San Diego's Jazz

Pat Launer, Center Stage

Funding for "Center Stage" is provided in part by Judy Strick.
  • “A CHRISTMAS CAROL” – Cygnet Theatre

    “A CHRISTMAS CAROL” – Cygnet Theatre

    True to its title, singing is the focus of Cygnet Theatre’s new adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.” At times, Sean Murray’s version is near-operatic in structure; he takes Dickens’ phrases, from the various incarnations of the 1843 classic, and with the aid of composer Billy Thompson, puts the timeless words into melodies, some imposed on traditional English carols.

    Add in puppetry (courtesy of Michael McKeon), old-fashioned stage magic, live sound-making by the cast (the storm is particularly effective), and a bit of dancing and slapstick and you’ve got something of a variety show. Even the decorated proscenium arch screams English Music Hall.

    So, this “Christmas Carol” is funny and sprightly and seamless, floating by like a cloud on a rare, bright-skied British winter morning. But the light-as-a-snowflake approach does rob some of the gravitas from this ghost tale of redemption, with its seasonal reminder that, in our avaricious, consumerist world, “Mankind is our business.”

    Though thoroughly entertaining, and skillfully rendered by a stellar, shape-shifting, multi-talented ensemble, this “Carol” will bring no tear to the eye, no lump to the throat. With its whiplash speed, what we gain in musicality, we lose in depth of character – and even plot points. I missed Scrooge’s sister, Fanny, and his nephew, Fred – and that ever-amusing parlor guessing game at his holiday party.

    Tom Stephenson makes the old coot Ebenezer more likable than most. With his giant, graying mutton-chops, he manages to be avuncular even in the early scenes: quick to chuckle, and more willing than usual to follow the spirits and learn their lessons. David McBean is a standout as the spectral, enchained Marley and the beatific, benevolent Ghost of Christmas Present.

    Personally, I prefer the darker leanings of the story, and the scary ones, that put a little fear into the hearts of even cynics and skeptics. But as a much-needed reminder, “A Christmas Carol” is a must-see every year, and this is as diverting and dexterous a production as you’re likely to encounter.

    “A Christmas Carol” runs through December 28, at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.

    Aired: 12/19/2014 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer

  • “TRU” – Diversionary Theatre

    “TRU” – Diversionary Theatre

    He knew everyone and told everything. That was a source of pride for him – no one could name-drop like Truman Capote – but it could be a source of pain, too.

    When he was 8, living in Monroeville, Alabama, he published his first story, a three-installment fictionalized exposé of the local townsfolk. It caused so much havoc, the second two installments were never put in print. Nearly half a century later, he’s done it again – exposed his friends in a tell-all memoir that was partly pre-printed in Esquire magazine.

    In Jay Presson Allen’s drama, “Tru,” it’s 1975, and Capote is persona non grata in New York society, where he’d long been a colorful appendage of the rich and famous. Despite several award-winning books, most notably, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood,” he admits to being “famous for being famous.”

    When we meet him, at age 51, he’s a sad alcoholic, a lonely old queen on Christmas Eve, telling us all about his life, though it’s never clear exactly who we’re supposed to be.

    At Diversionary Theatre, Capote’s apartment, with its drop-dead view of the Manhattan skyline, doesn’t scream either gay or New York. The writer was a collector of many odd things, but there’s no sense of style or even eccentricity here.

    As Capote, Todd Blakesley gives it his all, but he could be far more fey and whiney, as the writer was known to be, and more flamboyant and pathetic. We don’t laugh enough with him or ache enough for him.

    Under the direction of Derek Livingstone the pace could be a tad perkier, and the character could be plumbed more deeply. I clearly remember seeing the original Broadway production with Robert Morse, and it kind of broke my heart. So sad to see someone so singular slide so low. But, in true tragic fashion, it was hubris – not to mention his drinking and dishing – that brought him down.

    Given Blakesley’s lifetime of theatrical dedication and capability, I’m pretty sure that, as the run progresses, the true nature of Truman will emerge.

    “Tru” runs through December 21, at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.

    Aired: 12/12/2014 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer

  • GLOBE FOR ALL – The Old Globe

    GLOBE FOR ALL – The Old Globe

    The Old Globe is takin’ it to the streets. Well, maybe not the streets, but out of the theater box and into the community.

    Renowned producer Joseph Papp created the Mobile Shakespeare program in 1957, and decades later, Globe artistic director Barry Edelstein re-animated Mobile Shakespeare while he was at The Public Theatre, bringing the Bard to underserved communities.

    This fall, he tried out the concept in San Diego, with Globe for All, a free touring production of a Shakespeare play, brought to such varied venues as a military base, centers for the elderly, a homeless shelter and a correctional facility.

    The 90-minute production featured a cast of 10 professional actors, including recent alumni of the Old Globe/University of San Diego graduate theater program. Each facility was offered a one-hour pre-show workshop about the language, themes, characters and plot of the play.

    The intention, said Edelstein, is to “overcome whatever barriers – economic, geographical or cultural” prohibit some community members from seeing or appreciating Shakespeare. “Theater in general, and Shakespeare in particular, are necessary to living a full and rich life,” says Edelstein, who directed the project’s first production, “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

    I saw the streamlined show at Father Joe’s Villages, San Diego’s largest residential service provider for the homeless. What was most impressive, besides the talent and commitment of the cast, was how well they interacted with the audience (dogs, infants and all), and how rapt most of the spectators seemed to be, catching all the humor and commenting freely on the action. It was a very exciting and energizing experience.

    If the Globe can once again secure funding from local Foundations, it intends to repeat the process next year, with another play and director.

    Here’s a toast to the Old Globe for helping to bring theater to every corner of our diverse county. Bravo!

    The newly-launched Globe for All will, hopefully, be an ongoing, annual program of the Old Globe.

    Aired: 12/5/2014 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

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