Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
August 16, 2013
Two portraits of San Diego: one a collection of comical snapshots; the other, a dramatic glimpse of another side of the city, described through soul-searching spoken word. Softball political observations from a predominantly mainstream white perspective; and an intensely personal view from the black community.
The La Jolla Playhouse invited the renowned Chicago improv troupe, The Second City, to create a show based on and in our town. What they came up with is “The Good, the Bad and the I-5.” The pickings have been rich this month, and there were daily updates to the script. On the very day it was made public, even the #1 ranking of San Diego and its reputedly excellent pizza showed up. But the biggest, broadest and easiest target of all is Mayor Filner, of course, and he takes a drubbing in repeated apologies, punctuated by groping, and there’s a hilarious phone-tree harassment hotline.
La Jolla snobbery takes plenty of hits, with Mitt Romney making a car-elevator-defending appearance. Hillcrest’s gays, Little Italy’s jet noise, the stench of the seals, cops on bikes, craft beer, medical marijuana stoners, the right-wing agenda of the U-T, and Santee. Lots about Santee. It’s all there. And though laugh-inducing, it’s all fairly tame and unsurprising. The funniest and most unpredictable bit is a whale-loving lounge singer at Sea World.
Much of the two-hour evening is scripted. But the company does occasionally venture into improv, with variable results. Be prepared if you’re in the front row or on an aisle: you’re fertile fodder for participation.
The five performers are quick-witted and comical, and while the show may not be drop-dead dazzling, it’s fun to see an outsider’s perception of our homegrown eccentricities.
A good hard look at ourselves is obligatory in “Poetical: Not to Be Played on the Radio,” the latest creation of Calvin Manson, under the banner of his Ira Aldridge Repertory Players.
Manson spent a few years interviewing the denizens of downtown and Southeast San Diego: from prisoners to prostitutes, the homeless to the arrivistes. Inspired by these gut-wrenching stories, he wrote two dozen affecting poems, enacted as a slam poetry reading, by a game cast of five.
There’s a lot of reminiscing, and some finger-pointing. There’s classism and racism, sexual abuse and gay-bashing, racial profiling, women – and men – expressing fear of being alone at night in some tough San Diego neighborhoods. Some of these stories are heartbreaking; others are profound and moving. Manson’s imagery can be searing, stark and beautiful.
The production values are minimal; the focus here is on the words – and powerful words they are, crucial for both black and white audiences to hear. Maybe you won’t turn away so fast from that homeless person next time.
Take this as an opportunity to learn something about our city: through laughter or tears.
“POETICAL” runs through August 25 at the Educational Cultural Complex in the Mountain View area of San Diego.
“THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE I -5” continues through September 1 at the La Jolla Playhouse.
©2013 PAT LAUNER