San Diego's Jazz

Pat Launer, Center Stage

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  • "THE MYSTERY OF LOVE AND SEX"- Diversionary Theatre

    "THE MYSTERY OF LOVE AND SEX"- Diversionary Theatre

    Racism, sexism and homophobia – the merry triumvirate that seems to be on so many lips these days -- feature prominently in "The Mystery of Love and Sex."

    The dramatic comedy, named by the New York Times as one of the Top Ten shows of 2015, is making its San Diego debut at Diversionary Theatre - in a delightfully well-acted and well-directed production.

    When we meet them, Charlotte and Jonny are living the Spartan college life. They've invited her parents for dinner, with no table or chairs, and nothing but bread and salad to eat. They call each other 'Dear' and '˜Angel,' and insist that they love each other, but they're just best friends.

    By the time we leave the four of them, on a wedding night five years later, terrible things have been said, relationships have been destroyed, and painful truths have been revealed.

    Bathsheba Doran's creation crackles with wit, compassion and sharp insights. The first act seems to go on for a long time, with several false endings. But Diversionary executive artistic director Matt Morrow keeps the action so well-paced, we remain riveted.

    The final Kumbaya moments seem a tad forced and overly neat, in a play that repeatedly takes unexpected turns. The reconciliations feel rushed, given the recriminations.

    But the cast is outstanding, representing the panoply of strained relationships - white and black, Jew and Baptist, gay and straight, self-contained and free-spirited.

    Rachael van Wormer takes the biggest social-sexual-emotional journey, and her antic, anxious characterization of Charlotte is superb. John W. Wells III is excellent as the more opaque, restrained and confused Jonny. Mike Sears is terrific as Howard, the manipulative, condescending, detective fiction writer; and Marci Anne Wuebben is a no-holds-barred charmer as his drawling Southern wife.

    The design elements wonderfully underscore the imaginative nature of the piece, though some of the musical interludes are a tad on-the-nose.
    Still, the play's unpredictability is thrilling, in a roller coaster kind of way. It's one helluva ride.

    "The Mystery of Love and Sex" runs through December 24, at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.

    Aired: 12/8/2016 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2016 Pat Launer

  • THE DYBBUK FOR HANNAH AND SAM'S WEDDING - San Diego Repertory Theatre

    THE DYBBUK FOR HANNAH AND SAM'S WEDDING - San Diego Repertory Theatre

    Would you like to see an exorcism? How about the re-enactment of a spooky ancient folk tale? A wedding toast by a drunk uncle? A tearful confession and redemption?

    Sounds like a lot for one evening, doesn't it? It's a lot for one play - and really a lot for one person.

    Todd Salovey, associate artistic director of the San Diego Repertory Theatre, has written and directed a world premiere, "The Dybbuk for Hannah and Sam's Wedding," which intertwines a modern marital reception with a beloved Kabbalistic ghost story.

    "The Dybbuk," S. Ansky's haunting tale of a love that extends beyond the grave, is set in a shtetl of the 1860s. This new play takes place in the 1960s, with all the comic shtick and wedding schmaltz of the time.

    The set makes imaginative use of the Lyceum space, and there's table seating for us guests, as tipsy, tuxedoed Uncle Jerry schmoozes with the audience, and then starts his 80-minute toast, which uses the Dybbuk, a restless soul in this case inhabiting a young bride's body, as a morality tale about the importance of not breaking a vow, a not-so-comfortable fit with a wedding speech.

    At the very end, we learn that Uncle Jerry has his own demon to exorcise. But by that time, we have pretty much lost interest in his story.

    And every time we get totally immersed in the magic and mysticism of the Dybbuk tale, the spell is broken by a lame attempt at contemporary humor. This pulls us out of the drama and diminishes our emotional response to the material.

    One of the best parts of this well-intentioned effort is watching Ron Campbell play some 18 roles, shifting characters instantaneously. He's especially effective in the shy, awkward moment when the lovers are first mutually smitten. Also mesmerizing are the musical creations of klezmer-master and fiddler extraordinaire Yale Strom, played with expert accordionist Mark Danisovsky and bassist Tim McNalley.

    If Jewish weddings are your thing, go in good health. The champagne is cheap - and so are some of the laughs. But the performances are priceless.

