Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
July 22, 2011
Some plays fare better as actor showcases than as satisfying works of theater. Consider these three examples: a comedy, a musical and a drama, all freshman efforts of their creators.
The comedy is William Mastrosimone “The Woolgatherer,” written in 1979. Two supremely quirky characters – a hermetic, fearful and fragile dime-store candy-counter clerk, and a tough-talking, laugh-a-minute trucker – come together in her depressing, claustrophobic South Philly apartment, though why an anxious recluse like her would invite in a blowhard like him remains a mystery. So does the sweater collection in her closet, which gives one meaning to the Woolgathering of the title, which also denotes daydreaming.
Under Glenn Paris’ excellent direction, the pacing is superb, the intensity relentless. Real-life couple Brian Mackey and Rachael Van Wormer are spectacular, breathtaking with their killer monologues and rapid repartee.
Also playing at ion theatre, on alternate nights, “Body Awareness” has a few intriguing characters, but is less fulfilling dramatically. This 2008 work is by New York-based playwright Annie Baker, a hot property right now. But this piece is frustrating. Its purring, earth-mother feminist is hypocritically jealous and judgmental at home with her female partner, who’s pretty much a cypher. And the man who comes between them, a photographer of nude women, is too enigmatic to be really interesting. It’s the young son, a troubled, socially awkward 21 year-old, being slapped with — and resisting – the label of Asperger’s syndrome, who’s the most fascinating character, what with his obsession with etymology and the Oxford English Dictionary, and his dependence on a power toothbrush to calm himself. As played by Eric Parmer, he’s riveting. Claudio Raygoza’s cast boasts some of San Diego’s finest – Linda Libby, Walter Ritter and Dana Hooley – but the play lets them down.
Now, up at North Coast Repertory Theatre, you don’t go into “Five Course Love,” a frothy musical spoof, with Great Expectations. The sketch comedy setups are supremely silly – five different restaurants, each featuring a comical waiter and a couple looking for love – plus a bevy of wigs, accents, costumes and songs to hammer the conceit home. Director Rick Simas has chosen a terrific ensemble – SDSU musical theater MFA alums Kristin Mengelkoch and Omri Schein – and their New York-based cohort, Kevin McGlynn . All are hilarious, with wonderfully flexible voices and outstanding comic chops. They seem to be having a ball, which of course, spills over to the audience. Greg Coffin’s music and lyrics are a clever pastiche of styles. You won’t go out humming, but for summer fun, and a love-conquers-all ending, you’ll definitely exit on a sugar high.
Sweet, sour or cynical, even if the play’s not the thing, the performances are.
“The Woolgatherer” and “Body Awareness” run in repertory through July 31 at ion theatre on the edge of Hillcrest.
“Five Course Love ” continues through August 7, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
©2011 PAT LAUNER