Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
April 12, 2013
Three days, three flawed plays. High onstage energy takes several forms: comic, linguistic and on wheels.
The oldest of the works is the controversial “ Oleanna ,” a 1992 creation by David Mamet, who’s often been accused of misogyny. This two-hander pits an apparently ingenuous college student against her smug, supercilious professor. She implores; he condescends. By the second scene, she’s miraculously turned from a sputtering naïf to a well-spoken, strident feminist.
Complaints about the 80-minute power-play typically suggest that the deck is stacked against the female from the get-go. But at Intrepid Shakespeare Company, as directed by Christy Yael, there’s a different imbalance. This academic, as played by Francis Gercke , is so arrogant, pedantic and self-righteous, it’s impossible to have sympathy for him. The student, in a very solid performance by Rachael VanWormer , may become angry and extreme, but you sort of root for her in bringing down this hypocritical pseudo-scholar.
Despite the palpable dramatic tension, the long string of Mametian overlapping incomplete sentences in the first scene really starts to grate.
Most of “The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler ” is grating. In spite of a stellar creative and technical team, the show’s a comic and literary mishmash, a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit gone ridiculously out of control. The writer is Jeff Whitty , co-creator of the hilarious, Tony Award-winning “Avenue Q.” The director is multi-talented actor Matt McGrath. The cast includes some impressive local talent. But the plot is beyond absurd, set in the “Groundhog Day” afterlife of famous fictional personages, from the titular Hedda to the murderous Medea and hapless Mammy, from “Gone with the Wind.” Their purgatory is the “ Cul de Sac of Tragic Women.” In their effort to get their fates revised by their authors, they run into Cleopatra, Tosca, Jesus and two very gay boys from the ‘60s, who get most of the good lines. Just about everything is shticky and way over the top.
Now, if you prefer your fast-paced theater on a roll, consider Circle Circle dot dot’s “ Derbywise ,” the latest of artistic director Katherine Harroff’s explorations of a local subculture. This time, her source material is The San Diego Derby Dolls, our own roller derby queens. The 12 scenes, backed by humorous comic book slides, flip between past, present and Dream World. We learn a bit about this tough-as-nails sport and how it’s evolved from a combative environment to one that’s more supportive. Though there are some fine performances and impressive skating, we don’t get under the skin of the characters or find out what makes them sustain their anger or love of the sport. A little more depth, and workshopping , would go a long way.
Moral of this week’s story: With new plays or old, even the best of intentions sometimes go off track.
“ Oleanna ” runs through June 14 at Intrepid Shakespeare Company in Encinitas.
Circle circle dot dot’s “ derbywise ” plays through April 20 at the 10th Avenue Theatre.
“The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler ” continues through April 28, at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.
©2013 PAT LAUNER