Pat Launer, Center Stage
“FREUD’S LAST SESSION” – North Coast Repertory Theatre
A discourse on the existence of God.You wouldn’t think it would be the stuff of drama. But when the debaters are Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, and Oxford professor C.S. Lewis, lay theologian and creator of Narnia, you’d be surprised how lively the conversation can get.
The meeting of these two brilliant minds never really took place. Playwright Mark St. Germain just imagined it, and his 2009 play ran for two years Off Broadway.
We’re in Freud’s London study in 1939, on the eve of World War II. An air raid interrupts the interaction, and each man dives fearfully for his gas mask. It’s three weeks before Freud’s death, and he’s suffering mightily from the oral cancer that was killing him – though he lights up a cigar during the interview. In fact, by that time, Freud could barely walk or talk, but in fantasy and dreams – as both these inventive thinkers well know – anything is possible.
The 83 year-old Freud summons the much-younger Lewis because he’s annoyed. They’d both been staunch atheists;why did Lewis go over to the other side? Lewis lays out his epiphany. Freud insists that belief in God is “patently infantile.” Does anyone actually win the debate? Well, you’ll have to see North Coast Repertory Theatre’s marvelous production to find out. Gorgeously designed, beautifully lit, with an outstanding sound design and superb props, the piece is a perfect fit for an intimate theater. And under the astute and detailed direction of David Ellenstein, who has cast two consummate actors, it could satisfy thinking theatergoers for a long time to come.
Michael Santo has all the irascible bombast of the intractable Freud, and Bruce Turk is delightful as Lewis, amusing, intelligent and almost unflappable. They’re a delectable duo, and we’re privileged to be flies on this cerebral wall. But the opportunity won’t last forever. Go see “Freud’s Last Session.” God may – or may not – be waiting for you there.
“Freud’s Last Session” runs through November 16, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
Aired: 10/24/2014 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer
“THE ROYALE” – The Old Globe
They had me at Round One. “The Royale,” by Marco Ramirez, is about one of the most dangerous and deadly sports – boxing, which is to say, bashing someone’s brains in – but there’s something irresistibly primal and visceral, rhythmic and ritualistic about the play.
The stakes here are especially high. The drama is loosely based on the life of Jack Johnson, the first African American world heavyweight champion. The real-life, historical bout took place in 1908, and the costumes in the Old Globe production appealingly reflect that era.
The central character, Jay “The Sport” Jackson, has Jack Johnson’s reputed patter and swagger. But Ramirez, a writer for “Orange is the New Black,” is trying to get inside the guy’s head… to explore not only his confrontational confidence, but the doubt and fear that bedevil him just as he tormented his opponents.
In the Globe’s stunning production, everything is symbolic. Clapping and stomping rhythms mark the bouts. There’s not a single actual punch thrown. But the magnificent staging of Rachel Chavkin makes us believe we’re seeing a fight, even when the person on the other side of the ring is pure fantasy, not the retired white champ of history, but a cautionary stand-in: Jay’s sister, warning him of the consequences of what he’s about to do. The admonitions proved prescient, even if they exist in the heavyweight’s imagination, as Ramirez conceives it. After Johnson’s victory, racially motivated killings erupted nationwide.
The scenario resembles recent events, like the election of an African American to the world’s most powerful position. Six years later, some people still don’t accept that fact. So this drama isn’t just creative anachronism. It’s relevant American reality.
The spare, square boxing ring fits perfectly into the arena stage of the White Theatre, the five actors are uniformly outstanding, with killer performances by Robert Christopher Riley as “The Sport” and Montego Glover as his sister.
Don’t miss “The Royale.” It’s a knockout.
“The Royale” runs through November 2, in the Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre.
Aired: 10/17/2014 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer
“TRUE WEST” and “FOOL FOR LOVE” – Cygnet Theatre
The plays of Sam Shepard create a bleak portrait: a desolate Southwest landscape of raw emotion, family dissolution and mutual destruction.
Cygnet Theatre has impeccably paired two of Shepard’s darkly comic dramas, performed in repertory, ingeniously called Shep Rep.
