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  • “A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC” –  Cygnet Theatre

    “A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC” – Cygnet Theatre

    What’s your view of Love: Romantic? Wistful? Hopeful? Cynical? Sexual?

    Every permutation is on ostentatious display in Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s lusciously bittersweet 1973 chamber musical, “A Little Night Music.”

    Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film, “Tales of a Summer Night,” the show highlights the mutability of marriage and interconnection, a web of jealousy and infidelity, lust and longing, in early 20th century idle rich and their libidinous underlings.

    The stodgy, middle-aged lawyer, Fredrik, who espoused 18 year-old Anne nearly a year ago, has yet to consummate the marriage. Meanwhile, Fredrik’s morose, 20 year-old son, Henrik, pines for his new stepmother.

    Fredrik’s former lover is the free-spirited actress Desirée, who has a whip-smart young daughter, currently being raised by her world-weary grandmother.

    Desirée is having an affair with a pompous, bombastic dragoon, who has a desperately unhappy and deeply cynical wife.

    They all come together for one highly-charged “Weekend in the Country,” where liaisons are arranged, secrets are revealed, and all get what they want or deserve in the end.

    In Cygnet Theatre’s marvelous production, the comedy is emphasized, as is the fact that almost the entire score is composed in ¾ time. So there’s a whole lot of waltzing, with changing partners among the principals, and support from the well-dressed quintet that weaves in and out of the action, providing musical commentary and foreshadowing.

    Exactly ten years ago this month, when Cygnet moved into the Old Town Theatre, this was the opening show. Artistic Director Sean Murray once again directs and plays Fredrik, this time, with the magnificent Karole Foreman as his foil, and a terrific ensemble featuring standouts Sandy Campbell and Megan Carmitchel.

    Though the set is spare, the costumes and hats are sumptuous and the singing is excellent, as is the 6-piece offstage orchestra, under the lively baton of Terry O’Donnell.

    It’s a sophisticated piece, impeccably acted and directed, with crisp sound, lighting and delivery of Sondheim’s brilliantly sardonic lyrics.

    Consider it a treat for all your senses and sensibilities.

    “A Little Night Music” runs through April 22, at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.

    Aired: 3/14/2018 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2018 Pat Launer

  • “CAMBODIAN ROCK BAND” –  South Coast Repertory

    “CAMBODIAN ROCK BAND” – South Coast Repertory

    It’s an amazing entertainment trifecta: a moving story of father-daughter misunderstanding and reconciliation; a hair-raising account of cultural/historical horrors; and a fabulous, roof-rattling concert.

    “Cambodian Rock Band” may just rock your world.

    Playwright Lauren Yee is a knockout herself. Several of the provocative, widely disparate plays of this UCSD MFA alum have been seen in San Diego.

    Now, South Coast Repertory, which commissioned the work, is presenting the world premiere of “Cambodian Rock Band,” a deep and brilliant dive into the harrowing past of Cambodia where, during a four-year reign of terror, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge exterminated nearly 3 million people – 21% of the population – including 90% of the country’s musicians.

    Moving back and forth from the hideous 1970s, to a still-damaged nation in 2008, the play makes us squirm, chuckle, and even sing along.

    The real Cambodian rock band that inspired Yee is Long Beach-based Dengue Fever, whose psychedelic surf-rock music courses through the play, with haunting English and Khmer ballads and hard-driving rock songs.

    Each of the terrific, multi-talented, six-member cast plays an instrument; several play two characters.

    Nothing in this piece is what you think or expect.

    Our charming emcee turns out to be Comrade Duch, an actual Cambodian war criminal, still alive at age 75, imprisoned for life for crimes against humanity. A former math teacher, he ran S-21, the most notorious Khmer Rouge prison, where thousands were tortured, and almost all were executed. Except for 7 survivors.

    Neary, an American born to Cambodian parents, thinks she’s found an 8th. As part of the international team prosecuting Duch, she’s about to reveal her findings when her father shows up unexpectedly. Both their lives are turned inside out.

    The comical, American idiom-spouting Chum, a former band member, finally tells his daughter about his harrowing past, relayed partly through music, which serves as character and catalyst.

    You’ll laugh, you’ll learn, you’ll be deeply touched. And you’ll be sorry if you don’t make the trip to Orange County to see this unique, searing and unforgettable show.

    “Cambodian Rock Band” runs through March 25, at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.

