Published in Décor & Style Magazine

TV goes to the theater — and gets interactive. Lamb’s Players Theatre is presenting “The Survivor,” inspired by the wildly popular show of similar name. Conceived by Lambs’ artistic director Robert Smyth, and created by ensemble effort, this is actually a play (not a nasty game-show), with a central character and a plot that examines (and gently skewers) our obsession with celebrity culture. Charles Williams McKenzie is a marketing/sales rep, a modern Everyman who travels from the East coast to build a relationship with a woman on the West coast. Actually, he thought he was going out to get a quart of Cherry Garcia ice cream… and he wound up lost in a crazy parallel universe. Along the way, he loses his identity — which is to say, his laptop, his cellphone and his PDA.

So what does this have to do with the TV Survivor? Well, the audience can vote people out of the show and out of Chuck’s life. They also determine the situations he encounters. For instance, at one point in the story, he takes refuge in a bar, and the audience gets to decide whether it’s a salad bar, a sushi bar, an Irish pub or a Western saloon. The action takes off from that decision. During the several musical segments, the audience selects the singer and the type of song. Voting-time is determined by a ‘Big Chill’ button pushed by one of the 11 actors (and onstage musician); the show is never the same two nights in a row.

And the audience doesn’t vote by means of applause, as in the Lambs’ production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” Nonononono. This is no one-time, low-tech, retro affair. There is an electronic keypad at every seat. Spectators’ input is fed into a computer, which flashes the results on a scoreboard. “We’re attempting something terrifying,” admits director Smyth. “It’s bold and crazy. And with the technology expense, my business office thinks I’m nuts. But it’s been developed as a collaborative effort, so nobody can blame just me!” Is there a message, I ask, or are you just having fun? “Do we ever just have fun?” he responds rhetorically. “We’ve done other very wacky work over the years, but there’s always some point to it. This one explores some of the quirky silliness of modern life as it examines some important aspects of our culture.” (April 12-May 19, with previews beginning April 3; 619-437-0600;

If modern life has got you down, why not visit the future, with the new Cirque du Soleil production, “Dralion.” The latest North American tour of the acclaimed Canadian spectacle-makers pitches its tent at the Del Mar Fairgrounds for a limited engagement beginning April 18. That would be the trademark blue and yellow Big Top, AKA the Grand Chapiteau. Since its premiere in Montreal in 1999, “Dralion” has played sold-out engagements in 18 cities. The TV special of the show, “Cirque du Soleil Presents Dralion,” shot live during a San Francisco performance, was honored with three Emmy Awards in 2001. Fusing ancient Chinese acrobatics with avant garde circus theatrics, “Dralion” is “a celebration of life and the four elements that maintain the natural order: air, water, fire and earth. It propels these four pillars of the universe into a futuristic dimension, soaring to new heights as it defies the laws of nature.” So reads the press release. You may translate that into iridescent colors, a fantastical metallic set, and more than 55 performers from ten countries, including 37 Chinese acrobats, as well as jugglers, trapeze artists and other acts that feature hoop diving, bamboo poles, single hand-balancing, teeterboard and more. If you’ve never seen the Cirque (which has made quite a splash with “O” in Vegas), treat the family to some unique entertainment by the nouveau circus that started an international craze. There’s even a VIP Package that includes preferred parking and seating, refreshments in the VIP Suite, a Dralion gift and a souvenir program. (1-800-678-5440;

If the future’s too fantastical, how about a provocative perusal of the past? Michael Frayn’s “Copenhagen,” which won the 2000 Tony Award for Best Play, is making a brief stop at the Spreckels Theatre, courtesy of Broadway/San Diego. It’s the second national tour of the stimulating, eloquent contemplation of friendship, fission and physics. Frayn conjectures what might have happened during a seminal 1941 meeting between two Nobel Prize-winning physicists on opposite sides of a world war. The brash, young German, Werner Heisenberg, paid a surprise, clandestine visit to his mentor, the contemplative, half-Jewish Dane, Niels Bohr. Not for the faint of heart or mind, the play requires thought and attention on the part of the audience (but not necessarily prior knowledge of quantum or particle physics). The protagonists, plus Bohr’s wife, are already dead when the piece opens, and they play and re-play the various motivations and outcomes of the fateful visit. Was Heisenberg just trying to find out what progress the Allies were making on nuclear fission? Was he attempting to reassure Bohr that Germany wasn’t working on a bomb at all? Was he intending to recruit his former confidant? Was he coming for absolution or advice? And why didn’t Heisenberg provide Hitler with a bomb? Because he failed scientifically or because he wanted to save the world from Nazi destruction?