In the early 1980s, both“True West” and “Fool for Love” were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. They’re terrific together, both featuring a violent, co-dependent pas de deux, and a laser-sharp focus on the duality of personality,the quest for identity and ancestry as destiny.
“True West” is a master class in sibling rivalry. Centered on two wildly disparate brothers. One is a tightly-wrapped Ivy Leaguer, a successful, suburban, screenwriting family-man; the other is a wild, grubby, free-spirited drifter and grifter. Each harbors a lifelong yearning to trade places. And over the course of a torturous few nights, during which they trash their mother’s home and nearly murder each other with golf clubs and telephone cords, they become so intertwined, they’re indistinguishable. They drink and fight around the clock; only the attractive palm tree projections mark the passage of time.
“Fool for Love” is an intense, fiery exploration of attraction and repulsion, abandonment and reunion, passion and pain. May and Eddie cannot stand being separated, or being together. Her hapless suitor is caught in the crossfire.
Cygnet artistic director Sean Murray has designed and directed. Though the claustrophobic nature of these plays could be heightened, you couldn’t hope for a better repertory cast.
Francis Gercke, Manny Fernandes and Carla Harting are superb. Though I couldn’t quite buy a 1970s SuperFly black Hollywood producer with a decidedly Jewish name, Antonio TJ Johnson is a hoot – in that “True West” character, and as the fantasy father in “Fool for Love.” Jill Drexler is ideal in her cameo, and special kudos go to George Yé for his frighteningly real fight choreography.
These aren’t pretty pictures. They’re grainy, gritty and unresolved. But Cygnet brings them to vibrant life. Though the outcomes aren’t clearly delineated, the plays are skillfully developed.
“True West” and “Fool for Love” play in repertory through November 2, at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.
Aired: 10/10/2014 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer
“BRIGHT STAR” – The Old Globe
In the South, pedigree is everything. In theater, not so much.
Of course, it’s great to have knockout names like Steve Martin and Edie Brickell attached as co-creators, paired with Tony Award-winner Walter Bobbie as director.
But the world premiere musical, “Bright Star,” a sort of Southern Gothic romance premiering at the Old Globe, needs more than that.
The sometimes melodramatic, multi-strand story concerns a purse-lipped, high-power editor of a literary magazine in Asheville, North Carolina -- which was, in fact, a literary hotbed in the 1920s to ‘40s – and a fresh-faced, budding young writer just home from the Second World War.
Halfway into the first act, you can foresee Act 2’s Big Reveal, which isn’t that much of a shocker, though the lead up has moments of tension.
Part of the problem here is predictability -- in Martin’s book, and especially in Brickell’s lyrics, which are mundane and awkwardly rhymed. Martin’s score features energetic bluegrass and heartfelt ballads, but there’s a sameness throughout.
The excellent onstage band is situated in an open-slatted wood cabin, which is pushed around endlessly (and often pointlessly) by a game cast of 18. The proceedings are pleasant, and the lead players are attractive, appealing and talented. Carmen Cusack is especially noteworthy as the editor, and early on, she makes a delightful onstage transition from her older to her younger self. There’s the usual big-bellied bad-guy, a crooked politician who sets the nefarious part of the plot in motion. And of course, thwarted love is in the air.
Bobbie’s direction is highly imaginative, particularly the prop-moving and scene changes in the sluggish first act. The lighting is lovely, ranging from sepia tones to starry skies. But the feel-good, neatly-tied happy ending is a tad treacly. There’s an aw-shucks, retro feel here, to be sure.
What is unique is Martin’s banjo/bluegrass/roots sensibility, which is not common in modern musicals. The tunes may be toe-tapping, but without those Big Names attached, it’s not clear that the show would have legs.
“Bright Star” runs through November 2 in the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.
Aired: 10/3/2014 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer
“Regrets Only” – Diversionary Theatre
Maybe you’ve seen the movie “A Day Without a Mexican.” Well, here’s a play that gives us A Day Without a Gay. You could subtitle Paul Rudnick’s “Regrets Only” Gaymageddon. Just think of it: What couldn’t you do if everyone of the homosexual persuasion suddenly disappeared from your life? Hip haircut? Fuggedaboudit. Major in Women’s Studies? No way, Josefina.
