Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
March 30, 2012
Marginalized. It’s a feeling shared by many African Americans and Latinos in the U.S. Two theater works potently and poetically capture that sense of alienation.
In 1995, prolific novelist T.C. Boyle wrote “Tortilla Curtain,” a fiction classic that juxtaposes privileged whites in a gated community with undocumented Mexican migrants camping in the canyon below. In a series of melodramatic ironies, the lives of the haves and have-nots keep overlapping and intertwining – in often disastrous ways. Anger and resentment build on both sides, till it all comes to a cataclysmic conclusion.
The serious but satirical book is gorgeously written, and in a recent interview, adapter Matthew Spangler admitted that he wanted to maintain as much of Boyle’s lyrical language as possible.
But in theater, showing trumps telling. So, the long stretches of narrative report from the three main characters feel static and undramatic , even in a 90-minute show.
Every time there’s action and interaction, the pace — and our pulse — quickens. Still, the characters, so rich and multi-layered in the book, feel shallow and one-dimensional onstage. The wealthy environmentalist, Delaney, seems hollow and lacks humanity. His wife is reduced to a cardboard, materialistic workaholic.
The Mexican couple is far more interesting here. Marvelous Kinan Valdez is both amusing and pitiful as Cándido , the relentless optimist trying to make good, though fate, life and Delaney thwart him at every turn.
At the San Diego Repertory Theatre, a fine cast and imaginative direction by Sam Woodhouse keep the proceedings lively, but Spangler is so hell-bent on humor that the musical and comical interludes feel forced.
What I thought would be the greatest challenge to adapting the novel – the technical difficulty of creating a mammoth fire and a deadly mudslide – turn out to be the strengths of the production, thanks to magnificent projections and lighting effects.
No world premiere is perfect. Spangler will undoubtedly be revisiting and revising the piece, which remains culturally relevant and disturbing – especially since conditions haven’t changed much since the book was written nearly 20 years ago.
The same applies to “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf .” Written in 1975, Ntozake Shange’s 20 poems still feel fresh, startling, even incendiary. These are the raw, racy, undulating, ululating voices of African American women who are tired of being used and abused, victimized and abandoned. Individually and as a rainbow-clad group, these powerhouses are ready to take control of their lives.
Charles W. Patmon Jr., new artistic director of Common Ground Theatre, has cast seven sexy, agile, beautiful, talented women to sing, dance, recite and raise your body temp.
So get ready for a gut-punch… and a highly-charged evening of entertainment.
The Common Ground production of “For Colored Girls…” runs through April 1, at the Educational Cultural Complex in the Lincoln Park area.
The world premiere of “Tortilla Curtain” continues through April 8 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in Horton Plaza.
©2012 PAT LAUNER