San Diego's Jazz

Pat Launer, Center Stage

Funding for "Center Stage" is provided in part by The Handler Family
  • “INDECENT” – La Jolla Playhouse

    “INDECENT” – La Jolla Playhouse

    Two beautiful young women kiss in a spring rainfall. It’s a stunning scene in the world premiere, “Indecent,” at the La Jolla Playhouse.

    It was also a provocative moment in a much earlier play, “The God of Vengeance,” that caused such a furor when it opened on Broadway in 1936 that the cast and producer were arrested on obscenity charges.

    The history of that 1907 play by celebrated Polish-Yiddish writer Sholem Asch is the spine of the new work, a breathtaking, heart-rending piece ingeniously imagined by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Paula Vogel and brilliant director Rebecca Taichman.

    “Indecent” is an international tragedy of sorts, a tale of Jewish self-suppression and recurrent anti-Semitism. “The God of Vengeance” was a hit all over Europe and in the Yiddish theaters of New York. But as soon as it was translated into English, a prominent Rabbi used his influence to shut it down. Because it showed shtetl Jews in an unflattering light that included owning a brothel. And of course, there was that lesbian scene, which is actually quite sublime.

    There are so many layers and levels in this production of mythic scope and intensity, presented in association with the Yale Repertory Theatre, where it opened last month, before many changes. The focus still needs to be more clearly defined: Is this a play about an incendiary play, or about a playwright-provocateur? About a beleaguered stage manager, or the plight of 20th century Jews? This self-proclaimed “blink in time” has many components and several potential endings.

    And yet, “Indecent” remains extraordinary, dazzling and deeply moving, with its gorgeous stage pictures, marvelous choreographic moves and elegant lighting and sound.

    The magnificent, multi-talented cast of ten features several klezmer musicians who created the alternately joyful and haunting score. This gut-wrenching, fact-based story is told with an ineffable beauty, bookended by a sensual rain shower and a symbolic outpouring of ashes. Consider it important and unmissable.

    “Indecent” runs through December 10 at the La Jolla Playhouse.

    Aired: 11/27/2015 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2015 Pat Launer

  • “The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence” – Moxie Theatre

    “The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence” – Moxie Theatre

    Not so elementary, this Watson.

    Madeleine George’s comic drama, “The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence,” is a complex, overlapping, time-hopping contemplation of relationship and communication: real vs. fictional and human vs. technological. It’s all about control and submission, holding on and letting go; seeking perfection and learning to accept something less.

    The play was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2014. George, whose equally thought-provoking creation, “Precious Little,” is winding up an excellent staging by InnerMission Productions, tells both tales of communicative breakdown in fascinating, fragmented ways.

    Here, she gives us a welter of Watsons: the IBM supercomputer that beat two “Jeopardy” trivia champs on TV in 2011 is the inspiration for Watson, the empathic android created by Eliza, an artificial intelligence expert who worked on the original Watson. And there’s Josh Watson, a tech nerd sent by Eliza’s paranoid ex-husband to spy on her, but instead, they fall into bed, and maybe in love. There’s the assistant to Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Watson, who famously answered the first-ever phonecall in 1876. On the 55th anniversary of that event, Watson is being interviewed on radio by a producer named Eliza. And in Victorian England, there’s another Eliza, who seeks the help of Sherlock Holmes, and instead gets a consultation with the elemental Dr. Watson.

    Two of those Elizas have obsessive, volatile, controlling husbands named Merrick.

    It’s ingenious how George weaves it all together, history repeating itself in the brilliant or mad inventions of scientists attempting to improve society and communication, but in fact, keeping us from gritty, flawed, real human relationships.

    Under Delicia Turner Sonnenberg’s precise and cunning direction, a stellar cast of three plays all the roles. Jo Anne Glover, marvelous as the anguished Elizas; Eddie Yaroch, a zany hothead as the Merricks; and Justin Lang, brilliantly malleable as the various Watsons.

    The excellent design work includes a clever revolving set and wonderful quick-change costumes. Madeleine George poses questions that defy easy answers. But the next time you interact with Siri, you might give this play a second thought.

    “The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence” runs through December 6 at Moxie Theatre in the Rolando area near SDSU.

    Aired: 11/22/2015 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2015 Pat Launer

  • “END OF THE RAINBOW” – Intrepid Theatre

    “END OF THE RAINBOW” – Intrepid Theatre

    Every drama or tragedy, ancient or modern, has some lesson, message or moral, a payoff for the audience for suffering along with the character. None of that in “End of the Rainbow,” Peter Quilter’s 2005 play chronicling the last months in the life of Judy Garland, who overdosed at age 47.

    The setting is Christmas 1968, at the Ritz Hotel in central London, and onstage at the Talk of the Town nightclub, where Judy scheduled a six week comeback gig. She has a new fiancé, Mickey Deans, soon to become her fifth husband. A former club owner who’s now her manager, he tries to deny her access to the pills and booze she’s been addicted to most of her life, but she refuses his help, and the loving support of her pianist, Anthony, a stand-in for all her gay devotees.

    The fact that her addictions began in her youth, started by movie studios and condoned by her mother, gets just a passing mention. There’s no context for her manipulative, narcissistic behavior, no insights into her relationship with her mother, her men or her music. The only glimpse behind the foul-mouthed, seductive mask is the fear that she can’t go onstage without chemical assistance.

    We get a relentless series of self-destructive acts. “They hate to see you fall,” Mickey says, “but they love it when you get back up.” In this show, she barely gets back up.

    But Eileen Bowman is magnificent, perfectly capturing Judy’s biting wit, volatility and insecurity. She transforms her voice completely, producing a throaty tremolo that doesn’t really sound like Garland but, coupled with those classic Judy moves, it effectively conveys raw emotion in ten Garland classics.

    Cris O’Bryon, pianist nonpareil, is terrific as Judy’s cynical English accompanist. Jeffrey Jones is given little to work with in the underwritten role of Mickey.

    The design elements are excellent, and they work well in the Lyceum Space. Intrepid Theatre founding director Christy Yael-Cox has done a marvelous job with this San Diego premiere. It may be like watching a train-wreck, but the gutsy performance is impeccably on track.

    “End of the Rainbow” runs through November 29 at the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza.

    Aired: 11/13/2015 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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