This is only a small part of Rudnick’s laugh-line-a-minute 2006 comedy, but it’s probably the most memorable part.
What we have here is wealthy New Yorkers of the Noël Coward school: quippy, superficial, appearance-obsessed and, in the case of socialite Tibby McCullough’’s husband and daughter, decidedly right-leaning.
Tibby’s best friend is Hank Hadley, a fabulous, famous gay fashion designer. Her mother has married five gay men. But her husband has been tapped by the President (that would be George W) to work on a Constitutional amendment presenting an “iron-clad definition of legal marriage” as between a man and a woman. Jack McCullough drags his whiney, over-privileged lawyer-daughter along for the ride. Meanwhile, she announces that she’s just gotten engaged, which unleashes wide-ranging tirades on marriage, friendship, equality and fidelity.
Diversionary Theatre has snagged the San Diego premiere of this contemporary drawing room comedy. Under Jessica John’s direction, the pace is lively and the cast is meringue-light and endlessly amusing, chicly attired in Alina Bokovikova’s stunning frocks, while they frolic in Matt Scott’s upscale set.
Andrew Oswald’s Hank is an impeccable mix of smart, sassy and sarcastic. Kerry McCue is tasty as Tibby, and Dagmar Fields is a hoot as her wacky mother. Teri Brown tears up the place as the world’s most intrusive Jewish maid, who assumes foreign accents for fun. Charles Maze and Rachael Van Wormer tend to the shrill as the lawyerly father and daughter.
Rudnick is one of the cheekiest, wittiest writers around. Have a laugh, and maybe you’ll have a think. Send no regrets; just show up at this soirée.
“Regrets Only” continues through November 16 at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido.
Aired: 9/5/2014 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer
“MY FAIR LADY”– Moonlight Stage Productions & “OKLAHOMA” – Welk Resort Theatre
Two old warhorses have been trotted out for another run. They don’t write musicals like this any more -- not as tuneful, and not as long!
“My Fair Lady,” one of the most brilliant musicals ever, clocks in at three hours at Moonlight Stage Productions. Its genius comes from the book, largely lifted from George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” the perfect inspiration for Lerner and Loewe’s terrific score.
Steve Glaudini deftly directs a huge cast of 30, backed by an outstanding 25-piece orchestra, under the masterful baton of Elan McMahan. The singing is superb and the dancing is divine. But there are a few flaws in this attractive and elaborate production.
Eliza is the flower-seller who’s to be passed off as a duchess on a bet between two phoneticians. As played by Hilary Maiberger, Eliza has surprisingly little Cockney accent at the outset, so her dialectal transformation is minimal – which is the whole point of the play. As her suitor, Freddy, Nick Adorno reveals little personality in his should-be-show-stopping song, “On the Street Where You Live.”
On the plus side, Hank Stratton is marvelous as supercilious Professor Higgins, and Jamie Torcellini is delightful as the comic relief Alfred P. Doolittle, “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.” Jim Chovick and Kathy Brombacher provide excellent support as Col. Pickering and Mrs. Higgins.
Meanwhile, at the Welk Theatre, “Oklahoma” is vying for statehood again, in the heartfelt but corn-fed1963 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Here, too, the singing is strong, but the sets, wigs and four-piece musical accompaniment are weak. Despite a stellar score, and the best efforts of director/choreographer Dan Mojica, it’s hard for this show not to feel musty.
The energy is high in the trimmed-down cast of 16, and the central players are vocally and dramatically potent; there’s fine chemistry between Allen Everman and Kailey O’Donnell as cowboy Curly and farmgirl Laurey. The love triangle with the menacing hired hand Jud Fry works effectively. Andrew Koslow is agile and amiable as warm-hearted but witless Will Parker, andArielle Meads is a stunner in the Dream Ballet.
History and longevity make these two North County shows worth seeing, warts and all.
“My Fair Lady” runs through August 30, at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista.
“Oklahoma” continues through November 16 at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido.
Aired: 8/29/2014 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer
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