Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
June 24, 2011
In this age of $70 million technological train-wrecks on Broadway, it’s exhilarating to see great plays, played simply. Get ready to be moved by the sheer force of imagination and the magic of theater.
Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” was written in 1938 to be performed on a bare stage. Cygnet Theatre artistic director Sean Murray set out to breathe new life into this beloved old chestnut. While maintaining the original setting in the early 1900s, he used color-blind, age-blind and gender-blind casting to make it look more current. So an African American woman, the casually effective Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson, is the Stage Manager who guides us through the everyday life of a small New England town, focusing on birth, love, marriage and death. Usually, it’s the after-death third act that’s heart-rending, but here, the most touching moment is the soda fountain scene, a tentative expression of love between two young people, wonderfully portrayed by Jo Anne Glover and Francis Gercke .
Though the ensemble is solid, and the show is well done and well directed, the updates don’t really add any new insights to the play, which is profound in its timeless simplicity. The modern dress, including jeans on the women and even a tattoo, feels jarring in the early 20th century timeframe, but the message of awareness and appreciation comes through loud and clear.
There’s one costume misstep in the Old Globe production of “The Tempest,” too, but other than that, it’s just about flawless.
In this magical island of the imagination, an other -worldly Ariel, beautifully inhabited by Ben Diskant , flits about with blue, stand-up, cotton candy hair. He walks on stilts at times, and is gorgeously backlit. But the other spirits are oddly attired like hospital orderlies.
Ralph Funicello’s masterfully minimalist scenic design is mostly created from wondrous use of a large swath of stretchy sky-blue fabric, morphing from main sail to ocean waves, blanket to cave. Miles Anderson is magnificent as Prospero, the wizard who, at the end, breaks his staff and leaves behind his magical powers. This being Shakespeare’s final masterwork, it’s believed that Prospero is the Bard himself, laying down his pen.
There are strong performances from Jonno Roberts as the monstrous Caliban ; hilarious John Cariani as the clownish Trinculo ; and the ever-dependable Charles Janasz as Prospero’s loyal friend, Gonzalo. The puppetry is enchanting, and there’s a spectacular original score, composed by Shaun Davey, music-directed by Charlie Reuter, with glorious songs, and percussive drumming, tapping or intoning by the excellent ensemble.
Adrian Noble, former head of the Royal Shakespeare Company and returning artistic director of the Globe’s Summer Shakespeare Festival, uses his experience, wit and ingenuity to create a comical, musical, magical marvel. This delectable, family-friendly “Tempest” warrants a storm of acclaim. Don’t miss it!
“Our Town” runs through July 10, at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.
“The Tempest ” runs outdoors at the Old Globe in Balboa Park, in repertory with “Amadeus” and “Much Ado About Nothing,” through September 25.
©2011 PAT LAUNER