Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
“A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC” – Cygnet Theatre
“ BLUE BONNET COURT ” – Moxie Theatre & Diversionary Theatre
AIRDATE: MARCH 28, 2008
Secret longings and unexpected couplings. Sometimes even dangerous liaisons. Two local productions take an unconventional approach to love – of the cynical and the secretive variety.
The skeptical view of romance and matrimony comes from Stephen Sondheim, the typically-less-than-amorous composer of punishingly difficult melodies with brilliant, tongue-twisting lyrics. His rarely-staged 1973 chamber musical, “A Little Night Music,” is trickier than most, since it’s completely composed in three-quarter time. Inspired by the 1950s Bergman film, “Smiles of a Summer Night,” the wistful musical considers a weekend of wealthy Swedes, lovers of all ages and temperaments, mostly fickle or unfaithful. No one seems particularly Swedish here, but the character types and their machinations are universal, and just about everyone gets what he or she wants or deserves by the end. The show is a daunting challenge for most singers and theater groups. It’s especially impressive for a small, young company like Cygnet. But it makes for a thrilling start of their newest venture, taking over the Old Town Theatre.
There, amid the spring-break revels and bathtub-sized margaritas, this intimate production flaunts its intelligence and flair. The minimalist set is beautifully lit. The direction is nimble and the costumes are stunning. Though the chorus is at times a tad shrill as it waltzes on and off the stage to comment on the tangle of amorous intrigues, the ensemble is outstanding.
A stellar cast is also assembled at Diversionary Theatre, for “ Blue Bonnet Court ,” a joint production with Moxie Theatre. Zsa Zsa Gershick’s 2006 dramedy , set in 1940s Texas , tackles thorny themes like homophobia and hidden love, heroism, racism and anti-Semitism. Secrets and lies abound in a double-standard world of closeted Hollywood queens and military he-men. The characters are fascinating and multi-faceted, and under the skillful direction of Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, a wonderful ensemble plumbs their depth and repressed sexuality. Even in wartime, in a ramshackle motel like the Blue Bonnet Court , love can take root, between a hard-nosed, New York Jewish, journalistic “sob-sister” and a covertly educated and passionate African American chambermaid. Al l the yearning is clandestine here, but once someone takes a risk and flouts the norms, the chutzpah can be contagious. Not everyone winds up happy; no neat, tidy resolutions here. In fact, given the challenges ahead for the interracial couple, Gershick is working on a sequel. But she’s already accomplished a great deal: interweaving humor and hypocrisy, placing our societal divides and deceptions under a glaring, hothouse Texas light.
Both productions are eye-openers, for their artistry and their sometimes unsavory revelations. If you haven’t been to the small theaters of San Diego , you’re missing out on a boatload of provocative ideas and dramatic passions.
The Moxie/Diversionary co-production of “Bluebonnet Court” runs through April 13 at Diversionary Theatre in Hillcrest.
The Cygnet Theatre production of “A Little Night Music” continues at the Old Town Theatre, through May 4]
©2008 PAT LAUNER