KPBS AIRDATE: February 25, 2005
It’s the world’s only never-ending war, and it’s raging on San Diego stages. Though the weapons are words, the assaults can be vicious. It’s that eternal battle royale, the one between the sexes. The competition is intense, but couched in comedy. The fable, opera and satire span 250 years and three cultures, but their themes are timeless and universal: love, lust, beauty and fidelity. The confrontations are spawned by a wager, an experiment and a fantasy.
In Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte,” which roughly translates as “All women are the same,” a cynical old misogynist bets two young men that their fiancées will be faithless. He has them disguise themselves and persistently woo the resistant young women, who finally relent. It’s a cruel trap, but the San Diego Opera mines all the humor, to present a thoroughly enchanting production. The opera has been effectively moved from 18th century Italy to 1912 at the Hotel del Coronado. The gorgeous set and costumes highlight the outstanding singing and acting. The women may be flighty and fickle, but the men are semi-sadistic. And the music is so delightful, you hardly notice the sinister undertones.
You can’t miss them in Marivaux’s “La Dispute.” Written in 1744, the play was only performed once, and then not again for nearly 200 years. But it’s amazingly topical: part social engineering, part reality TV. It all has to do with a little human subjects research into which sex was the first to be unfaithful. On the whim of quarreling royals, four infants have been raised in isolation and then released into a simulated Garden of Eden. What ensues among these adolescents is a hormone-driven field-day of vanity, desire, sex, jealousy and betrayal. At UCSD, the gifted director Darko Tresjnak has created, practically choreographed, a gorgeous and disturbing piece of theater. Humans play god, we squirm like voyeurs, and the director’s postscript suggests that this ruthless game will soon begin again.
Meanwhile, a dark, surreal tragic-comedy is unfolding at SDSU. In “The Waiting Room,” by Lisa Loomer, three women from different centuries meet in a doctor’s office. Each is a victim of her culture’s conception of beauty. The bound feet of the 18th century Chinese consort are gangrenous. The tightly corseted 19th century Victorian is diagnosed with hysteria, apparently due to over-education, treatable only by hysterectomy. The modern American secretary is having serious trouble with her third set of breast implants. In her delectable satire, Loomer skewers men, doctors, drug companies, self-help and the FDA. Directed by Randy Reinholz, the production is terrific, with excellent performances and a perfect balance between the humor and the horror.
There’s no victor in these gender wars. And love provides as much heartache as healing.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.