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Pat Launer, Center Stage

Funding for “Pat Launer, Center Stage” is provided in part by
Susan and Crystal Atkins-Weathers.
  • “JADE HEART– Moxie Theatre

    “JADE HEART– Moxie Theatre

    Adopted children often have a disrupted sense of identity, a fear of abandonment, and a feeling of being an outsider. But when their unknown birth mother is 10,000 miles away, the sense of disconnection is even more profound.
    That’s certainly the case with Jade, the centerpiece of “Jade Heart, a West coast premiere by Chicago playwright Will Cooper, now at Moxie Theatre.

    Artistic director Delicia Turner-Sonnenberg brings her signature simplicity and warmth to the production, abetted by a stellar design team.

    Tautly stretched strings artfully comprise the set, suggestive of heartstrings and, when given a rosy glow, the red strings that ankle-tie two people meant to be together, according to Chinese belief.

    Jade was left in a vegetable cart in a Chinese market. When American divorcée Brenda McCullough flew to China to adopt a baby, and was paired with Jade, it was love at first sight. But Brenda insists that Jade become totally American, not in any way Chinese. She chafes when Jade wants to know more about the language,the culture – and the mother who abandoned her.

    The narrative toggles back and forth in time, in and out of dream states, as Jade imagines meeting her birth mother. The dialogue, characters and relationships are smart and sharp, but the viewpoints are re-stated repetitively. The two-hour piece could be considerably pared down.

    Still, it’s getting a beautiful, heartful production, with a strong and convincing cast, centered by Dana Wing Lau as intelligent, independent Jade, and Julie Sachs as her well-meaning but overprotective mother. Sonnenberg makes excellent use of opera singer Joyce Lai, who opens and closes each act with soaring Chinese songs. In several roles, Albert Park is credible, as always, and Dana Byrne is an authentic addition. Masks are used to excellent effect in the China scenes; the lighting, sound and costumes enhance the bicultural sensibility.

    As the set symbolically reminds us, each of us longs for ties that bind and connections with no strings.


    “Jade Heart” runs through August 10, at Moxie Theatre in the College area.

    Aired: 7/25/2014 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer


  • “THE ORPHAN OF ZHAO– La Jolla Playhouse

    “THE ORPHAN OF ZHAO– La Jolla Playhouse

    Some say ‘Revenge is sweet’- but not in the theater. Revenge tragedies are brutal, and there’s often amounting body-count.

    This is certainly true of “The Orphan of Zhao,” an ancient Chinese legend, where the murders and suicides pile up. Over the course of many centuries, the story has inspired stage, film and opera versions.

    Using thelyricalthough repetitive adaptation by English poet James Fenton, the La Jolla Playhouse teams up with the American Conservatory Theatre, with direction by ACT’s stellar artistic chief, Carey Perloff.

    This production of “The Orphan of Zhao” is magnificent to behold, with superlative set, lighting, costumes and original soundscape, created by the versatile performers. The staging is highly inventive, with wildly imaginative touches, like a princess on wheels and a baby that bleeds red beans, which prompted one patron to say it ‘gave new meaning to ‘beanie babies.’

    But there’s little humor here. Relentless corruption and cruelty rule, as the ruthless head of the Palace Guard, Tu’anGu, positions himself to take the Emperor’s place. He arranges the death of his adversary, the Emperor’s son-in-law. Three hundred of Zhao Dun’s kinsmen are murdered, and if the new Zhao offspring is not produced, all the babies in the prefecture will be massacred.

    The country doctor who’s attended the princess-in-exile has been given the infant – and a massive responsibility. His moral dilemma is monumental. To save the Zhao family and the community, he must sacrifice his own newborn son.

    This is a story that reflects Chinese morality and culture, whichmay feel a tad removed from mainstream American mores. It’s about ‘family first,’ and surrendering the self for the good of the group.

    Perloffputs many stylized theater conventions to dazzling use. While that enhances the beauty of the production, it flattens the emotions. The story may be operatic, but the personalities and passions are stifled. And that gives us little to hang onto or hope for.


    “The Orphan Of Zhao” runs through August 3, in the Mandell Weiss Theatre on the campus of UCSD.

    Aired: 7/18/2014 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer


  • “OTHELLO”– The Old Globe

    “OTHELLO”– The Old Globe

    Racism, misogyny and random acts of evil. Shakespeare packed a lot of still-relevant social hot-buttons into “Othello.”

    Every production of the play has everything to do with artistic choices. Old Globe artistic director Barry Edelstein has opted to move the setting to the early 19th century. All well and good politically, but the scenic design looks like some futuristic geometry of moving walls crafted from aluminum foil.

    The four central characters determine the audience response to the play. Here, the women, though powerless in their society, are steely and smart. Kristen Connolly’s Desdemona is no wilting victim. Angela Reed, as Emilia, wife of the diabolical Iago, spurns her husband to become the potent, truth-telling centerpiece of the tragic ending.

    And then there’s the pas de deux between Othello and Iago. As the Moor, Blair Underwood has adopted an odd Caribbean-flavored accent that gets in the way of his speeches – just as his Rasta dreadlocks get tangled in his face. But the impassioned leader’s devolution, from swaggering warrior to delighted lover to green-eyed murderer, is superbly calibrated and truly gut-wrenching.

    Still, all the action pivots on Iago, whose motivations have been the stuff of endless discussion and debate. Richard Thomas has chosen to play him as a sociopath, probably the least nuanced and interesting of the options. Pure evil isn’t that engaging; we crave complexity. This Iago is a manipulative sicko, and that’s a flat take.

    The costumes are attractive, the original music and live percussion heighten the energy and drama. The language is presented with impressive precision, so the poetry and musicality of the text, as well as its sense and consequence, come through with extreme clarity.

    The statements made about blacks, women, honesty, loyalty and trustworthiness will certainly raise the hackles of the socially sensitive. But when, at the end, Iago vows never to speak again, our fascination doesn’t pique. As twisted as this Iago is, he probably wouldn’t have much that’s rational or sensible to say anyway.

    “OTHELLO”runs through July 27 outdoors at the Old Globe’s Lowell Davies Festival Theater in Balboa Park.

    Aired: 7/4/2014 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer


For an archive of all of Pat's reviews, going back to 1990, use the 'search' function at www.PatteProductions.com.

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