Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
November 23, 2012
Ghosts, robots and feathered angels. Fantasy meets a fraught reality in three provocative productions.
The biggest and splashiest is the world premiere of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” inspired by the album of the same name by alt-rock band, The Flaming Lips. A young woman, a black belt in karate, confronts the combat challenge of her life – fighting to save her life. She’s been diagnosed with an aggressive lymphoma, and the cancerous cells in her body, neither red nor white, are programmed like pink robots to kill off her healthy cells. “Your body is at war with itself,” her doctor tells her. “The power of your own will will determine the outcome.” So she goes into warrior mode against the evil demons, brilliantly represented by neon skeletal humans; a giant, 14-foot puppet; and airborne specters.
The jaw-dropping new musical, conceived and directed by former La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Des McAnuff , in collaboration with Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, is the most technologically-advanced production ever at the Playhouse. The multi-media action is electrifying, though a tad frenetic and frenetic. Oddly enough, it’s the score that slows things down. Almost every song is an aching ballad, mostly between beautiful, indomitable Yoshimi, wonderfully inhabited by Kimiko Glenn, and her two ardent suitors. With a lack of dialogue and a nod to anime, the characters seem one-dimensional. But the compelling voices, the tragic situation and the endless parade of stunning visual stimuli keep you engaged, if not deeply moved.
The dysfunction of the family at the center of “The Little Flower of East Orange” forces you to feel the pain of their mutual destruction. The hospitalized matriarch has visitations from her dead father. Once her offspring arrive, all hell breaks loose. Hot-buttons are pushed, old scabs are picked to bleeding, and a long-held nugget of denial is finally loosed.
ion theatre takes a big juicy bite out of this sharp-edged, sharp-tongued semi-autobiographical dramedy by Stephen Adly Guirgis. The ensemble is superlative, including priceless performances by ion co-founders and co-directors Claudio Raygoza and Glenn Paris. Trina Kaplan, Jeffrey Jones and Catalina Maynard are terrific as the deeply conflicted family who hurt and love with equal vehemence.
Meanwhile, at Diversionary Theatre, a high schooler is spending his time locked in the bathroom, afraid to come out (in both senses of the term). The john is his escape from his newly separated parents, bleak Kansas existence and emerging sexual identity. And it’s his only place to read the play that’s changing his life – and affecting everyone around him. The depth and profundity of Tony Kushner’s brilliant epic, “Angels in America,” gives rise to the lyrical poetry of playwright Harrison David Rivers, confronting race, politics, love, loss and learning to overcome your fear and fly. A soaring production, with high-powered acting and direction.
In their own quirky, otherworldly ways, each of these plays is a defiant affirmation of life.
“The Little Flower Of East Orange” runs through December 8, at ion theatre on the edge of Hillcrest.
In University Heights, Diversionary Theatre’s “When Last We Flew” plays through December 9.
“Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots” continues through December 16 at the La Jolla Playhouse.
©2012 PAT LAUNER