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  • “LIZARD BOY – Diversionary Theatre

    “LIZARD BOY – Diversionary Theatre

    You don’t have to like monsters or sci fi or superheroes to love “Lizard Boy.”

    This unexpectedly irresistible three-person “comic book musical fantasy” will make you laugh, and make you think: about people who are alienated because they look different, and seeing past the surface – in this case, green, scaly skin – to the humble person within, even if he turns out to have superpowers.

    Trevor met a guy exactly one year ago, on the night of MonsterFest. The event commemorates the day a monster emerged from the erupting Mount St. Helens and forever affected the lives of six kindergarten kids, including Trevor, whose reptilian appearance was caused by dragon blood. Lots of weird stuff happens, and the plot repeatedly thickens.

    After Trevor’s boyfriend dumped him, he locked himself away for a year. Now, on the one night when everyone dresses up, so he can feel normal, he ventures out, and meets lonely, affable Cary, as well as the sexy, dangerous Siren who’s been haunting his dreams.

    This luscious little show, which debuted at Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2015, winning multiple awards, is the warped, wacky brainchild of Justin Huertas, who wrote the book, music and lyrics. His partners are Kirsten deLohr Helland and William A. Williams, all multi-talented multi-instrumentalists. They accompany themselves, sing gloriously, even a capella, and prove to be thoroughly charming and disarming.

    Diversionary Theatre features the original cast, under the sharp and wildly imaginative direction of Brandon Ivie. The set is basic, the special effects are achieved vocally or musically, and there’s no defining makeup. It’s all left to the imagination, with the help of amusing cartoonish projections.

    This musical cum concert, rife with catchy folk and indie-rock tunes, feels like a cross between the green of “Wicked,” the spoofy “Bat Boy” and the 3-person musical “Striking 12,” by the trio, Groovelily, which played at The Old Globe in 2003. But “Lizard Boy” is funnier, hipper and more clever.

    Prepare yourself for 95 minutes of quirky songs and a touching story about opening your heart, triumphing over your demons and finding your power. Go get ‘em, Lizard Boy!

    “Lizard Boy” runs through November 6, at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.

    Aired: 10/24/2016 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2016 Pat Launer

  • “SEVEN GUITARS” and “KING HEDLEY II” – Cygnet Theatre

    “SEVEN GUITARS” and “KING HEDLEY II” – Cygnet Theatre

    August Wilson wrote jazz; he wasn’t a composer, but in his plays, the language is distinctly musical, with dips and riffs, crescendos and stunning solos.

    The late playwright famously chronicled the African American experience in the 20th century, through ten decade-by-decade dramas, mainly set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.
    Cygnet Theatre, which relishes presenting plays in repertory, has brilliantly paired two Pulitzer-nominated Wilson pieces, set in the 1940s and the 1980s. A number of characters recur in later generations; the relationships introduced in “Seven Guitars” are clarified in “King Hedley II.”

    These two searing, gut-wrenching works focus on folks who are under-educated and mostly unemployed. The men are all armed – with guns or knives. Their anger and resentment, their lack of opportunity, the hopelessness of their lives, often erupt in violence. They lament their treatment by white people in general and police in particular.

    When they dare to hope or dream, and seek out self-advancement, their quick-fix efforts often involve crime. Most of them have already been incarcerated.

    In this milieu, a man’s name and his sense of honor define his masculinity. When he feels disrespected, he instinctively lashes out, and bloodshed results. Of course, the women are left to suffer. As a counterbalance, the plays are riddled with humor and rife with symbolism and spiritual or religious ritual.

    These two spectacular productions, clocking in at a weighty, intense three hours each, simply must be seen. Though they can stand on their own, one clearly informs the other, so they should be viewed chronologically, with “Seven Guitars” first.

    The cast of seven, all but one appearing in both dramas, is uniformly superb, each mastering several dazzling melodic, poetic monologues. D.C.-based guest director Jennifer L. Nelson keeps the pace nimble, rhythmic and lyrical. Sean Fanning’s splendidly detailed set is wonderfully evocative.

    The plays could not be more timely or relevant. Sadly, the situation in poor African-American communities remains disturbingly unchanged, as do the encounters with police and prisons. These two tragic works remind us how exquisitely attuned Wilson was, and what a timeless gift he gave to the American theater.

    “Seven Guitars” and “King Headley Ii” run, in repertory, through November 6, at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.

