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Pat Launer, Center Stage

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  • “GUNMETAL BLUES” – North Coast Repertory Theatre

    “GUNMETAL BLUES” – North Coast Repertory Theatre

    The blonde at the next table has “a mouth that would’ve sent Shakespeare thumbing through a thesaurus.”

    So says poker-faced Sam Galahad, a hard-boiled, hard-drinking private eye who’s on the case of a murdered millionaire and his missing daughter. That MIA bombshell was the love of his life – even though they only had one brief encounter ten years ago – at the Red-Eye Lounge, a cheesy airport piano bar. Now, in that same seedy place, Sam is singin’ the blues – the “Gunmetal Blues,” which just happens to be the color of Jenny’s eyes (and shoes) – and the title of a 1991 Off Broadway musical that’s getting a bang-up revival in its San Diego premiere at North Coast Repertory Theatre.

    The show is a satirical mashup between gumshoe noir and musical theater. The book is by Scott Wentworth, with music and lyrics by Craig Bohmler and Marion Adler, all of whom were at the Solana Beach opening. They seemed to be having a wonderful time, as was the audience, thanks to the many clever quips and the snappy repartee.

    Three actors play all the roles. Sharon Rietkerk is terrific as a bevy of blondes – including a mousy secretary, sultry chanteuse, bag lady and, in a flashback, the young runaway. She pours her lissome body into a rapid-fire array of outfits, and she has the most appealing, supple voice on the stage.

    Jeffrey Rockwell, who plays a raft of stock characters, in various accents, also serves as host, narrator and piano-player, forever trying to hawk his $19.95 cassette, that features all the songs in the show. I guess that would make this meta-metal blues.

    As the chivalrous P.I., Galahad, whose head and heart get knocked about, Kevin Bailey has flawless deadpan delivery of every well-crafted line and lyric. The score, played by an excellent offstage band, features a couple of knockout numbers. The whole shebang makes for a thoroughly enjoyable, if unlikely, stylistic marriage. As the piano-guy puts it, “Bon Voyage, mon voyeur.”

    “Gunmetal Blues” has been extended through February 15, at North Coast Rep Theatre in
    Solana Beach.

    Aired: 1/23/2015 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2015 Pat Launer

  • “STEAL HEAVEN” – San Diego Repertory Theatre

    “STEAL HEAVEN” – San Diego Repertory Theatre

    It’s 2017, and a relentless young militant, an Iraq War vet named Trish, is shot in front of the White House by a cop who accidentally used a bullet instead of a stun-gun. She immediately embarks on a stunning, mind-bending flashback, reliving her life and the history of American political protest.

    So begins “Steal Heaven,” a world premiere written and co-directed by Herbert Siguenza, a founding member, 30 years ago, of the influential Chicano comedy trio, Culture Clash. The new show is highly reminiscent of a Culture Clash production: 1/3 silly, 1/3 agit-prop and 1/3 juicy political humor and provocation.

    “Steal Heaven” is all about reminiscence – for the wild and crazy atmosphere and activism of the ‘60s, embodied in Abbie Hoffman, the Clown Prince of the Left, renegade prankster who, with the Yippie Party he co-founded, actually ran a pig for U.S. President in 1968. Thirty years later, Hoffman committed suicide, at age 52.

    Now he’s the St. Peter of Radicals, stationed at the pearly gates on a heavenly mission to find the next great Leftie leader. Trish makes the cut and enters Hoffman’s Radical U, an extreme training that will enable her to return to earth to mobilize a revolution – of the most peaceful, pot-fueled kind.

    The premise allows for a funny and fascinating juxtaposition of the dissidents of yesterday and today. The current crop doesn’t fare too well.

    Despite an unconvincing New York accent, Siguenza is persuasive as the curly-haired, jocular stoner, Hoffman. But the tour de force performances come from his two sidekicks: irresistible Summer Spiro, spectacularly athletic, both physically and verbally, as the confrontational lesbian, Trish. Mega-talented mimic Mark Pinter is flat-out hilarious as everyone else, from George Burns and Albert Einstein to John Lennon, Baghwan Shree Rajneesh and Julia Child. The costumes and wigs are a hoot.

    San Diego Rep associate artistic director Todd Salovey co-directs this wacky mayhem, backed by evocative music and provocative projections. Like all good counterculture comedies, behind the zany antics and F-bomb humor, there’s a serious call to action. Power to the People!

    “Steal Heaven” runs through January 25, at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in Horton Plaza.

    Aired: 1/16/2015 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2015 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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