KPBS AIRDATE: October 07, 2005
When social-political conundrums take center stage, it’s a good week in the theater. One play looks at the working poor, another at race relations, and a third peeks behind the curtain of silence that cloaks the Catholic Church.
“The Prince of L.A.” is Matthew Mark Luke Cardinal John, a character conceived and portrayed by longtime Old Globe associate artist Dakin Matthews. Church corruption is a subject the acclaimed actor/playwright/dramaturge knows well, and not just because he plays Reverend Sikes on “Desperate Housewives.” He spent years in Jesuit school and seminary, and he shows us what clergy look and talk like in private, informal moments. Written in rhyming verse, his often disturbing drama focuses on power, sex, faith and fallibility. The production is a family affair – directed by Matthews’ wife, Anne McNaughton, with his son, Andrew Matthews, playing a young Irish priest. The performances are uniformly strong, with an especially genuine, unaffected turn by Michael Winters as the Bishop accused of embezzlement and sexual predation. The play has some structural weaknesses, and could be tightened. But the story is intriguing and the production is excellent.
Also tautly constructed but in need of a trim is the tense/intense drama, “Dancing with Demons,” presented by Common Ground Theatre, directed by its founder, Floyd Gaffney. On a rainy night, a young white man picks up a black hitchhiker and brings him back to his apartment. What he says he wants is to befriend and photograph the attractive African American. What he really wants is revealed in a suspenseful sequence of persuasion, threats, temptation, revelation and emotional outbursts. There are some inconsistencies in the 2002 play by the late Don Evans, and a few in the production as well. But the acting is superb. As former boxer Teddy “Thunder” Jackson, L.A. actor Mister Jones has exactly the swagger and style Jerry attributes to him. And Anthony Rosa makes Jerry a very sick and scary puppy. Nothing is quite what you’d expect.
The writing assignment Barbara Ehrenreich got was also not as expected. The award-winning social critic went undercover for several months to see how the other third lives, trying to subsist on minimum wage. The result was her best-selling 2001 book: “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America,” which was required reading for all incoming SDSU students this year. Now the Theatre Department is staging the dramatic adaptation by Joan Holden. Faculty member Peter Cirino directs a game if uneven cast, with Dana Pacheco particularly compelling as the overloaded Ehrenreich. The production, nicely designed, and framed by video interviews with local wage-slaves, does what it’s intended to do – raise consciousness and increase compassion.
When theater takes you on an intellectual or emotional journey, it’s definitely doing its job.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.