These questions have taken on even more relevance since the February release of several unsent letters written to Heisenberg by Bohr (who worked briefly on the bomb-building Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, after he fled occupied Denmark). For students of theater, physics, war, history or relationships, this one’s absolutely not to be missed. (April 23-28; 619-231-8995;

Talk about wartime relevance and anti-Nazi sentiment.… The Fritz Theater is presenting a well-timed revival of Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros,” the absurdist 1959 satire in which a man fears remaining human when all his fellow citizens are achieving animalistic conformity (by turning into rhinos). This allegory of the powerful pull of Fascism in the face of overwhelming evil and mass hysteria takes on new meaning in our time, in these days of good-vs.-evil, mindless jingoism and mob mentality. Fritz artistic director Duane Daniels shepherds a crackerjack cast (April 5-May 5, at St. Cecilia’s Playhouse, 6th and Cedar; 619-233-7505).

While we’re on the subject of startlingly timely revivals, don’t miss Renaissance Theatre Company’s production of Harold Pinter’s funny and frightening 1960 drama, “The Caretaker.” This intense three-hander (two brothers and a flip grifter) plays on the same turf, at the same time, as Ionesco, but in a very different way — how to sustain identity in a world that demands conformity as the price of survival. The fledgling Renaissance Company has hit the heights with each of its thought-provoking annual productions of 20th century classics (through April 14 at 6th @ Penn Theatre; 619-688-9210;

Okay, looking for something on the lighter side? You don’t have to have a dashboard Madonna to love “Late Night Catechism.” Of course, if you’re a recovering (or even a practicing) Catholic, and if you spent your formative years under the tutelage (and ruler) of nuns in parochial school, you’ll feel like you were transported back in time, sitting up straight and doing anything ‘Sister’ says. The beauty of this hilariously long-running one-woman show is that it’s part monologue, standup, improv and Oprah. Who could resist?? (April 23-May 12 at California Center for the Arts; 800-98-TICKET;

Sister wouldn’t approve, but there’s an irresistible pair of gender-bending diversions onstage in North County and Hillcrest this month. North Coast Repertory Theatre continues its “Pageant,” the rowdiest beauty contest on record, with singing, dancing, evening gown and bathing suit competitions that you just will not believe. Les girls are Les boys! (through April 21; 888-776-NCRT;

You’ve got two continents and two centuries to work with, and you still can’t tell the males from the females in Diversionary Theatre’s “Cloud 9.” Fresh from a string of astonishing successes, Diversionary is taking a stab at Caryl Churchill’s acclaimed farce, a wild ride from 1880 Africa to 1980 London, where nothing is as it seems. Sexual role-play is the name of the game in this sly, satirical look at British imperialism, a breeding ground for race and gender stereotypes. The Globe’s Brendon Fox directs. (March 30-May 11; 619-220-0097;

And don’t think that the venerable Globe is immune from gender-bending antics. This month, in a limited run, the Globe is mounting “Compleat Female Stage Beauty,” by playwright-in-residence Jeffrey Hatcher. Set just after the Restoration, when women were first permitted to act on the British stage, the play imagines what it must have been like for famed Shakespearean actor Edward Hynaston, when the King’s new decree barred him from playing the female roles that made him a star. This new play, which promises to be “lush and lascivious,” is helmed by the award-winning visiting director Mark Lamos (April 6- 27; 619-239-2255;

Next door on the Cassius Carter Centre Stage, Globe associate artist Joseph Hardy (who directed last year’s “Art”) returns to mount “Memoir,” an intimate portrait of one of the most popular actresses of the 20th century, “the divine Sarah,” whose name became a household word for histrionics — Sarah Bernhardt. See for yourself what makes a theater legend (March 30-May 5; 619-239-2255;

In the realm of best-sellers, they don’t get more legendary than the prolific Stephen King. If you’d like to see how he takes to the stage, try “Misery” at the newly renamed East Side Repertory Theatre in Lakeside (formerly Octad-One Productions). This white-knuckler concerns a successful romance novelist, recovering from a car crash, nursed back to health by his Number One Fan — who turns out to be a serious sicko. (April 5-May 5; 619-583-2418).

If you’re a theatrical risk-taker, check out UCSD’s New Play Festival 2002, ten days of spanking new work from the always-talented, often inspired MFA students in playwriting. Get ready for provocative productions, perhaps a challenge or titillation; maybe even a brilliant new star on the theater horizon (April 17-27; 858-534-4574).

Well, that covers a bit of history, mystery, comedy and drama. Something old and new, revived and even a little ‘blue.’ This is, after all, a Theater Town. There’s something for everyone on San Diego stages. You know, proclaimed us the latest “theater Mecca.” So what are you waiting for? Make your pilgrimage (and not just once a year!)

See you at the theater!


©2002 Patté Productions Inc.