Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: MARCH 13, 2009
Bar the doors and barricade your daughters. A couple of really Bad Boys are in town. Watch out for Killer Joe and Mack the Knife.
Mack is the subject of that famous song that chronicles his nefarious killing sprees in the brilliant 1928 musical, “The Threepenny Opera.” The revolutionary masterwork, by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, is a jagged social satire, filled with colorful criminals, beggars and whores. Since its target is capitalistic greed, lust and corruption, the timing couldn’t be better for the San Diego Repertory Theatre production. And an awesome undertaking it is, using the raw, foul-mouthed translation of Michael Feingold, theater critic for New York ’s Village Voice.
It’s all about Macheath , the notorious thief, pimp and murderer, who marries Polly, the virginal daughter of the king of the panhandlers of Victorian London. Even though Mack is protected by his long-time buddy, the chief of police, Polly’s lowlife, mercenary parents are determined to see him hang. His neighborly prostitutes both turn him in and rescue him, and there’s an 11th hour surprise ending. But the real focus here is on the look and the music, a unique, angular melding of American jazz and German cabaret.
From the weird, stylized makeup and grungy clothes, to the seven killer musicians, some of whom get into the onstage act, this is one wickedly delicious production. Under the expert direction of Sam Woodhouse, the characters are all lovably odious and their voices are superb. The only misstep is not using dialect, which serves to demarcate the classes in English society. But everything else about this Threepenny is right on the money. It isn’t every day that you get to hear from the revolting masses.
Speaking of revolting, trust me on this: you do want to spend an afternoon or evening with the trailer trash of “Killer Joe.” These are some really repellent characters: filthy drunks, sluts, druggies and murderers. And that’s just one family. The father, stepmom and two semi-adult kids want to have their mother bumped off for the insurance money. So they hire Joe Cooper, a cop by day, assassin in his off-hours. He looks positively aristocratic next to the scum of the Smith family. When the cash can’t be mustered for the hit, Killer Joe demands the unspoiled sister as his collateral. Prepare yourself for sex, nudity and the rankest of language. And did I mention blood? Careful not to sit in the front row! But this is playwriting and acting of the sharpest and most realistically gritty variety, written by Tracy Letts, the current darling of Broadway, and marvelously directed by Patté Award winner Lisa Berger, who’s marshals a dazzling, skin-crawling cast.
If you’ve got a taste for the macabre, you can’t go wrong with these productions. This is your chance to get down and dirty.
“The Threepenny Opera” runs through March 29 at San Diego Repertory Theatre in Horton Plaza .
“Killer Joe” continues through April 5, at Compass Theatre in Hillcrest.
©2009 PAT LAUNER