KPBS AIRDATE: October 03, 2003
So, how do you like your theater? Over easy? Light and fluffy? Or stuffed with tangy tidbits? The Old Globe is serving up a trio of dramatic dishes… two frothy confections and one meaty main course. The bonbons, by often-headier writers — Will Shakespeare and Tom Stoppard — could both be called “Much Ado About Nothing.” The Bard’s romantic comedy is getting an opulent but airy production outdoors on the Festival Stage. Two TV actors brace themselves for linguistic warfare as Beatrice and Benedick in “Much Ado.” Though the setting is a sun-dappled, drop-dead gorgeous Tuscan villa just after WWI, these two are decidedly 21st century in their movement and manner. Dana Delany is acerbic as the resolutely independent neo-feminist, Beatrice. Billy Campbell plays Benedick as a clown prince whose stage presence, if not his antic buffoonery, is irresistible and whose appearance is almost as drop-dead gorgeous as the set he cavorts in. Director Brendon Fox makes use of every lavish inch of the set, but he opts for silliness over wit, and the dark side of the deceptions becomes mere undertone to the general frivolity.
Frivolity rules in Stoppard’s “Rough Crossing,” a singularly nonsensical adaptation of a 1927 comedy by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar. Reset at sea, the play follows the sometimes-musical misadventures of a flamboyant playwriting duo. Also on board are a highly strung leading lady; a lecherous leading man; a temperamental composer with a bizarre speech defect; and a bumbling, show-stealing steward. It’s all a matter of “tongue trippery and tripped uppery,” as Stoppard puts it, but the set is wonderful, the cast is terrific, and guest director Stan Wojewodski keeps the proceedings amusingly frenetic. Too silly for my taste, but it may tempt to your farcical palate.
Now, next door, there’s something to really sink your teeth into: “Blue/Orange,” winner of London’s Olivier Award for Best New Play of 2001. Hailed as a dark, ferocious comedy, Joe Penhall’s play is more serious than humorous, pitting youthful idealism against jaded pragmatism, doctors against patients, medical impartiality against racial stereotyping. The central triangle is a young psychiatrist, his supercilious supervisor and a possibly-schizophrenic patient who thinks he’s the son of African dictator Idi Amin. The power among the three shifts rapidly and unpredictably, though the didactic dialogue sometimes slows down the zigzagging plot. What’s enthralling about this play is that nothing is black or white, or blue or orange, for that matter; it’s all shades of gray. A fascinating look at humans being frustratingly human..but the stakes here are high — two careers and possibly a life. The acting and direction are outstanding; Richard Seer has coaxed finely nuanced performances from Teagle F. Bougere, Ned Schmidtke and Brian Hutchison. “Blue/Orange” does nothing to dispel the rumor that shrinks are crazier than their patients. Clearly, the British health care system is in as much crisis as ours. And when it comes to power plays, boys will be boys….. Overall, some delicious morsels to chew on. Hearty theater appetite!
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.