    "The Dybbuk for Hannah and Sam's Wedding" runs through December 18, at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in Horton Plaza.

    Aired: 12/6/2016 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2016 Pat Launer

  • THE NORMAL HEART  ion theatre

    THE NORMAL HEART ion theatre

    In the early 1980s, young, vibrant gay men were dropping dead in droves. One angry, combative activist became hellbent on finding out why, and getting funding for research. AIDS didnt even have a name yet. But everyone was turning a blind eye to the crisis.

    Larry Kramer, long-time writer and agitator, documented his experience in battling the rampant institutional lack of interest from the government, the media, the healthcare establishment and even the gay community.

    His potent 1985 drama, The Normal Heart, which was revived on Broadway in 2011, continues to pack a gut-punch. Just as AIDS-related illnesses continue to kill over a million people a year worldwide.

    Kramer centers his story on Ned Weeks, his pugnacious alter ego, who becomes enraged by watching so many friends die as the rest cavalierly continue their promiscuous lifestyle. His abrasive personality and explosive temper result in his being ousted from the organization he helped to found, the Gay Mens Health Crisis. Kramer was also expelled from the more politically aggressive group he co-created, ACT-UP, an acronym for AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. Despite his own long-term HIV-positive status, Kramer, at age 81, is still acting up on behalf of PWAs, People Living With AIDS.

    Recognizing that the tragedy is far from over, ion theatre has mounted a taut, passionate and touching production of The Normal Heart -- stark, piercing and at the end, a two-tissue tear-jerker. The cohesive nine-person ensemble portrays multiple roles with aplomb, with standout performances by Kim Strassburger as the doctor who was as stubborn and steadfast as Ned; Daren Scott as Neds ambivalent and unaccepting lawyer-brother; and Alexander Guzman as the skittish New York Times Style writer who loves Ned but, like many of his other friends, wont jeopardize his position to get the word out about the epidemic.

    The heart of this Heart is Claudio Raygoza, who gives a tour de force performance as Ned, while also co-directing, and designing the set, sound and projections. Indefatigable and inimitable in his own right, Raygoza does justice to the man he portrays.

    The Normal Heart runs through December 17, at ion theatre in Hillcrest.

    Aired: 11/24/2016 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2016 Pat Launer

  • THE KID THING  Moxie Theatre

    THE KID THING Moxie Theatre

    The decision about whether and when to become parents is private, personal, even political. For lesbian couples, there are no potential accidents or pregnancy surprises. Every step must be judiciously planned.

    So, when two best-bud duos get together, and one pair breaks out the pre-natal champagne, the four-way relationships become both charged and threatened.

    Sarah Gubbins, an L.A.-based playwright and screenwriter, sets her award-winning 2011 comic drama in her Chicago hometown. Like much of her work, it focuses on LGBT identity, and in this case, the uncertainties about bringing a child into a judgmental, homophobic world. The topic couldnt be more timely.

    Gubbins writing is sharp and incisive. The quips fly fast in the first act, and then things take a serious turn. Her twosomes may fall into a stereotypically butch-femme form, but her play is deliciously unpredictable.

    Moxie Theatre dives into the mix with unbridled relish. Director Kym Pappas helms an outstanding cast, each creating a flawed and convincing character. I know each of these women, and the sperm donor theyve chosen, a former college pal who, 15 years later, remains good-hearted but adrift.

    The most controversial among them is the smart, smug and supercilious Darcy, linguistically adroit, fastidiously dressed in a suit and tie, polemical and self-assured, though that turns out to mask her ambivalence, self-doubt, maybe even self-loathing. Jo Anne Glover makes her compulsively watchable, the fulcrum of all the action, the one who takes the most bumpy and compelling emotional journey.

    The rest of the cast Anna Rebek, Katherine Harroff, Sarah Karpicus and Connor Sullivan keeps us amused, engaged and aghast.

    The excellent scenic design, nicely lit, makes the Moxie stage looks expansive, a sprawling, high-end condo with a stunning view of the Windy City. The costumes are perfectly character-defining.

    And the issues, well, youre likely to learn a thing or two, or see things a different way, or find fuel for discussion. In these fraught political times, the questions posed in The Kid Thing seem more pointed and trenchant than ever.

    The Kid Thing runs through December 11, at Moxie Theatre, near SDSU.

    Aired: 11/23/2016 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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