Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
September 23, 2011
Did you ever feel confined in a theater? Well, drama has become a walk in the park, thanks to the La Jolla Playhouse, inaugurating its new WoW program, which stands for Without Walls. The experiment begins with an audio play called “Susurrus,” referring to a soft murmuring or rustling, like wind in the trees.
Here’s how it works. You buy a ticket for a particular timeframe, then show up at the San Diego Botanic Gardens and receive a personal iPod and headphones. The voices inside your head direct you to eight sites around the lush, 37-acre grounds. The story is dark, a jarring juxtaposition in such stunning surroundings.
At first, you’re not quite sure what to make of David Leddy’s creation. The singing of birds, the flapping of wings, snippets of narrative, excerpts from Benjamin Britten’s opera, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The alternating voices come from a singer, a researcher and the two damaged adopted children of an acclaimed tenor who was triumphing in Britten’s opera when rank disclosures were made and disaster struck. Phrases recur among the disparate scraps of memory; you gradually begin to figure out the timeline and the trauma, the relationship among the people and parts.
It’s thrilling, enigmatic, unequivocally unique. I loved everything about it: the rolling Scottish accents, the evocative music, which includes tastes of Piaf, Callas, even Nat King Cole. You’re lulled by the loveliness and then startled into heart-pounding hyper-alertness by the stark harshness of the story. “Sigh and gasp,” as the voices put it, “rise and fall, remember and recall.” These recollections are something you won’t soon forget.
But if out of the theater and out-of-the-box is just too ‘out there’ for you, there are more conventional performances to be enjoyed.
Consider “Man of La Mancha” at the Welk Resort Theatre. In this attractive and well-sung production of the beloved 1965 musical, directed by Dan Mojica , the performers also serve as musicians. This works quite well most of the time, though the flamenco-like guitar strumming starts to wear on the nerves. But there’s a very strong performance at the center, in John Lalonde’s potent portrayal of Cervantes and his windmill-tilting knight, Don Quixote. John Polhamus , a buoyant trumpeter with a mellifluous voice, adds considerably to the proceedings.
And then there’s “The Marvelous Wonderettes ” at Moonlight Stage Productions. Kind of “Forever Plaid” for the distaff side, it doesn’t get any fluffier than this, from the sherbet-colored costumes to the goofy gal quartet who belt out songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s. There’s a little bit of character, and a tiny trace of plot, but really, it’s all about nostalgia and tight- harmonied tunes of love.
So make your theatrical choice: strong singing or a subtle susurrus.
The La Jolla Playhouse production of “Susurrus” runs through October 2 at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas.
“The Marvelous Wonderettes ” sing through October 1 at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista.
“Man of La Mancha” continues through October 30 at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido.
©2011 PAT LAUNER