KPBS AIRDATE: January 27, 2006
Though separated by centuries, a Shakespearean classic and a West coast premiere have a lot in common: The agony of betrayal, cushioned by comedy.
“ Halpern and Johnson” was only the second play penned by London-born Lionel Goldstein. But it quickly became an HBO special, starring Jackie Gleason and Sir Laurence Olivier. Now, the play has its first local airing at North Coast Repertory Theatre, whose artistic director, David Ellenstein, directed the American premiere in Florida . He’s chosen stellar veteran actors to play two disparate aging men who meet at a cemetery in Queens . Gradually, we learn that the man whose wife has died has, unknowingly, been sharing that woman with this other fellow – for fifty years. Touching, poignant, aching and often amusing, the play is all about honesty, loyalty, friendship and faithfulness. Under Ellenstein’s caring, finely nuanced direction, the performances are outstanding.
Robert Grossman, who has a 40-year history in theater, was dazzling in two North Coast Rep productions in 2004. He makes Halpern an engagingly funny, disheveled, Jewish zhlub who resents his wife’s assignations, but harbors a few secrets of his own. Jonathan McMurtry, who’s been acting in and around San Diego , for more than 45 years, most notably at the Old Globe, gives a wonderfully subtle, unfussy performance as Johnson, the dapper, fastidious, Catholic CPA. These two men shared a woman and also the pain of a life unlived, a lifetime of regrets. It’s a lovely piece of work, nicely designed and dressed, with an especially evocative outdoor soundscape created by Robert May.
Guilt and remorse play a major role in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” where all the scheming and subterfuge bring one couple together and tear another apart. While the quippy, clever Beatrice and Benedick beat around the relationship bush, Claudio is willing to believe that Hero, his beloved, virginal fiancée, is faithless and besmirched.
New York’s Aquila Theatre is back at the La Jolla Playhouse with a kooky production that interweaves all those 60‘s spy shows: ‘The Avengers,’ ‘The Mod Squad,’ ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ and ‘Charlie’s Angels.’ Three gorgeous gals are dressed in skin-tight leather jumpsuits, while the men wear bowler hats, à la Steed and Emma Peel. It‘s all oh so cheeky and clever, with the stylized, 007 poses and the mini-Cooper rolling around the stage of the Potiker Theatre. But is it really necessary? The company makes Shakespeare’s storylines and linguistic acrobatics eminently understandable. Do they really need all the wacky machinations? It’s pretty silly, and it doesn’t add anything to the play; the cast can’t sing, though they move and act quite well, and the endless levity undermines the serious undertones of the subplot. One might say it’s all Much Ado.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.