KPBS AIRDATE: May 31, 1995
It’s catch-up time. Notable productions have been piling up, and you only have this weekend to catch most of them. And the best part is, they’re all notable for very strong acting.
In the historical drama division, there’s “The Miracle Worker” at Lamb’s Players Theatre and “Terra Nova” at North Coast Rep.
“The Miracle Worker,” you may remember, is William Gibson’s inspiring story of Anne Sullivan, the visually-impaired teacher who takes on the daunting task of humanizing young Helen Keller, the incorrigible child who, at age 2, lost her vision and hearing and went on to inspire the world. In this centered and sensitive production, Cynthia Gerber’s Helen and Deborah Gilmour Smyth’s Anne are a perfect pair — both highly spirited and indomitable, both believable and sympathetic, both intense and humorous. “Language is to the mind,” Anne tells the family, “what light is to the eyes.” When Helen sees the linguistic light, so to speak, your eyes will well up, and you’ll be so glad you came. For a multilingual treat, the June 7 performance will be interpreted in sign language. Either way, don’t miss it.
Talk about near-misses, there aren’t many stories like that of Robert Falcon Scott, an Englishman who, in 1911, was determined to be the first to plant his flag at the South Pole. His ship, like Ted Tally’s play about him, was named “Terra Nova,” and his journey — and failure — are the stuff of legends. Throughout the piece, Scott, beautifully, hauntingly played by Ron Choularton, is obsessed — and ultimately beaten — by the Norwegian Amundson. The hearty pragmatist, who observes none of the niceties of British “sporting” behavior, appears regularly as a taunting creation of Scott’s imagination. Robert Larsen is way too smarmy for the Norwegian, but as Scott’s foot-soldiers, Matthew Reidy is charmingly optimistic, and Jim Johnston is burly and believable.
The play could easily have ended at act one, and we could merely have been told that none of Scott’s party survived, rather than having to endure their icy deaths, one by one, as if in real time. But Olive Blakistone’s direction and Marty Burnett’s set are aptly minimalist, and the whole production is, as it should be, quite chilling.
No less chilling, despite its desert setting, is “Coyote Ugly” at the Fritz Theatre. Playwright Lynn Seifert could be the evil female twin of Sam Shepard.
Her family drama, set in a Southwest trailer, is a gritty little piece about a bunch of lost souls, all trapped in their past, inextricably linked by a perverse family tie, unable to express any kind of positive emotion. The play is, at once, grounded in a terrible, incestuous reality, and fraught with symbolism and spiritual searches. It pits impotence against machismo, equates sex with violence, and makes family love into a desperate, destructive and ineluctable force.
This is grisly and disturbing material, though director Christina Courtenay has mined it for all its humor, and teased from her talented cast an impressive array of outstanding performances. The stage is suitably split between the ramshackle, overcrowded house and the barren, desolate desert. You could see it as a tiny, grisly, family story or as a cautionary tale. In any event, if you can take it, you should see it.
And to be sure you see even more this summer, don’t forget Bargain Arts Day tomorrow, 10-7, at Times Arts Tix outside Horton Plaza. Pay what you can for all sorts of productions all around town. It’s a win-win situation: you nourish your soul while you assuage your wallet.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.