KPBS AIRDATE: January 20, 2006
The year is getting off to a potent political start on San Diego stages. Whether it’s comedy, tragedy or docu -drama, ancient or modern, theater does a great job of making us take a good look around and close look inside.
“ Ajax ,” a 2500-year old play by Sophocles, poses pertinent war-time questions: How do we define ‘hero’? What’s the balance between principle and privilege, honor and vengeance? Is blind brutality inevitable, or is it possible to be humane and compassionate to our enemies? And how should we treat our war-weary veterans? In a stark, inventive production at 6th@ Penn Theatre, Laurence Brown makes a commanding, compelling, tragic, mad but honorable warrior, Ajax . He’s counterbalanced by Odysseus, the highly political compromiser, and according to Ajax , manipulator, played with subtle strength and pinpoint focus by Max Macke . Under Forrest Aylsworth’s direction of Marianne McDonald’s lucid and lyrical translation, the cast is variable, the projections are provocative and the themes are timeless.
In the mid-1950s, consumed with post-War guilt, Swiss novelist and playwright Max Frisch wrote “ Biedermann and the Firebugs,” a satiric look at morality and culpability. In a time of rampant fear and paranoia, a little town is being victimized by arsonists. Biedermann , a wealthy but slimy hair tonic tycoon, believes all pyromaniacs should be put to death. Still, he considers himself a civil man, even though he’s just fired a long-time employee who reacts by killing himself. Biedermann tries to confirm his charity and compassion by welcoming two ex-cons into his house, befriending them even as they pack his attic with explosives. Through ignorance and inaction, the victim contributes to his own destruction. It’s a powerful argument against personal and political complacency, given a rip- roaring production at Cygnet Theatre. Under the broad comic direction of Sean Murray, Tim Irving, Daren Scott and Joshua Everett Johnson give especially fiery performances. The smoke doesn’t mask the seriousness. This blistering indictment sizzles long after the lights come up.
And on the subject of indictment, consider “The Exonerated,” based on a series of interviews with six wrongfully convicted death row inmates. Each was in the wrong place at the wrong time — and at the wrong end of the racial, social or economic scale. Husband and wife team Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen interweave these gut-wrenching monologues, which might make you re-consider capital punishment. These excruciating stories of injustice focus not only on the years, even decades of incarceration, but also the post-release nightmare of their struggle for faith, self-respect and redemption. Under the taut, muscular direction of Al Germani, a stellar ensemble brings these hard-hitting stories to disturbing, unnerving life.
Dark or light, it’s delectable — theater that makes you think.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.