Pat Launer, Center Stage
"Kingdom City"- La Jolla Playhouse & " A Discourse..."- Moxie Theatre
Arthur Miller must be smiling from the Beyond, knowing that “The Crucible” is still fresh and relevant.
His 1953 classic used the Salem Witch Trials as an allegory for the Red-baiting McCarthyism of his era. Two newer plays (both by women), one set in the present, the other, ten years after the Salem trials, share with Miller a fascination with the seductiveness of religious zealots – who can twist the truth, terrify youth and undermine our best natures – all in the name of godliness.
The world premiere, “Kingdom City,” by Sheri Wilner, is based in fact. It concerns censorship, specifically, the cancellation of a high school production of “The Crucible” in small-town Missouri. The ultimate conflict pits a strong-willed, liberal—minded New York director against the local youth pastor, who leads a ‘purity class’ for teens.
In a wonderful, nuanced performance by Ian Littleworth, the pastor is affable and credible – to a point. Then he goes, as he warns the kids about social situations, “over the line.”
The play’s beginning is choppy, the end too abrupt, and the ceremony scene protracted. But the drama is crafty, intriguing and, under the imaginative direction of Jackson Gay, excellently presented at La Jolla Playhouse. It’s guaranteed to engender fascinating post-performance discussion.
Back in the 1700s, we have “A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World,” its unwieldy title taken by playwright Liz Duffy Adams from the writings of Puritan pamphleteer Cotton Mather, instigator of the Witch Trials.
Abigail Williams, the real-life accuser at the center of “The Crucible,” returns to New England ten years later, plagued by doubts and nightmares, about having sent 25 people to their death. She confronts her former cohort Mercy Lewis, now a bitter, suspicious widow, who still believes there are witches, and only a witch would deny it. So begins Abigail’s outrageous trial, under the aegis of a hidebound, self-appointed minister/magistrate.
The first act is filled with tension and dread, but the second, except for a spiky little twist, devolves into personal independence discourse and 21st century romance.
The Moxie Theatre production, superbly directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, is potent, beautifully designed and wonderfully acted.
In every age, it seems, the most extreme prey on the most vulnerable.
“Kingdom City” runs through October 5 at the La Jolla Playhouse.
“A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World” continues through October 12 at Moxie Theatre, near SDSU.
Aired: 9/26/2014 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
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