Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
February 21, 2014
A jealous husband with an explosive temper causes catastrophic consequences in two plays separated by style and centuries. In Sam Shepard’s 1985 “A Lie of the Mind,” the violence begets brain damage. In Shakespeare’s penultimate work, “The Winter’s Tale,” rage gives rise to banishment, incarceration and death. The false accusations come close on the heels of a romantic spousal liaison. The abuser spends the rest of his stage-time atoning. At the end, there’s a hope of reconciliation.
Old Globe artistic director Barry Edelstein is making his local directing debut with his favorite Shakespeare work. Tonally, “The Winter’s Tale” fluctuates wildly; it’s a royal tragedy at the outset, a bucolic comedy in the middle acts, culminating in marriage, forgiveness and contrition. Time is a palpable presence. A statue of the Queen comes magically to life. But nothing can bring back her young son, or the loyal courtier who exited, pursued by a bear.
Edelstein’s modern-dress production is a technical feast. There are some striking stage pictures, but overall, the effort feels fussy and overdone. Scenic elements rise from the trap or float down from the flyspace . Daffodils spring up from the ground. Three bears, not one, pursue the hapless victim, lumbering hairy presences we view in half-light, with clawed paws the size of snowshoes. There are onstage pianos, grand and miniature, the larger featuring the original music of Michael Torke , which ranges from starkly beautiful to angular, dissonant and percussively melodramatic, punctuating emotional moments in the acoustic equivalent of yellow highlighting and multiple exclamation points.
TV’s Billy Campbell is excellent as the volatile king, and Natacha Roi is regal as his besieged wife. Angel Desai is a small but mighty presence as the Queen’s first defender, Paulina. The younger generation is less effective, and the rustic scenes are often hayseed-silly. One inspired choice is the chorus of metronomes that represents the passage of Time. The cast, the music, the production, the performers – all as grandly inconsistent as the play itself.
On the other hand, Shepard’s “A Lie of the Mind,” tidily coheres with the rest of his work: a bleak, darkly comic exploration of disaffected Americans, dysfunctional families, physical and emotional brutality, and the elusiveness of truth, love and genuine communication. Under the direction of faculty member Charlie Oates, the UC San Diego production is intermittently successful. The design is spectacular, the set a marvelous hodgepodge of suspended suitcases and furnishings, symbolizing these unmoored lives. The black humor comes through best in the parents played by Walker Hare and Zakiya Iman Markland . As the damaged lovers that link these two ravaged families, Gerard Joseph is outstanding as the volatile Jake and Chaz Hodges is heartbreaking as poor, mistreated Beth.
In both plays, winter will eventually turn to spring, and second chances may bloom.
“A Lie of the Mind” plays through February 23 in the Shank Theatre at UCSD.
“The Winter’s Tale” continues through March 16 at The Old Globe in Balboa Park.
©2014 PAT LAUNER