KPBS AIRDATE: May 23, 2003
Two dark shows, shot through with light. It’s all a matter of your mood and preference. Stand at the Lyceum and choose: The Lady or the Miner. That is to say, “Stop Kiss” or “Fire on the Mountain.”
Playwrights Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman are back at the San Diego Rep, with another of their world premiere tributes to a musical form, more concert than theater. “It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues” went from here to Broadway and a Tony Award nomination. This time, their focus is the coal miners of Appalachia. Backed by stark, black-and-white photo projections, the show is a series of songs, and snippets of dialogue taken from archival oral histories, carving out the blackness of a life rife with danger below ground, poverty, illness and hardship up above. The five fabulous musicians, playing some 15 instruments, ranging from fiddle and guitar to dobro and dulcimer, turn out gut-churning blues and foot-tapping bluegrass. The singing is terrific, too, and the wood-slatted set and grimy work-clothes make you feel you’re at the mouth of a mine. There’s a rich vein of material at your feet, but the show just doesn’t dig deep enough.
Emotions run very deep next door (Lyceum Space) in “Stop Kiss, “Diana Son’s OBIE Award-winning comic drama. A first kiss should promise pleasure; this one provokes disaster. Two young women meet in New York; one’s a naïve but grounded Midwesterner, the other a frenetically savvy, unfocused city-dweller. They become fast friends, leaving ex-boyfriends behind. But slowly, hesitantly, they realize they’re physically as well as emotionally attracted to each other. It’s a tentative first for both. The play unfolds in brief encounters that inexorably build to the fateful first kiss. The gentle rise in the relationship is intercut with raw, jagged scenes of interrogation and injury. That first kiss in a West Village park precipitated a homophobic hate crime, harshly propelling this sweet, funny affair from romance to caregiving, from equivocating to fully committing. It’s a painful, throbbing story, well constructed and extremely well presented. Women’s Repertory Theatre director Gayle Feldman keeps up an impeccably brisk pace, with clever business downstage, quick costume changes upstage, and the humor crackling in rapid repartee. Jennifer Eve Kraus and Jo Anne Glover are as irresistible to the audience as they are to each other. Both do dazzling work, and they’re strongly supported by an expert ensemble. David Lee Cuthbert’s scenic design is a wonder of suspended windows suggesting the myriad New York apartments beyond this one. The play is humorous and heartbreaking; the production is an absolute must-see.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.