KPBS AIRDATE: August 30, 2002
Love of others, love of self…. How much do you indulge or subordinate your own needs for the ones you love? In wildly different ways, this question courses though two world premieres at La Jolla Playhouse. “When Grace Comes In” is quiet and introspective, emotional repression described in internal monologues. “Wintertime” is rowdy, randy and emotive. It feels polished and finished, while “Grace” seems like a work in progress.
Playwright Heather McDonald brought another meditative world premiere to the Playhouse in 1995 — the spellbinding “An Almost Holy Picture.” “Grace” could be constructed as a similarly spare, solo piece, but instead, McDonald has attached a family to the central character, and a bevy of unnecessary others, who clutter the stage and cloud the character’s thinking.
Margaret Grace Braxton, wife of a Senator, mother of three, has lost herself, forgotten names and her own story. With her, we drown in a flood of water imagery. To reclaim her life, she does the unthinkable: she leaves her family, stripping away her own cracked surface to get to the true color beneath — her passion and former profession, art restoration. The symbolism is clear, but McDonald feels a need to hammer it home, and director Sharon Ott has a parallel need to illustrate every utterance. Neither trusts the audience to make the connections. The production is lovely and the performances compelling, but Jane Beard is too aloof to make us care about her pain or her passion. Despite some rich, poetic language, the piece needs major excision. There are important truths underneath, but (to overwork the metaphor) many more layers need to be scraped away.
Excess is everything in Charles Mee’s boisterous, hilarious “Wintertime.” Mee’s “Big Love” was a Patté Award-winning highlight of 1999, and now he reunites with his magically imaginative creative team: director Les Waters, designer Annie Smart and choreographer Jean Isaacs. The production is gorgeous, and the performances marvelous and uproarious; much truth, as they say, is said in jest.
Each of three couples thinks they’ll have a quiet New Year’s at the family summerhome. But everyone shows up at once — the son and his fiancée, the mother and her lover, the father and his boyfriend, the lesbians from next door, a lovesick doctor and a creepy deliveryman. A houseful of hysterical, hyperverbal ardor is nearly destroyed by jealousy, suspicion and self-indulgence. It’s a farce of operatic proportion, underscored with arias, wonderfully written, passionately presented, bare-bottomed ending and all. The second act starts preachy and ends silly, but the first act is flawless and the whole is unequivocally irresistible.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.