KPBS AIRDATE: June 10, 2005
High parental expectation and public or private humiliation run through two excellent productions on San Diego stages. In both plays, degradation is devastating.
In “Amy’s View,” written by acclaimed British playwright David Hare for theatrical darling Judy Dench, the title refers to a childhood newsletter and a belief system – that love conquers all. Well, not quite. When Amy brings her new boyfriend home to meet her mother, sparks fly and the conflagration never burns out. Amy’s mother is a diva, a forthright if flighty doyenne of the theater who worships at the altar of High Art; the last thing she wants is to see her daughter with a smarmy, anti-intellectual, wannabe filmmaker who thinks the theatuh is dead.
Hare indulges all his passions in a talky disquisition on the decline of culture and the encroachment of megacorporations such as Lloyd’s of London, that, like Enron, destroyed the future of many investors, including in this case, Amy’s mother, Esme. On Broadway, the production was a star-turn for Dench; you barely noticed the play or the rest of the cast. At North Coast Repertory Theatre, artistic director David Ellenstein has cast an outstanding ensemble. Rosina Reynolds is brilliant at the center, in a luminous performance that journeys from condescension to desolation. All these fine actors make their characters credible and even sympathetic – from Brendan Ford’s slick beau to Amanda Sitton’s real but not angelic Amy; from Craig Huisenga’s Esme-adoring but financially misguiding neighbor, to Tom Zohar’s wide-eyed acolyte and Dagmar Krause Fields’ dying grandma. The didactic elements are tempered with a great deal of heart. And the stellar production should not be missed.
Meanwhile, in “Bronze,” down at Sledgehammer, written by associate Ruff Yeager, Cheryl Chan is mad as hell and she’s not gonna take it any more. The Olympic figure skater has been pushed just a little too far by her demanding parents. She took a public fall and only a Bronze medal, and now she’s taking it out in a San Diego diner, wielding a gun at the late-night denizens of Maggie’s place. She threatens, curses and finally tells her self-denigrating story, but not before she forces her hostages to relate their own most mortifying moments, in a ‘My Humiliation is Greater Than Yours’ jackpot competition. Structurally, the play has some problems, as we wait impatiently for each in turn to tell a shocking, shameful tale. But Yeager’s cast — Jyl Kaneshiro, Kim Strassburger, John Martin, Mark Broadnax and Geoffrey Yeager — is terrific. Yeager Senior’s precise choreographic direction brings humor to his darkly comical/cynical view of personal and communal failure, which gun-toting Cheryl relishes like a sadistic voyeur. This is America the Beautiful, Paul Peterson’s sound design keeps reminding us. There is no bottom to the pit.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.