Pat Launer, Center Stage
“The Tempest” – South Coast Repertory
Prospero is a maker of magic. He conjures storms, uses sorcery to stun people into silence or sleep. So it makes perfect sense that a bona fide magician would direct his actions. Teller, of Penn and Teller fame, has co-adapted and co-directed, with Aaron Posner, a magical version of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” produced by South Coast Repertory, in association with the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University and The Smith Center in Las Vegas.
This pared-down version maintains all the plot-points. A storm brings Italian courtiers to an enchanted island where Prospero and his daughter have lived since his dukedom was stolen by his brother. Now, fortune and wizardry have brought friends and foes to Prospero’s isle of exile. He seeks revenge, but instead offers forgiveness – and his daughter’s hand in marriage.
In this meta-theatrical conception,a traveling company relentlessly tries to entertain the crowd. The spirit Ariel, a magnificent, albino-looking Nate Dendy, does nimble, if excessive,card tricks that enlist the audience. Prospero makes his daughter, Miranda, levitate. Heads are apparently lopped off, or spun 360 degrees.
It’s thrilling to look at – and well-spoken by a generally effective ensemble. Complementing the action is the haunting music of Tom Waits and his wife, Kathleen Brennan, performed by the wildly versatile 4-piece ‘spirit band,’ Rough Magic.
Amid the amazement, there are missteps. Casting a woman as the Neapolitan courtier Gonzalo adds nothing. Tom Nelis’ Prospero is compelling but not commanding. The monstrous Caliban is acrobatically played by two intertwined performers, choreographed by Matt Kent, of Pilobolus dance company, with sometimes creepy contortionist moves. Miranda’s love interest, Prince Ferdinand, is played as a dolt. The comic duo, Stephano and Trinculo, rank among the least comical I’ve seen.
The sum of the parts is entrancing. Some of the parts themselves don’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s not quite the magic of theater; more like the theater of magic. But for a feather-light incarnation of Shakespeare’s final play, that may just work fine.
“The Tempest” runs through September 28 at the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.
Aired: 9/19/2014 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer
“The Pianist of Willesden Lane” – San Diego Repertory Theatre
For Lisa Jura, music was survival. She lived for the piano. So did her mother and grandmother. And later, her daughter.
It was Lisa’s piano playing that made her parents choose her, not her sister, when there was only one ticket on the Kindertransport, the children’s train that took 10,000 young people, mostly Jewish, from their Nazi-threatened homes to safety in England.
Lisa was 14 when she left her family in Vienna. The uncle who was supposed to take her in could no longer accommodate her. How this talented, plucky, outspoken girl made her way from homeless refugee to concert pianist is the riveting story of “The Pianist of Willesden Lane.”
The tale is told by Mona Golabek, an exquisite concert pianist in her own right. It also happens to be the story of her mother’s life.
Writer/actor/producer/director Hershey Felder adapted and directed the play, based on Golabek’s 2007 book, “The Children of Willesden Lane,” written with Lee Cohen.
Golabek effortlessly inhabits multiple characters with a range of accents. The piano is a major character, too -- because it played such a large role in her life. As she punctuates her narrative with her magnificent piano mastery, we are transported back to 1938: the beginning of the German encroachment, the horror of Kristallnacht, the London blitz.
Suggestive of Viennese opulence,the set is an array of ornate gilt frames, often filled with illustrative photos and archival newsreels. And there are haunting pictures of Golabek’s family. Sometimes, the projections are distracting. But mostly, they underscore the sense of time and place.
To tell this deeply personal story is gut-wrenching challenge enough. To do it while playing concert-level classical piano, from Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” to the demanding Grieg piano concerto that was Lisa’s dream for her concert debut, is heart-stopping.
In this virtuoso performance, Golabek gracefully convinces us that music is humanity, healing and hope… and the key to one girl’s triumphant path through a terrible, terrifying time.
“The Pianist of Willesden Lane” runs through October 12 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in Horton Plaza.
Aired: 9/12/2014 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
“THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA”– The Old Globe
Betrayal, forgiveness – and the many ways love makes you kind of crazy.
Since “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” may not be Shakespeare’s wisest or wittiest work, it isn’t seriously harmed by being trimmed down to a sleek, 95 intermissionless minutes.
At the Old Globe, guest director Mark Lamos keeps the action lively, though there are some slow spots even in this brisk production. In the beautifully lit, whimsical, 2-D storybook set, houses are piled up on a hillside and pastoral trees rotate to becomeforest-dark and ominous.
Thoughthere’s little distinction between Verona and Milan, the Elizabethan costumes in both cities are stunning, with bright red pantaloons for the titular men, sumptuous gowns for the women, garish getups for the suitors -- evena ruff collar for the supposedly “sour-natured” dog, Crab, played by well-behaved and irresistible Khloe Jezbera, a black lab mix who steals every scene she’s in, even though her goofy master, Launce, should be getting all the laughs.
As the two gents of the title, these best buds have an easy rapport and appealing physicality. Hubert Point-Du-Jour’s Valentine has a regal elegance, as does Britney Coleman as his beloved, Silvia. By contrast, Adam Kantor as Proteus and Kristin Villanueva, as Julia, his main squeeze, seem far more impetuous and adolescent.
Proteus is a famously tricky character. Protean and erratic, for sure. He’s madly in love with Julia at the outset, professing undying devotion to her and to his BFF, Valentine. But the minute Proteus lays eyes on his friend’s fiancée, Silvia, he brashly begins to betray his bestie and abandon his beloved. His plotting and machinations are underhanded and self-serving, to say the least. We won’t even mention the attempted rape.
Comedies are supposed to end with a wedding. But after all he’s done, does Proteus really deserve to be forgiven by Valentine and taken back by Julia? In an enchantingly enigmatic final moment, all eyes are on Proteus – which adds a titillating frisson of doubt.
“The Two Gentlemen of Verona” runs through September 14, on the Old Globe’s Festival Stage.
Aired: 8/22/2014 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer
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