KPBS AIRDATE: October 28, 2006
Structurally, they couldn’t be more different, but thematically they’re very much the same. The historical drama and the fantastical musical both concern self-respect and identity, taking a chance, and being true to yourself.
“Seven Guitars” may be classified as a drama, but it plays like an improvisational septet. Music courses through the action, which is set in Pittsburgh, 1948. This is one of the stellar works of the late, great playwright August Wilson, who died last year at age 60, but miraculously, not before he completed his magnum opus, a dazzling cycle of 10 plays that chronicle the African American experience in the 20th century, one decade at a time. Paying homage to the master, San Diego Black Ensemble Theatre has teamed up with Cygnet Theatre to present five of Wilson’s seminal works. This is the second in their series of readings, which thus far, are superb. Only a handful of August Wilson plays have been presented in San Diego, and this is a terrific opportunity to hear the music and magic of his language. The performances are outstanding, bringing to vibrant life the colorful cast of characters Wilson created. Their lives are filled with love and loss, anger, repression, humor, song and sensuality. The sweet-talking Floyd, a singer/guitarist and ladies’ man, convinces them all that they can pursue their dreams; his include hooking up with the lovely but HESITANT Vera and taking off for Chicago, to cut another hit record. But the slightly crazed and off-kilter Hedley, something of an idiot savant, fulminates with all the doubt and rage, disappointment and racism that lurks beneath the surface of all these characters. At the end, the play is stunning, in both senses of the word.
In a much lighter vein, “The Flight of the Lawnchair Man” is a fluffy new musical with an uplifting message. Jerry Gorman is a dyslexic, geeky dreamer, the butt of neighborhood jokes. All he’s ever wanted to do is fly. Even as an adult with a menial job at WalMart, he builds model airplanes and fantasizes taking flight. His shortcomings prevent him from becoming a pilot; he can’t even be a governmental zero-gravity guinea pig, because his scolding, strait-laced mother was once arrested in a naked political protest. Mom is both smothering and demeaning; only Jerry’s girlfriend Gracie resolutely believes in him — and fully supports him when he ties 400 helium balloons to his lawnchair and takes to the sky. It’s all about freedom, individuality and pursuing your dreams. Under the direction of Paula Kalustian, the talented new SDSU MFA students in musical theater put on an endearing and engaging show. The voices are strong and the pop-infused music by Robert Lindsey, is bouncy and hummable.
These are two short-lived opportunities. Catch ‘em while you can.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.