Pat Launer, Center Stage
“LAST OF THE RED HOT LOVERS” – North Coast Repertory Theatre
Phil Johnson is up to his old tricks: his bag of comic tricks, that is. Cast with a trio of terrific women, the relentless funnyman and comedic Everyman is the guy in the midst of a midlife crisis in Neil Simon’s 1969 comedy, “Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” now playing at North Coast Repertory Theatre.
At 47, Barney is starting to face down mortality. Having been married for 23 years, he feels that life – and the sexual revolution – are passing him by. So he decides to have an affair.
Over one year, two acts (and 2½ hours), Barney arranges for three assignations, in the least likely of rendezvous spots: his mother’s fastidious New York apartment. And he only has three hours till she gets home from work.
Barney reeks of flop-sweat; he’s neurotic, awkward and klutzy. Each meetup is a disaster in its own way. Barney’s too “nice,” too “decent” for this sort of thing: he can’t shut up, he can’t make the first move, he can’t get to first base.
The play feels dated, but it’s vintage Simon: quick with the quips and snappy one-liners, with a fixation on death roiling beneath the sunny surface.
Each of the colorfully caricaturish women has her own little vice: Elaine, the sexy, sarcastic Katie Karel, endlessly swigs scotch; whack-job, hare-brained Bobbi, hilariously portrayed by Noelle Marion, is a rubber-limbed pot-head; and Jeanette, played by Sandy Campbell with prissy, weepy, purse-clutching precision, is dependent on anti-depressants.
The first act tends to drag, some moments are decidedly un-PC, and the whole proceeding feels like a sitcom of its era. But director Christopher Williams keeps the pace popping. The set and costumes are attractive, and the performances are impeccable.
And let’s face it; in 50 years, midlife crises haven’t gone anywhere. Neither has the feeling that the world is changing too fast, and whizzing by at breakneck speed.
So, Carpe Diem. Take what you can from this show, and have yourself a few well-earned laughs.
“Last of the Red Hot Lovers” has been extended through October 8, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
Aired: 9/14/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
“WILD GOOSE DREAMS” – La Jolla Playhouse
Metaphor, fantasy and hard, cold reality collide in “Wild Goose Dreams” by Hansol Jung, a spectacular world premiere co-produced by the La Jolla Playhouse and New York’s Public Theater.
Set in Seoul, South Korea, the play begins with a fairy tale, whose moral is: If you have a choice between family and flying to Paradise … Fly!
Birds, flight and illusion are intrinsic to this magical tale. When to stay and when to go. Where love and loyalty lie.
Minsung is a Goose Father, a South Korean man who sent his family to America for his daughter’s education. He stays behind, works hard and lives a Spartan life, so he can send everything abroad. But he’s very lonely. He seeks solace at an online dating site.
There he meets Nanhee, who defected from North Korea, leaving her father behind. She, too, is lonely. The course of their rocky relationship is traced in the 105-minute/one act play. But that’s barely a skeleton of what this magical, highly theatrical drama is like.
Nanhee’s vivid, terrifying dreams are enacted. And even more stunning, the internet itself is brilliantly brought to pulsing life, its cacophony of voices and distractions, tones and beeps personified by an outstanding Chorus that talks, sings, chants and confuses.
Sometimes, they speak all at once. Sometimes, their voices can’t be heard. For some, the discord and lack of realism may be too much. But for those looking for something fresh, young and wildly imaginative, this is one unique and magnificent piece of theater – both the play and the thrilling production. The performances are superb. The direction and choreography are electrifying, though the wood-hewn, raked stage is nearly bare most of the time.
But we get completely caught up in the challenges of living in both Koreas. The play raises questions of identity – and connection. With all our online friends, likes, pokes and tweets, why are we so deeply disconnected? And why have we allowed the internet to hijack our lives?
The unpredictable love story, which takes some dark turns, focuses on two people misled by fear and misunderstanding. It crosses boundaries and borders to remind us that, when given the opportunity, we should take wing and soar.
“Wild Good Dreams” runs through October 1 at the La Jolla Playhouse, on the campus of UCSD.
Aired: 9/13/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
“THE EXPLORERS CLUB” – Lamb’s Players Theatre
“The Explorer’s Club” is an equal opportunity offender.
Nell Benjamin’s 2013 comedy skewers everything in its 19th century path: the stuffy, upper-crust, brandy-and-cigar clique of Victorian England’s exclusive men’s clubs; monomaniacally obsessive scientists; the braggadocio of explorers; snooty patrician women; headstrong female scientists; and indigenous peoples and cultures. It’s open season, and the glorious set confirms that with all manner of bird and beast, stuffed and displayed in the luxurious, woody club-room.
The crux of the minimal plot is the scandalous proposal to admit a member of the opposite sex into this sanctum sanctorum. Said female explorer has found the lost city of Pahatlabong, and has brought back a specimen of the NaKong Tribe. That’s funny, he doesn’t look bluish!... But he is… and in his audience with the Queen, he’s managed to slap Her Majesty across the face, demonstrating the typical greeting of his tribe. Royal soldiers… and angry Irishmen… surround the building.
Truly, though, the real action is watching this absurd array of eccentrics expose their peccadillos and preoccupations: from the botanist who cultivates poisonous plants; to the scientist who specializes in deadly snakes – and wears a representative cobra around his neck; the mincing researcher obsessed with, and emotionally attached to, a guinea pig; and the pompous one, calling himself an archeo-theologist, who insists that the Lost Tribes of Israel resettled in Ireland. Hence, the irate Irish outside.
The most imperious, grandiose and dim-witted of them all is the President of the club, hoping to make his mark by discovering the East Pole.
Lamb’s Players Theatre’s producing artistic director Robert Smyth creates a gut-busting atmosphere, jam-packed with hilarious antics. The acrobatic catching of glasses of liquor slid rapidly down the bar is alone worth the price of admission.
This cast is stupendous, some of San Diego’s most delectably deadpan and prat-falling comic actors. Everything about this gorgeous-looking production is first-rate, from that stunning set to the fabulous costumes, and expert lighting and sound.
Okay, there’s no intrinsic value here. But a good guffaw is just the ticket right about now.
“THE EXPLORERS CLUB” runs through September 24 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado.
Aired: 9/1/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
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