Pat Launer, Center Stage
“DR. SEUSS’S THE LORAX” – The Old Globe
Move over, Mr. Grinch. There’s a new Seuss creation in town. He “speaks for the trees.” But no one listens – until it’s too late.
“The Lorax,” published in 1971, was La Jolla author Theodor Geisel’s favorite book. And it couldn’t be more timely.
Having been adapted for TV and film, the classic has now been musicalized as “Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax.” The show is making its U.S. premiere at The Old Globe, in partnership with London’s Old Vic, which first produced it in 2015, and the Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis, which presented it this past spring.
The book is by playwright David Greig, with music and lyrics by Charlie Fink, former frontman for the British indie folk-rock band, Noah and the Whale. Under the direction of Old Vic associate director Max Webster, the musical has all the color and whimsy you’d expect.
The costumes, props and scenery are wildly imaginative. The energy is high, and the cast, brought intact from Minnesota, is impressively versatile.
The bushy mustached Lorax is a lovable 3-foot-tall puppet, marvelously manipulated by three agile performers.
The music ranges from bluegrass to gospel to rap. It’s pleasant, if not memorable. The lyrics, like most of the added dialogue, pale next to the ingenious Seussian rhymes.
Young Once-ler, rejected by his family, goes off to become “a great man.” When he sees the tufty Truffula Trees, he weaves them into a Thneed, and he keeps “biggering” his enterprise until every Truffula tree has been cut down. He wouldn’t listen to The Lorax, and now the trees and the Lorax are gone.
The parable is about preserving the environment, and not letting greed, capitalism and Big Business destroy the forests, the air and the planet. Heady topics for young children, but Geisel knew they were our future.
Still, does an inventive, instructive musical for kids really need to last two hours – and include an extended fart scene?
The subject matter is more urgent than ever. What comes through most clearly, though, is that Geisel was not only clever; he was prescient.
“Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax” runs through August 12, in the Old Globe Theatre.
Aired: 7/13/2018 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2018 Pat Launer
“QUEENS” – La Jolla Playhouse
One brutal line – among many – stands out in Martyna Majok’s “Queens”: “You’re either the boot or the back.”
In the intense drama about immigrant women, a high price is paid by everyone who leaves or is left behind. When you’re in survival mode, choices must be made, whether to be pushed to the bottom rung, or step on others to advance.
Skipping back in forth in time, from 2017 to 2001, shortly after 9/11, the play shows us one shabby, illegal basement apartment in Queens, New York, temporary crowded home to exiles, refugees or immigrants from Poland, Honduras, Ukraine, Afghanistan.
The excellent sextet of actors play multiple roles, which may, like the time-hopping, seem confusing, but also makes a point. These women come and go, making their way to America for a “better life.” But what they give up is enormous, and they struggle to earn money in the hopes of bringing over the loved ones left behind, or finding the ones who left them.
They’re all terrified of being forgotten or, as they yell into the unanswered phone machines at home: “Don’t erase me!”
Majok, herself a Polish immigrant, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama this year. Her breakthrough play, “Ironbound,” another immigrant story, was excellently produced at Moxie Theatre last year.
A great deal of pain and anger courses through the play, in its West coast premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse. These women, all emotionally or physically bruised, distrust each other and are reluctant to share their stories. They may open up and bond at times, but they’re equally likely to turn on each other.
Masterful director Carey Perloff, fresh from her stunning production of “A Thousand Splendid Suns” at The Old Globe, helms a marvelous, malleable cast, each creating characters who are thoroughly believable in their sentiments, predicaments and heavily accented English.
The set, lighting and sound transport us to this cramped subterranean space, battered by rain and snow, as the subways shriek overhead.
Now more than ever, America is not so welcoming to freedom-seekers. And yet, they keep coming, and trying, and hoping.
“Queens” continues through July 29 at the La Jolla Playhouse.
Aired: 7/11/2018 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2018 Pat Launer
“THE TEMPEST” – The Old Globe
Many scholars believe that “The Tempest” was Shakespeare’s swan song—his his poetic farewell to the stage, relinquishing his the power of his pen just as his stand-in, Prospero, abandons his magic and returns to his former life. Some have interpreted the play through the lens of colonialism, with the exiled Prospero as imperialist and the island residents, Ariel and Caliban, as his minions. Seizing power is indeed a recurrent theme.
But there are no dark shadows in The Old Globe’s buoyant, ebullient production, whimsically directed by Joe Dowling. The emphasis is on the magic of theater, and by extension, the enchantment of this island, with its sprites and spirits, and its lilting calypso sound.
Prospero, the former Duke of Milan, persuasively feminized as Prospera, was banished 12 years ago, when her evil, envious brother usurped her title and set her and her baby girl adrift.
Now, everything comes full circle. All her conniving, conspiring enemies are sailing near the island where Prospera, with the aid of the written word—her many beloved books— has become a sorceress, and mistress of the isle.
She conjures a storm that will make them believe they’re shipwrecked and scatters them about her fantastical domain. What transpires is transgression and redemption, loss and reunion; and the blossoming of love.
Prospera’s lovely daughter and Ferdinand, son of the King of Naples, are mutually smitten. But the secondary characters are backgrounded and generally minimized here, except for the hilariously vaudevillian inebriates, Stephano and Trinculo.
All the focus is on the wondrous central trio: marvelous, captivating Kate Burton as Prospera, seething with anger and vengeance, but also soft-hearted, benevolent and truly delighted by her daughter’s romance.
Then there are the awesome opposites, Ariel and Caliban, the agreeable and the resentful, obverse even in their unitards: one bespangled, one besmirched.
The costumes are wildly imaginative, and the original music and lighting add striking depth to this phantasmagoria, plunked down in a tumbledown theater jam-packed with backstage detritus, dripping in island greenery.
The text has been trimmed and rearranged some, but the language is beautifully handled, as is the entire vision: a giddy celebration of female force, theatrical ingenuity and the power of performance.
“The Tempest” runs through July 29, outdoors on the Old Globe’S Festival Stage, in Balboa Park.
Aired: 6/28/2018 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2018 Pat Launer
Pat Launer's Center Stage
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