Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
“Trying” – Lamb’s Players Theatre
“Grace” – ion theatre
“The Love Suicides at Amijima ” – DangerHouse Productions
August 26, 2011
They’re dropping like flies on local stages – whether by murder, suicide or advancing age. The drama may be peppered with wit, but make no mistake; as the summer winds down, lives are being lost.
The most natural cause is waning with the years. Although he was a U.S. Attorney General under FDR, and the chief American judge at the Nuremberg war tribunals, at 82, Francis Biddle is facing his final days. He still won’t tolerate split infinitives, mind you, but he loses track sometimes – of his words and his belongings. Every assistant has fled, reduced to tears by his irascible demands and supercilious ways. But resolute Sarah Schorr , a Canadian prairie girl with a will and spirit of steel, isn’t going anywhere.
In the 2004 historical drama, “Trying,” Joanna McLelland Glass recreates her own personal experience in the late 1960s as the final secretary to the real-life Judge Biddle.
It’s a poignant story, compellingly told at Lamb’s Players Theatre, under the taut, sensitive direction of Kerry Meads. The set, props and costumes are pitch-perfect, and Doug Waldo is superb as the cantankerous octogenarian, who gradually warms to his new charge, thanks to a fiercely focused performance by Kelsey Venter. In view of the judge’s calling and personality, “Trying” has many connotations, and the production gives the play multiple shades of meaning and heart.
Another mismatched pair takes center stage in “The Love Suicides of Amijima ,” a 1721 tragedy by Chiamatsu Monzaemon , who’s been called ‘the Japanese Shakespeare’. Ostensibly based in fact, this is his ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ a story of forbidden love between a prostitute and a poor, married paper merchant. Originally written for bunraku puppets, then adapted for kabuki theater, the piece is obviously intended for a stylized presentation. But it has an unnervingly naturalistic feel at DangerHouse Productions. This upstart company thrives on the macabre, and the final deaths are, in fact, the most intriguing part of the show. The acting skills are wide-ranging and few Asians are in the cast. But the 400-seat Liberty Hall Theatre in National City is a find.
Time and space are upended in “Grace,” a soul-chilling 2004 play by former seminarian Craig Wright, best known for crafting “Six Feet Under” on TV. In 95 riveting minutes that begin with the gruesome ending, we wind back to watch a marriage fall apart, a man spiral out of control and questions of faith and religion scrutinized from multiple perspectives. Quite a feat of creation and execution, as ion theatre tears into yet another intense, gripping one-act with signature ferocity. Glenn Paris’ direction is terrific, and his cast is outstanding, except for the migrating accents.
These are dramas that force you to confront your own beliefs – about love, death, God and everything in between.
“The Love Suicides at Amijima ” runs through August 28 at the Liberty Hall Theatre in National City.
“Grace” plays through September 10 at ion theatre, on the edge of Hillcrest.
“Trying” continues through September 25 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado.
©2011 PAT LAUNER