    Aired: 3/13/2018 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2018 Pat Launer

  • “THIS RANDOM WORLD” –  North Coast Repertory Theatre

    “THIS RANDOM WORLD” – North Coast Repertory Theatre

    Consider the age-old question of Fate vs. Free Will. Are we just ships that pass in the night, or are we all on a predetermined collision course?

    Reflecting the sly sensibility of his latest work, Steven Dietz called his play “This Random World,” subtitling it “The Myth of Serendipity.”

    In his imaginative, inventive universe, there are no accidents – even though the protagonists may not recognize the coincidences. The audience has the advantage of seeing all, feeling omniscient, and getting the last laugh. Or sigh.

    In a series of duologues, people intentionally interact or arbitrarily ricochet off each other. Sometimes they later perceive the synchrony; sometimes not.

    But one thing is certain. Whether the situation is funny or tragic, poignant or seemingly pointless, there’s something just about everyone can relate to in this play, which is about missed connections, the road not taken, and choices made or regretted.

    It could be a long-lamented high school love, or a brutal breakup; sibling antagonism or alienation; parent-child communication or disconnection; lack of insight or introspection. Whatever it is, we’ve all been there.

    While some of the coincidences are a tad precious, the characters and interactions are by turns hilariously or painfully real.

    In the West coast premiere at North Coast Repertory Theatre, director David Ellenstein keeps his staging simple and his excellent cast grounded and believable.

    With an outstanding use of sound and light, and a beautiful, Asian-inspired set of vertical wood rectangles, the action moves seamlessly from an American apartment to a greasy spoon, from Nepal to Kyoto, all in the course of a contemporary 6-month time period.

    We’re intrigued enough to go along with these quirky characters: worrywarts and losers; helpmates and self-saboteurs; those who are unsatisfied or secretive or inarticulate.

    In some way, like these folks, we’re all thinking about who we are and what we want from life – and maybe even from death.

    Not every issue is resolved, or thematic strand tied up, but true to its title, the play’s final line may apply to the audience response to the unsettled ending: “I wonder what else I’ve missed!”

    “This Random World” runs through March 18, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.

    Aired: 3/1/2018 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2018 Pat Launer

  • “CAMPING WITH HENRY AND TOM” –  Lamb’s Players Theatre

    “CAMPING WITH HENRY AND TOM” – Lamb’s Players Theatre

    History repeats itself again.

    Though “Camping with Henry and Tom” was written in 1993, and is set in 1921, it feels eerily up-to-the-minute.

    Playwright Mark St. Germain enjoys tinkering with the past, putting real characters in imagined contexts.

    This time, he visits automobile industrialist Henry Ford and inventor Thomas Edison, on their regular summer camping trip in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In 1921, they did, in fact, invite the 29th President, Warren G. Harding, to join them.

    Then, St. Germain’s fancy takes flight.

    Ford virtually abducts the other two, taking off in his Model T and leaving wives, children, reporters and secret servicemen in the dust. The road-trip has a devious agenda. Ford wants Harding to sell him the abandoned Muscle Shoals, Alabama hydroelectric project for a fraction of what it’s worth.

    When the car collides with a deer and runs head-on into a tree, the trio is stranded in the woods outside Licking Creek, Maryland.

    And that brings out the character eccentricities.

    Edison, the elder at 74, is a crusty, bitter cynic, disengaged from the argument, until he becomes the conscience of the play.

    Harding has a spotty mental health history and no interest in the daily details of the Presidency.

    Ford urgently wants his job. His frightening plans for domination reveal a mean-spirited bigot, virulent anti-Semite and anti-union white supremacist, who tries to blackmail Harding by exposing his many sexual indiscretions.

    Ultimately, Harding didn’t last out his term, and a bevy of his advisors were embroiled in scandal.

    It’s chillingly resonant.

    The talky melodrama may and its not-always-credible characters aren’t blessed with nuance, but the skillful cast takes obvious glee in goosing the to life: Francis Gercke, manic and rampaging as Ford; Manny Fernandes, delighting in the volatile Harding; and Robert Smyth savoring Edison’s jocular, sarcastic asides.

    Director Deborah Gilmour Smyth keeps the pace lively, though the play might work better as a one-act.

    This production is excellent, though, with a striking set and lovely lighting, as afternoon turns to night, and a former military officer arrives to rein in the chaos.

    It all seems uncannily familiar.

    “Camping with Henry and Tome” runs through March 25, at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado.

    Aired: 2/28/2018 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2018 Pat Launer

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

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