KPBS AIRDATE: February 10, 2006
Women who dream: One wants love and security. Another craves sexual and intellectual freedom. And a third is compelled to liberate the tortured souls of the dead.
At UCSD, “Gum” certainly gives you something to chew on. The provocative play by former San Diegan Karen Hartman concerns two well-off young sisters living in an unnamed, fundamentalist Muslim country where their faces and bodies must be covered, sexuality is forbidden and gum is contraband, thought to contain an insidious foreign aphrodisiac. Inspired by an Egyptian news story about the perils of chewing gum, this piercing one-act is linguistically violent and poetic, feminist and universal. In the San Diego premiere, the characters, especially the feisty, rebellious sister and her compliant younger sib, are given heart, soul and sensuous scenes, compellingly performed by actors Liz Elkins and Hilary Ward, under the guidance of acclaimed guest director Chay Yew. Amid the confines of chaperones, sexual constraints and arranged marriages, there is a surreptitious, orgiastic joy-ride; but throughout, the threat of brutal female circumcision looms in the symbolically lush but walled-in garden. This ‘Gum’ leaves quite an aftertaste.
A seemingly simple love story is the centerpiece of the classic 1956 Frank Loesser musical, “The Most Happy Fella.” Based on Sidney Howard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1920s play, “They Knew What They Wanted,” the story focuses on a lonely San Francisco waitress who agrees to be a sort of mail-order bride for an expansive Italian immigrant vintner in the Napa Valley. When she realizes that he’s far from the young hunk in the picture he sent, she has a mini-meltdown that has chilling repercussions. It’s a highly regarded but peculiar musical composite, mostly operatic, full of arias and choral pieces, with a couple of genuine Broadway tunes, like “Standin’ on the Corner” and “Big D,” thrown in. At Moonlight Stage Productions, the piece feels musty but still touching, and the voices are terrific, though the staging feels a tad cramped. All the performances are outstanding, from Richard Kinsey and Sandy Campbell as the leads, to the wistful Randall Dodge and the adorable, amusing secondary couple, Kristen Mengelkoch and Eric Vest.
Now, in an otherworldly vein, there’s “Restless Spirits” by Allan Havis, a world premiere at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. Based on 200 interviews on both sides of the border, the complex, sometimes convoluted mystery concerns a ghost-scholar, wonderfully portrayed by Karole Foreman, whose passions and nightmares take her on a journey that crosses the life-death and the cultural divide. There are too many interwoven stories, but the acting and production values are outstanding, with mounting enigmas and genuinely spooky rituals, visions and visitations. If you believe in the supernatural, you’ll definitely be intrigued.
All these women are on the brink – of happiness, disaster or deliverance.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.