Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
November 2, 2012
People get a little spooked this time of year… whether it’s the goblins of Halloween or the ghosts of Christmas past or yet to come. And it goes without saying, numerous dramatic characters are haunted, too – by flying cats, a family curse, or their own inner demons.
Take “The Sugar Witch.” Or “The Night of the Iguana” – two very different approaches to human suffering and survival of the fittest.
Acclaimed playwright Tennessee Williams wrote about people consumed by uncontrollable passions and disappointments. “The Night of the Iguana,” which premiered in 1961, was his last Broadway success. He was pretty much excoriated by critics after that, as he slowly drowned himself in drink and drugs, dying in 1982.
“Iguana,” perhaps not his most subtle of creations, is rarely produced, but it’s getting a lovely outing at Southwestern College, under the astute and attentive direction of Ruff Yeager. One of Yeager’s concerns as a theater instructor is exposing his student actors to pros, who share the stage with them and show them how it’s done. This works especially well in “Iguana,” for which the director invited a superb quartet of experienced performers: Robin Christ, Jill Drexler, George Weinberg-Harter and fellow faculty member Dagmar Fields. They bring this tricky play to vibrant life, as does the gorgeous set and lighting, designed by faculty member Mike Buckley, who conjures up a stunning tropical storm.
It’s the 1950s, in a rundown Mexican hotel populated by bedeviled souls steeped in existential anguish: a defrocked preacher, oversexed widow, repressed spinster and dying old man, who face loss, shame, self-loathing and misplaced faith, yet they still muster the strength to carry on.
A warped view of religion also surfaces in the 2007 Southern gothic chiller, “The Sugar Witch,” in a truly spooky production at OnStage Playhouse.
In a Florida swamp on the edge of dying sugar cane fields, the once-prosperous Bean family is barely hanging on, hexed by a long-standing curse. Now, in one sticky, prickly, downright scary night, the flying cats are back, along with vengeance, violence, racism and homophobia. There will be blood – murder and suicide, by axe, shotgun and poison – counterbalanced by the flowering of unexpected love.
Nathan Sanders’ play has more depth and breadth than the typical, predictable thriller. This production, helmed by first-time director Rob Conway, is highlighted by a terrifically centered, otherworldly performance by Yolanda Franklin, as the last of the sugar witches, who can flare or extinguish fire with the wave of a hand, commune with the dead and help a young man escape a ghastly destiny.
The swampy set almost makes you sweat, and the goings-on are guaranteed to give you goosebumps . At any given moment, it’s anyone’s guess who’ll come out alive.
So prepare yourself for two incarnations of Southern discomfort.
“The Sugar Witch” runs through November 3 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista.
“The Night of the Iguana” continues through November 4 on the campus of Southwestern College.
©2012 PAT LAUNER