KPBS AIRDATE: June 02, 2006
Time takes its toll in provocative productions at our two Tony Award-winning theaters. The world premiere musical, “Zhivago,” sweeps through Russian history, chronicling the evolution of a country and an irrepressible love. Set in roughly the same timeframe, the early 20th century, “The Violet Hour” examines our unquenchable desire to glimpse the future – and change it. To playwright Richard Greenberg, time is a slippery and elusive element. In his 2002 play, a peculiar machine spews reams of paper that look back on the present as past. Greenberg flaunts his erudition in the first act, which is crammed with self-congratulatory linguistic legerdemain. It takes an awfully long time to establish the characters, their histories and relationships before he blindsides us with a neck-snapping, act-ending shocker.
The second act gains momentum and gets engrossing, as it veers into the sci-fi realm of the fantastical. With winks and nods to famous figures, such as Josephine Baker, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and the fabled editor Maxwell Perkins, Greenberg talks about legacies and loyalties via the publishing dilemma of a young, post-War Princeton grad. If he can only afford to put out one book, should it be the gargantuan tome of his best friend or the plain-spoken memoir of his secret lover? And will he ever find those theater tickets for the evening? On this slim premise, Greenberg has constructed a fascinating contemplation of Time that’s not quite as mesmerizing as his “Three Days of Rain,” but has much to commend it in the beautifully designed, delicately crafted production at the Old Globe, directed by Carolyn Cantor, performed by an attractive and appealing cast.
At the La Jolla Playhouse, it’s not about wordplay and delicacy, but vast expanses of land, war, politics, passion, class distinctions, Bolshevism and communism. Like the classics it’s derived from, by poet/novelist Boris Pasternak and filmmaker David Lean, “Zhivago” has a wide-ranging reach, from the sprawl of two revolutions to the three men who love one irresistible woman, and the two unfaltering women who love one conflicted man. The dialogue, by Michael Weller, is less poetic than its source, and Lucy Simon’s music is heavy on anthems and lush, sentimental love songs. The high-tech erector set seems completely out of place, and it moves hyperactively in the first act. But under the nimble direction of Des McAnuff, the stellar performances draw us in and make us care — about the futility of war and the inexorability of love. At the center, clutching our hearts, is the throbbing ardor of SDSU alumnus Ivan Hernandez as the principled doctor/poet Yurii Zhivago and striking Jessica Burrows as his unconventional, irresistible paramour, Lara. The new Lara’s Theme, “On the Edge of Time,” won’t be soon forgotten – in La Jolla, or if I can foretell the future – in New York.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.