Pat Launer, Center Stage
“OUTSIDE MULLINGAR” – San Diego Repertory Theatre
There’s relentless rain, of course, coupled with loneliness, stubbornness and depression. A fight over the family farm. Superstitions and spectral voices, underscored by the lilt of flute, fiddle and brogue.
Sure and begorrah, playwright John Patrick Shanley has written a valentine to his ancestral homeland, in “Outside Mullingar.” He’s even used the actual names of his relatives, to tell a tender and bittersweet love story that unfolds in a tiny rural town 1½ hours west of Dublin – and a world apart.
These tough, rugged Irish folks are shaped and hardened by the weather and working the land. Anthony is a bit “mad,” it’s said. Certainly, his crusty old father thinks so. Which makes him unsure about whether or not he’s going to leave the farm to Anthony.
On the land adjoining the Reillys’ are the Muldoons. Indomitable Rosemary has just lost her father. Her mother and Anthony’s dad go humorously head to head. And then there’s Rosemary and Anthony, dancing around each other and their feelings for decades.
Watching the inevitable union gradually edge closer to reality is a pleasure and a joy, thanks to the wonderful San Diego Rep production, nimbly and thoughtfully directed by Todd Salovey.
An Irish music trio comes out before the show begins – offering a bit of a singalong, to get us in the mood. But the superlative cast does that just fine. Real-life husband and wife Mike Genovese and Ellen Crawford are a delight, with their teasing broguish banter. Manny Fernandes is heart-breaking, as the literal-minded but deeply sensitive Anthony. And Carla Harting is a wonder – a bundle of nervous energy and repressed desire, slowly inching closer to Anthony. It’s a lovely, poignant coming-together.
The 90-minute play is simple but heartfelt, and the design serves the production extremely well, with evocative set, lighting, costumes, sound and projections.
“Outside Mullingar” is an ideal Valentine’s date. But, tapping into the buried ache in all of us, it’s a great, green outing for any night.
“Outside Mullingar” runs through February 21 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in Horton Plaza.
Aired: 2/5/2016 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2016 Pat Launer
“WHEN THE RAIN STOPS FALLING” – Cygnet Theatre
Some people always think the sky is falling. Even if the world doesn’t end, the future looks so bleak to them that it can’t be faced. So they check out, in one way or another – abandonment or suicide.
We meet a lot of those folks – generations of them – in Andrew Bovell’s masterfully intricate drama, “When the Rain Stops Falling.”
The recursive play is set in multiple timeframes on two continents – from 1959 to 2039, in London and various parts of Australia.
The language, like the characters’ names and their conversations, keeps circling back on itself. It’s all about fathers separated from sons, parents and what they don’t tell their children; death, fear, memory, destiny and legacy.
This fascinating, dense and complex piece of work may require more than one viewing for complete understanding. A genealogy map in the program helps. But it’s best to just sit back and let the saga wash over you.
The Cygnet Theatre production is outstanding, under the superb, stylized direction of associate artistic director Rob Lutfy.
The action begins and ends with a downpour, and the titular rain is a recurrent theme. In the first moments, a fish falls from the sky. Fish soup figures prominently over the years.
The set, lighting, costumes and Kevin Anthenill’s wonderful soundscape and original score transport us in time and place, and keep us grounded, even as we, like many of the characters, are suspended in uncertainty.
The ensemble is magnificent, each marvelous performer giving heft and depth to an intriguing character and an impressive array of emotions. Their words, phrases and movements repeat with ritualized regularity, as they try to unravel long-held secrets and understand who they are and where they’re headed, Like the remote and isolated Australian Coorong some of them inhabit, these two intertwined families have evolved as a fragile ecosystem, caught between land and sea, past and present.
If you can tolerate ambiguity and abstraction, you’ll want to journey into the dark, damp unknown along with them.
“When the Rain Stops Falling” runs through February 14 at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.
Aired: 1/28/2016 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2016 Pat Launer
“SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE ADVENTURE OF THE GREAT NOME GOLD RUSH” – North Coast Repertory Theatre
The most revealing clues are there: the pipe, the violin, the intellectual arrogance and of course, the deerstalker hat. Right off the bat, you know you’re in Sherlock Holmes territory, though he winds up out of his usual milieu. Who knew the great sleuth came to the U.S. during the Gold Rush – and met Wyatt Earp in Nome, Alaska?
Playwright/musician Joseph Vass, whose last world premiere at North Coast Repertory Theatre was “Words By Ira Gershwin,” has undertaken a much more complex tale for his latest debut.
The fun part of “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Great Nome Gold Rush” is the mix of factual and fictional characters. Earp and his wife, Josephine, did, in fact, run a saloon in Nome at the turn of the last century. Alexander McKenzie actually was a Machiavellian, mine-usurping politician in the boomtown of Nome, in cahoots with a crooked judge, Arthur Noyes.
The rest of the characters in this Sherlock Holmes caper were created by Vass. And a colorful crew they are, deftly and distinctively played by an excellent ensemble, under the direction of David Ellenstein. Jason Maddy and Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper are a dandy duo as Holmes and Watson. Richard Baird, Jacquelyn Ritz, Louis Lotorto and Andrew Barnicle are standouts in the multi-character cast of nine. Speaking of multi-talents, Vass also composed the charming score, and played all the instruments on the pre-recorded sound track, except for the marvelous violin performance by Nuvi Mehta.
While there are many elements to enjoy, including the set, costumes and projections, the play’s details are more complicated and convoluted than necessary. We never learn much about the murder victim, so we don’t really care whodunit. And despite the vibrant portrayals and endless puns (“There’s no place like Nome,” for example), it’s hard to engage with the characters or the plot. A shorter and snappier sojourn might make this Sherlock adventure more intriguing and absorbing.
“Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Great Nome Gold Rush” runs through February 14 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
Aired: 1/22/2016 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2016 Pat Launer
“MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS” – The Welk Resort Theatre
There’s a reason some old warhorses aren’t trotted out that often; their fighting days are over – if they ever were in true fighting form.
Such is the case with “Meet Me in St. Louis,” the 1989 musical based on the 1944 MGM film. Since the movie appeared during wartime, it can be excused somewhat for its feel-good, sappy sentimentality. But in re-framing the show for the stage, book writer Hugh Wheeler and songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane added backstories and songs that didn’t add up – or add to the original.
Most of the numbers don’t feel organic to the show, and they don’t advance the development of plot or character. The storyline is flimsy, with no demonstrable conflict or drama. A large, get-along-great family is excited about the upcoming 1904 World’s Fair that will put St. Louis on the map. But not long before opening day, Father announces that he got a promotion and they’re all moving to New York City.
Everyone is devastated – especially the two boy-crazy teens who are just dying to be married. Everything turns out right in the end; the gals even get their matrimonial proposals.
What makes the Welk Resort Theatre production worthwhile is two knockout numbers and two fine performances. “The Trolley Song” is always bouncy fun, and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is timeless and terrific. Both are excellently sung by L.A.-based Chelsea Emma Franko, who has a charming stage presence. As her sister, Sarah Errington is also memorable.
Under Larry Raben’s direction and Karl Warden’s choreography, the rest of the cast seems to be working hard to please. The sum total doesn’t feel genuine, but it sure is nostalgic.
The robust five-piece band, under musical director Justin Gray, can sound tinny at times. The singing is strong overall. This show just doesn’t have all that much to sing about.
“Meet Me in St. Louis” runs through January 31 at The Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido.
Aired: 1/4/2016 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2016 Pat Launer
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