jobs in the arts through NEA grants. The application deadline is April 2, with grants being awarded as early as July 1. The one catch, though, is that any applicant for the direct grants must have received an NEA grant within the last four years. Complete details on application eligibility at: http://www.nea.gov/grants/apply/recovery/index.html
… THE NEW YORK CONNECTION.., worth a trip to the Big Apple…
…The “Guys and Dolls” revival on Broadway was directed by La Jolla Playhouse artistic director emeritus Des McAnuff (“Jersey Boys”). Despite a raft of unfavorable reviews after the March 1 opening, the producers have decided to keep the show open, since it had been playing to high theater capacity. At the Nederlander Theatre.
.. Another former La Jolla Playhouse artistic director, Michael Greif, will be directing the new musical Next to Normal, which begins previews at the Longacre Theatre on March 27. It’s a domestic drama about a woman with bipolar disorder and a family trying to cope.
… A former associate artistic director at the La Jolla Playhouse, Kate Whoriskey , who is making quite a name for herself nationally, will direct a new play by Christina Anderson called “Inked Baby,” which will star LaChanze . It’s about a woman, unable to conceive, who persuades her sister to carry her child. March 23-April 5 at Playwrights Horizons.
… Beloved Old Globe artistic director emeritus Jack O’Brien directs “Impressionism,” a new play by Michael Jacobs, about a globe-trotting photojournalist and a New York gallery owner. The high-profile cast includes Jeremy Irons, Joan Allen, Marsha Mason and André De Shields. Opens March 12 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
…New Play, Short Run, and YOU can be involved! … Fresh on the heels of its Page to Stage production of Peter and the Starcatchers , the La Jolla Playhouse is presenting its newest EDGE production, “ Continuous City ,” created by The Builders Association, a New York-based performance and media company that creates original work based on stories drawn from contemporary life. This production uses all the bells and whistles of technology to tell a tale that reflects our deep desire to stay connected in a fast-paced cyber world. EDGE productions are the Playhouse’s most adventurous, challenging and, well, edgy fare. The first offering was the world premiere musical drama, Most Wanted. In Continuous City , a young girl tries to maintain virtual communication with her father, who travels the world promoting Xubu , a new social networking site. The piece is personalized for each city in which it’s performed. By going to continuouscity.org and clicking on the “ Xubu ” link, San Diegans can record a video blog for a chance to see themselves in the show. The play runs March 19-22 in the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre.
Shipwrecked! , An Entertainment: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told By Himself) – a rip- roarin ’ good time !; the magic of theater, the splendor of storytelling
North Coast Repertory Theatre, through 3/15
Room Service – fast-paced, side-splitting, screwball comedy
Lamb’s Players Theatre, through 3/22
Pippin – exciting, inventive, bilingual production (English and American Sign Language)
Mark Taper Forum, L.A. , through 3/15