    Aired: 10/12/2016 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2016 Pat Launer

  • “ART” – Intrepid Theatre

    “ART” – Intrepid Theatre

    Art as provocation. Typically, the outrage is political. But in Yazmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning play, “Art,” the affront is personal.

    Marc, Serge and Yvan have been best friends for 15 years. But when Serge pays an outrageous amount --- $200,000 -- for what appears to be a 5-foot by 4-foot solid white painting, Marc is incensed. His reaction threatens to unravel the relationship.

    There are discussions about esthetics and taste. Marc is rigid and condescending. Serge thinks he’s a connoisseur of modern art. Yvan, less educated and professionally successful than the other two, is caught in the middle of this battle royal of witty, biting words.

    But beneath it all, there’s a roiling midlife crisis lurking in each of these men. Serge is divorced, Marc has a mate that Serge can’t stand. And poor easygoing Yvan, two weeks from his wedding, is torn between the battling mothers, stepmothers and wife-to-be.

    The painting is the precipitator that brings all the angst to the surface. Yvan has a meltdown, Marc admits feeling rejected, and the three friends wind up rolling around the floor in a full-on fight.

    Ultimately, they have to decide what they’re fighting for and about – the art or the friendship.

    Under the assured, text- and character-driven direction of Christy Yael-Cox, this Intrepid Theatre production opens the company’s 7th season in its new home at the Horton Grand Theatre downtown.

    It’s a splendid verbal and physical slugfest, and the three actors – Jason Heil, Daren Scott and Jacob Bruce – play off each other brilliantly, in cutting remarks, clever repartee and incisive soliloquies.

    The design is spare, as suggested in the play, originally written in French, and translated by Christopher Hampton. It might be more potent, as in other productions I’ve seen, if the audience doesn’t actually glimpse the incendiary painting until a climactic moment late in the play. The art hanging in the other two apartments could be more character-defining. But these are minor quibbles. The production is very strong.

    This robust, acidic and language-rich comedy has dark undertones. It just might make you come away pondering what art – and friendship – are worth to you.

    The Intrepid Theatre production of “Art” runs through November 6 at the Horton Grand Theatre in the Gaslamp.

    Aired: 10/6/2016 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2016 Pat Launer

  • “SWEET CHARITY” – The Welk Theatre

    “SWEET CHARITY” – The Welk Theatre

    It’s hard to believe the spunky 1966 musical, “Sweet Charity,” had its origins in the dark, 1957 Fellini film, “Nights of Cabiria.” But it certainly does perpetuate the old cliché of the whore with the heart of gold.

    Charity Hope Valentine is just looking for love, but her job as dance-hall girl with benefits doesn’t exactly land her in the most facilitative circumstances. From the men she meets at the Fandango Ballroom to the lake overlook where she’s tossed over the edge, she gets hurt and dumped more than adored. Then she meets a neurotic, hyper-claustrophobic Nice Guy, whom she talks and sings through a harrowing elevator shutdown. Maybe her tide has turned. Or, maybe not, in a bittersweet, momentary nod to the superb source material, clumsily adapted by Neil Simon.

    Charity’s hope springs eternal, and so does ours in the decidedly ‘60s, eye-popping, psychedelic production gleefully presented at the Welk Resort Theatre. Director/choreographer Ray Limon pays splendid homage to the Tony Award-winning choreography of Bob Fosse, with those iconic angular moves, impressively captured by an expert ensemble.

    It’s 1966, and “Laugh-In” is invoked at every turn, though in fact, the TV show premiered a year after the musical. “Sock it to me” and “The Fickle Finger of Fate,” show up regularly, as does the loopy, hippie sensibility, especially in the ridiculous number celebrating an alt-church, “The Rhythm of Life.” There are too many silly moments like this, and too much empty fill. But we have to separate the show – flawed—from the production -- charming.

    Natalie Nucci has the ideal dance moves and insouciance for Charity, aided by her buddies, amusingly played by Adrian Mustain and Justin High. The look and sound are great: from the bi-level metallic set to the jazzy costumes and lighting. Just ignore the dated inanities of the story and focus on the compelling performances, excellent 5-piece band, strong vocals and vibrant visuals. And if you happen to remember “Laugh-In,” so much the funnier.

    “Sweet Charity” continues through November 20 at The Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido.

    Aired: 9/8/2016 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2016 Pat Launer

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

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