Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
April 13, 2012
Call it midlife crisis. Or existential angst. Sooner or later, nearly all of us question our lives and our choices. And if we’ve gone astray, we hope it’s not too late to make a change – or arrive at some semblance of acceptance. Two plays positively vibrate with the agony of lost direction and identity.
“This” continues Melissa James Gibson’s exploration of her generation. In this 2010 comic drama, the characters, all in their late 30s, are miserably adrift. Two are in a stalled marriage. One’s single, gay and cyncial . Another’s a one-year widow. Except for the bisexual French ‘Doctor without Borders,’ they don’t really know who they are or what they want.
Gibson is punch-drunk on language. In all her plays, the dialogue is terrific: witty, shrewd and incisive. These people are in pain, even if the doctor tells them their problems are ‘dinky’ compared to what he’s dealing with in Africa. Still, marital infidelity, crises of conscience and career, and the weight of widowhood are not all that trivial. You feel for these folks, though sometimes you might want to smack them upside the head for their narcissistic over-intellectualizing. But they are anguished, and Gibson somehow, skillfully, makes us care.
It helps that, at North Coast Repertory Theatre, guest director Kirsten Brandt is at the helm of an excellent cast, each polishing a sharp-edged little gem of a character to a high sheen. “This” is tart and smart, tinged with a touch of melancholy.
A pall of loneliness, malaise and missed chances hangs over “The Pride,” Alexi Kaye Campbell’s 2008 reflection on gay identity, past and present. A time-hopping London love triangle moves from 1958 to 2008 and back again. The names are the same, the attraction between the men remains constant, but the people and the era change dramatically. More or less. Mid-20th century, homosexuality was illegal in England. So the furtive infatuation is guilt-ridden and self-degrading, threatening to destroy a man and his marriage.
Fifty years later, the rainbow flags fly, and the men’s relationship is wide open. But there are new problems in the new millennium; one of the men is plagued by an obsessive need for anonymous sexual hookups. In both centuries, it takes a woman to sort things out, though the complications cause her distress, as well. Underlying all the quippy banter is a bone-chilling fear of being alone, unloved or unlovable.
The Diversionary Theatre production is crisply directed by ion’s Glenn Paris, and his cast is first-rate. But the time-changes aren’t always easy to track, and the magnetism isn’t always palpable or sexually charged. The play may not cover new ground, but the drama is well-written, thought-provoking and excellently executed.
Finding your place and being true to yourself; it crosses all age, nationality, gender and era boundaries.
“This” runs through April 29, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
“The Pride” continues through May 6, at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.
©2012 PAT LAUNER