Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
“TRIBES” – La Jolla Playhouse
“SOUTH PACIFIC” – Moonlight Stage Productions
July 5, 2013
It’s all about fitting in – or feeling like you don’t belong — whether you’re a deaf son in a hearing family, a Southern ‘hick’ on a tropical island or a Jewish man in in a Christian culture.
Perhaps the best known outcast in dramatic literature is Shylock, the controversial moneylender in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” Shylock’s currency is vital to his cash-obsessed society, but no matter what he does, he’s treated as an outsider, an “alien,” a second-class citizen.
The role has been played in many ways, from victim to villain. At the Old Globe, Miles Anderson portrays him as a rational businessman, intractably insistent on his rights and his revenge. When he snaps at the end, after he’s lost absolutely everything, his downfall is disturbing, and casts a dark pall over the multiple wedding celebrations. In Adrian Noble’s potent production, the specter of Shylock hovers over the dour affair.
The black plastic floor doesn’t always look like water in this Edwardian Venice, but the costumes are lovely. Some of the characters are overplayed, but Anderson is excellent, as are Kristel Lucas as Portia and Lucas Hall as Bassanio . It’s been 21 years since the Globe mounted this always-provocative play. Don’t miss it this time.
And be sure not to miss Nina Raine’s terrific “Tribes,” at the La Jolla Playhouse. It’s an intense drama centering on a highly literate, hyperverbal, vicious, narcissistic, idiosyncratic family. But it’s really about communication. Billy, who was born deaf, struggles to lipread , but is lost during his clan’s outbursts and diatribes. The others are oblivious, equally damaged and self-absorbed.
When Billy meets Sylvia, he finds a new, welcoming tribe – deaf signers. Sylvia is hearing, born of deaf parents, but due to a family genetic defect, she’ll soon be deaf, too. She wants out of the insular deaf community, just as Billy wants in. With a girlfriend, a job and newfound independence, Billy rebels against his tone-deaf, over-protective family.
We’re lucky to have almost the entire New York cast and their magnificent director, David Cromer. The set is stunningly overstuffed, the sound and lighting are evocative, and the cast is spectacular. You’ll be talking about this one long into the night; hopefully, unlike the characters, you’ll be listening, too.
And if you want to listen to some wonderful music, played by a magnificent 28-piece orchestra, teamed with New York sets and costumes, head to Vista for Moonlight’s glorious production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” expertly helmed by new artistic director Steve Glaudini . Hilary Maiberger and Randall Dodge are superb as the naïve ensign and the French planter. A dark ribbon of racism weaves through the otherwise ebullient show.
Intolerance and insensitivity never seem to disappear. Theater is one way to examine them, and perhaps, come away the wiser.
And if you’re really wise, you’ll check out some of the 50 performances at San Diego’s first Fringe Festival, downtown this weekend. No one’s an outsider there!
“South Pacific” runs through July 13, on the Moonlight Stage in Vista.
“Tribes” plays through July 21, at the La Jolla Playhouse.
‘The Merchant of Venice” continues, in repertory, on the Old Globe’s outdoor ‘Festival Stage,’ through September.
©2013 PAT LAUNER