Pat Launer, Center Stage
“MARJORIE PRIME” – North Coast Repertory Theatre
The older you are, and the older your parents -- if they’re still alive – the more disturbing and discomfiting you’re likely to find “Marjorie Prime,” the 2015 Pulitzer Prize finalist currently having its local premiere at North Coast Repertory Theatre.
Artificial Intelligence has made considerable progress. The likelihood of a lifelike, interactive robot is not far in the future.
In Jordan Harrison’s short, intermissionless play, set around 2060, Marjorie is 85 years old and fading. She’s losing her physical capabilities and her memories. So her son-in-law and her rather reluctant, technophobic daughter, get her a Prime, that is, a robotic avatar, of her late husband, Walter. Marjorie chose him to appear at a young, virile age, before the tragedy of their life occurred.
Marjorie converses and reminisces with him. Her son-in-law, Jon, filled Walter Prime with background and stories. Her daughter, Tess, is skeptical, though Walter Prime helps fill the hours with her mother, and unlike Tess, never becomes impatient or resentful.
It’s an intriguing idea, but a little creepy, too. It’s nice to think that these robotic assistants would help with dementia or depression. But they are unnerving.
At North Coast Rep, guest director Matthew Wiener has assembled an outstanding cast, which moves nimbly around an attractively familiar but somewhat futuristic neon-green set.
Dee Maaske is wonderfully credible and feisty as Marjorie. Steve Froelich is stiffly robotic as Walter Prime, but he seems to grow more human as he learns more about Marjorie – even if not everything Jon has told him is precisely factual. Elaine Rivkin and Gregory North are excellent as Tess and Jon.
This drama isn’t just about the future. It’s very contemporary in how it deals with aging, family relations, how we preserve memory and face death. It certainly sets you thinking.
You might now be in the prime of life; but if you lost a loved one, would you want a Prime in your life?
“Marjorie Prime” continues through February 5, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
Aired: 1/19/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
“LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES” – New Fortune Theatre
Not all of the Seven Deadly Sins are on display in “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” but it sure seems like it. Okay, there’s no gluttony or sloth. But there’s plenty of lust, envy, pride and wrath to compensate.
Adapted by Christopher Hampton from the 1782 novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, the play is a deliciously wicked piece of seduction and manipulation.
Two privileged, cynical aristocrats in 18th century Paris -- rivals, accomplices and ex-lovers -- compete for revenge dalliances and other nefarious meddlings. They’re a vicious pair; separately and together, they gratify each other’s whims, gleefully corrupting, demeaning and destroying the relationships, happiness and chastity of others.
They sound awful – and they are – but they’re really quite irresistible. Their cruelty, lack of restraint and complete absence of compassion are nothing short of breathtaking.
New Fortune Theatre, which launched auspiciously last year, has mounted a superb production, under the astute and often witty direction of founding artistic director Richard Baird and co-director Kaitlin O’Neil.
The set is gilded and the costumes are opulent, befitting these extravagant characters. Baird plays the Vicomte de Valmont as a damnably self-assured, supercilious libertine. Jessica John is his perfect counterpart, the Marquise de Merteuil, a beautiful, spiteful schemer who can’t bear the thought that she’s losing her grip – especially on the Viscomte, who, in fulfilling one of her evil undertakings, does the unthinkable and actually falls in love.
If you’ve seen the Glenn Close/John Malkovich film, this stage version ends a bit differently – but still, everyone’s been had – irreparably. In the face of this kind of deadly gamesmanship, tragedy, of course, is inevitable.
All the secondary characters are excellently portrayed, with special mention earned by Amanda Schaar, Terril Miller and Connor Sullivan.
Despite the vanity and venom of the proceedings, this production – sexy, ravishing and disarming – proves to be an indulgence that satiates and satisfies.
New Fortune Theatre’s production of “Les Lisaisons Dangereuses” continues through January 28, in the Lyceum Space in Horton Plaza.
Aired: 1/18/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
“MY FAIR LADY” – The Welk Resort Theatre
It’s a classic by any definition: brilliant, timeless and definitive.
“My Fair Lady” is musical theater perfection, with a sterling, provocative story, adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” which was in turn adapted from Ovid’s mythology. And it boasts a spectacular score by that dazzling duo, Lerner and Lowe.
The 1956 masterwork can, however, be a bit long for modern tastes; several local productions have lingered three hours. But at the Welk Resort Theatre, under the expert direction of Kathy Brombacher, it clocks in at a fleet 2½ hours. The only song omitted, though it’s listed and mis-named in the program, is the cringe-inducing misogynist rant, “A Hymn to Him,” which posits the annoying question, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” Lerner’s lyrics are eminently clever, but he displays his genius in many other songs. Also, Shaw was a major supporter of women’s suffrage, and Brombacher gives a charming nod to that in her production.
Henry Higgins, you may remember, is the arrogant, pedantic English phonetician who bets his buddy that, given six months, he can turn a grimy Cockney flower-seller into a duchess, who can pass in high society. He’ll teach her manners, along with upgrading her vowels and practicing inane utterances like “The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly on the Plain.” And by George, she gets it.
In this incarnation, Higgins is more petulant than pompous, but Lance Arthur Smith gives him a broader range of emotion than is typical. Shaina Knox is a superbly feisty Eliza Doolittle, making a stunning class transition from to street-talk to upper crust. The vocal power of the 16-member cast is strong, though the band sounds a little tinny.
Orlando Alexander’s delightful choreography is amusing and inventive. Randall Hickman offers added humor with his robust portrayal of Eliza’s father, that hard-drinking, amoral moralizer, Alfred P. Doolittle.
The rented costumes look wonderful, though the well-lit sets are variable. Most of all, the nonstop effervescence makes the show seem both fresh and ageless.
“My Fair Lady” continues through April 2, at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido.
Aired: 1/11/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
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