KPBS AIRDATE: April 25, 2003
The world is a pretty unwelcoming place. And love isn’t always a safe refuge. At least, that’s how it seems to the graduate student playwrights whose works are being featured in the 4th annual UCSD New Play Festival. Only one of the five world premieres has “Desperados” in its title, but the term could apply to just about all of them. The three plays I saw the first week are very different in style, but they do share a sharp political awareness and a sardonic take on the hardships and inequities of life. They are all extremely well crafted, a tribute to the small, prestigious program. All feature witty, incisive dialogue and finely-etched, intriguing characters. And all are excellently, impressively, acted and directed.
By far the most thoroughly engaging and satisfying of the three is “Spin Moves,” by third year, graduating student Ken Weitzman. His captivating play, set in an American high school, focuses on a Bosnian refugee and her war-ravaged mother. The girl is a basketball prodigy, but her past fears plague her as panic attacks. Enter an unconventional coach, a man who wants to help her in every way he can. Her mother doesn’t trust men. So the girl invents a relationship with a ditsy but sexually worldly teammate and she befriends a budding student journalist — all to get back in the game. The beautifully haunting play is deliciously unpredictable, and thanks to an outstanding cast, under the expert direction of Suzanne Agins, it builds to multiple climaxes that both stop and touch the heart.
The title of Mat Smart’s play, “The Hand, Foot, Arm and Face,” comes from “Romeo and Juliet,” and parallels to his pair of star-crossed lovers are repetitively made. In November, 2001, an American girl meets an Iraqi guy, and they fall quickly, deeply, impulsively in love. But the world seems to be conspiring against them. They go on the run, but they can’t escape an awful fate. Smart has a lot to say, and he often says it wonderfully, but he has a bit too much on his mind here, and the overly broad focus distracts from the intensity of his central story. The cast is strong, except for the frenetically annoying mother, who becomes less a caricature in the second act — alas, a bit too late for the characters and the audience. Jeff Hirsch’s “Desperados in Dreamland” is a fantasy with dark undertones. Another couple on the lam — losers who find their passion in robbing convenience stores, hiding out in a funky circus sideshow, complete with sleazy barker, singing cowboy and sexy bearded lady. Ultimately, their rage against the machine sparks a revolution. Fascinating setup and characters, delectable acting and costumes, but the point of it all becomes murky at the end. Now, if you have a taste for new theater, UCSD is serving up a banquet. Bon Appetit!
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.