San Diego's Jazz

Pat Launer, Center Stage

  • “METEOR SHOWER” – The Old Globe

    “METEOR SHOWER” – The Old Globe

    There are several well-worn theatrical tropes in Steve Martin’s new comedy, “Meteor Shower.” The total breakdown of civil behavior, for one. Couples hellbent on messing with the minds of others. A fine line between the real and the imaginary. And the replaying of entire scenes, with different power-plays and outcomes. Oh, and you can throw in a California sensibility, equal parts New Age- and nouveau riche, with a penchant for non-traditional marriage.

    So, it feels kind of familiar, in a Steve Martin kind of way. The most interesting aspect, the titular meteor shower, with its ancient origins and potential for unexpected consequences, is ultimately used not for information or enlightenment, but for silly ends.

    A pity. Because that could’ve given the piece a gravitas it lacks. Yes, it’s a comedy. But the best dramatic amusements are really about something. And you’d be hard-pressed to nail that down in this sleek, slick playwriting exercise.

    No complaints about The Old Globe’s world premiere, an attractive co-production with the Long Wharf Theatre. Director Gordon Edelstein, long-time artistic director of that 50-year-old mainstay of New Haven, Connecticut, has marshaled an outstanding cast and design team. The characters may be cartoonish stereotypes, but they’re expertly played – by Jenna Fischer as a seemingly mousey wife, Gerg Germann as her wimpy counterpart, Alexandra Henrikson as an oversexed omnivore and Josh Stamberg as a slithering macho egotist. One couple seeks calm; the other, chaos. But in the surreal replays, predators and prey satisfyingly switch places.

    The year is 1993, and the supercilious, snobby L.A. types have come to the ‘country,’ that is, alternate-lifestyle, woo-woo Ojai, where a meteor shower actually can be seen. Havoc ensues, on the personal, sexual and astronomical levels.

    The scenic design is pitch-perfect: a tasteful house and grassy yard – which fits neatly onto the Globe’s White arena stage. The tinkly music is part spiritual, part supernatural. These two marriages are certainly not out-of-this-world. But that’s okay, because they’re not really believable, either. And we don’t care too much if any or all of the proncipals get blown to bits by a meteorite.

    “Meteor Shower” runs through September 18 in the White Theatre at The Old Globe in Balboa Park.

    Aired: 8/22/2016 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2016 Pat Launer

  • “AIRLINE HIGHWAY” – ion theatre

    “AIRLINE HIGHWAY” – ion theatre

    “You gotta just soak it all in,” the hooker says to the visiting 16 year-old. That’s good advice for the audience, too.

    “Airline Highway,” by Pulitzer Prize finalist Lisa D’Amour, is an intense experience. The 2014 drama is set in the parking lot of the decaying Hummingbird Motel, on the straight-arrow road outside the never-ending bacchanal that is New Orleans. We spend a drunken, debauched evening in the company of the damaged and disillusioned, loners and losers, the hapless and the hopeless who have formed a family in this dead-end dive.

    They’ve gathered together for a living funeral. Former stripper Miss Ruby, their matriarch and mother hen, is on her way out, but she wants to be there for her memorial merrymaking.

    One of the former residents is the bad boy called Bait Boy, who arrives with his Sugar Mama’s teen in tow. This privileged, bored and overburdened girl wants to interview these members of a “subculture” for a high school project, which allows her to ask lots of questions, and offers us some pretty harrowing backstories.

    “We are the damned!,” exclaims the over-the-hill, would-be poet. But young Zoe thinks “this is the realest place” she’s ever been.

    In a rowdy, crowded, stunningly designed and directed production helmed by ion theatre executive director Claudio Raygoza, people talk at once, they fight and save each other, they scream and sing and flash their breasts and strip down to nothing but a boa. In these wonderful portrayals, the characters feel so real, we get the sense that we’ve truly met them, and pulled an all-nighter with them, and worn ourselves out listening to them and watching them and aching for their deadbeat, bad luck lives.

    The play makes a glancing commentary on the haves and the havenots. Ruby, in her final homily, tries to assure her ducklings that they’re “not disposable, [they’re] invaluable.”

    It’s a disturbing slice of life on the other side of the tracks. But still, Miss Ruby encourages, “Don’t run from your ragged selves… If you don’t have a job, you might as well put on a show.” And that they do, in excellent, celebratory form.

    The ion theatre production of “Airline Highway” runs through September 3 at the 10th Avenue Theatre downtown.

    Aired: 8/17/2016 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2016 Pat Launer

  • “GYPSY” – Cygnet Theatre

    “GYPSY” – Cygnet Theatre

    There are stage mothers and Tiger Moms, helicopter mommies and non-maternalistic narcissists. And then there’s Mama Rose, who out-smothers ‘em all.

    “Gypsy” is a brilliant musical, with a legendary creative team: book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It nominally tells of the evolution and rise of world-renowned ecdysiast (that’s a highfalutin’ term for stripper, as she informs us) Gypsy Rose Lee. But the spotlight is never off her mother – the clawing, pushy, manipulative, delusional, self-serving stage mother from hell.

    The Cygnet Theatre production has a dark take on the material, minimizing the heart and humor. This Rose is desperate from the get-go, ruthless and implacable.

    Linda Libby, biting into this succulent, oversized role for the second time (first at ion theatre, five years ago), digs deeper, but she’s so steely, there’s little room for charm or warmth, which makes it hard to be drawn to her. We can’t buy her professed love for her daughters. All we see is her ferocious ambition – and her own rapacious need. Still, in Libby’s committed, driven performance, Rose is a force of nature – a tsunami that swallows up everyone in her path.

    Allison Spratt Pearce is magnificent as long-suffering Louise, the forgotten child, an awkward duckling who miraculously transforms and takes flight as Gypsy Rose Lee. Manny Fernandes is terrific as Herbie, Rose’s manager/boyfriend who tolerates her mishegas for far too long, until he, too, snaps. Then like her beloved daughter June – in a nicely layered performance by Katie Whalley Banville – Herbie deserts her, as have her three prior husbands. This is a woman who doesn’t need anyone, except an audience… and that, she can only get vicariously, which isn’t half enough.

    The rest of the cast, including the early-scene kids, is excellent, especially quick-change, multi-character chameleon David Kirk Grant, and the three “gimmicky” strippers.

    Jeanne Reith’s costumes are a hoot for the children and stunners for Gypsy. Music director Terry O’Donnell’s wonderful six-piece orchestra sounds two or three times its size.

    Director Sean Murray puts his signature spin on the proceedings, and makes it all sing. But in the end, the show has become as grimly relentless as Rose herself.

    “Gypsy: A Musical Fable” runs through September 4 at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.

    Aired: 8/11/2016 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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