Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: JUNE 4, 2010
A couple of kids meet-cute. They’re drawn together in youth, separated in adulthood. And some time later, they reunite. Two plays, a single storyline. But only one ends happily. The other is by Tennessee Williams.
“ Summer and Smoke” may not be the American master’s deepest or most poetic work, but it features some of his signature characters: a fluttery woman who can’t cope with the rough-and-tumble tawdriness of real life; and a promising but dissolute man hellbent on destroying himself. In their own warped ways, Alma and Johnny have loved each other from the start. But it won’t end well for the high-strung, high-minded minister’s daughter and the decadent doctor next door.
At New Village Arts , Jo Ann Glover is heartbreaking as Alma , absolutely luminous with her nervous laugh and prissy ways. And as Johnny, John De Carlo is a wonderfully convincing roué, though he’s not quite sufficiently transformed at the end. But they’re terrific together, and under the assured direction of Kristianne Kurner, the large supporting cast brings insular, small-town Mississippi to vibrant, pulsing life.
Now, if you’re looking for a happy ending, check out “The Voice of the Prairie” at North Coast Repertory Theatre. John Olive’s 1986 comic drama focuses on storytelling and the early days of radio, but it’s really a good old-fashioned, nostalgic love story. Frankie, who’s blind, has been abused by her father. When her mother dies, she’s lost her only buffer. So when she finds Davey hiding in the barn, she’s ready to escape. Together, they ride the rails, a hardscrabble, hand-to-mouth existence, but they’re happy and free. One day, though, they lose touch and grow up, never seeing each other again. Or, maybe not.
When Davey finds his way onto the radio, he’s the great yarn-spinner, telling tales of his exciting travels with Frankie in his youth. He’s a huge success. And then, one day… Well, I won’t ruin it for you. Suffice to say, you’ll get caught up in the relationship. The North Coast Rep production, directed by the wonderful actor Lynne Griffin, has a romantic backstory, too. Griffin met and fell in love with her husband while performing this play at the Old Globe in 1988. So it has a special place in her heart, and she directs it with a warm and loving hand.
The three outstanding actors – Amanda Sitton , Jason Maddy and David Meyers – nimbly morph into multiple roles. Though there’s more than a morsel of melodrama here, we get swept up in it.
Both productions have a recurring conceit that wears out its welcome: repeated echo-y voiceovers in “Prairie,” and between-scene entrances of the characters as children in “ Summer and Smoke.” But both plays are poignant and affecting.
June is the month of love; so go to the theater – and get engaged.
“ Summer and Smoke” runs through June 20, at New Village Arts in Carlsbad .
“Voice of the Prairie” also continues through June 20, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach .
©2010 PAT LAUNER