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  • “CLOUD TECTONICS” –  New Village Arts

    “CLOUD TECTONICS” – New Village Arts

    The result is cataclysmic when the sun converges withthe moon. Well, not the actual sun and moon – Celestina del Sol and Anibal de la Luna.

    In a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, in the midst of the “storm of the century,” Anibal picks up a drenched, pregnant hitchhiker, and brings her home.

    Sparks fly. Time stops. The clocks freeze. They “watch the stars scrape across the sky.” They lose track of everything but each other. Only the unexpected entrance of Anibal’s military brother breaks the spell.

    Celestina is mysterious, magical. She has no idea “what time feels like.” She doesn’t know her age, claiming to be 54, though she looks 25. She’s been pregnant for two years – and will be pregnant for 40 more.

    This is the mystical, lyrical world created by José Rivera in the poetic, gorgeously written “Cloud Tectonics.”

    At New Village Arts, Herbert Siguenza, co-founder of Culture Clash and acclaimed actor, writer and visual artist, is making his directing debut. He perfectly captures Rivera’s sometimes bilingual, magical realist sensibility, and the sexy, seductive draw of a timeless connection.

    His cast is superb. Jose Balistrieri is the warm-hearted, liberal nice-guy Anibal, always trying to do what’s right. As his macho brother, Nelson, Javier Guerrero is hawkish and pugnacious, even misogynistic. But Celestina has a hypnotic effect on him, too.

    Nadia Guevara is stunning as Celestina – childlike but sensual; ethereal and irresistible.

    The set features a rainfall, and heaps of plastic sheeting. The bed seems to be suspended in the clouds. The fight choreography is strong. The sound and original music are even stronger.

    Past, present and future can collide, just as the fictional cloud formations of the title are ineffable and inexplicable. Love is like that, too.

    For 90 minutes, we’re suspended, transported. And reminded to live in and appreciate every moment. To hold onto the ones you love. To let yourself go completely in matters of the heart.

    This Valentine’s month, you too can suspend time. Just enter this romantic, melodic dreamworld with your eyes and heart open.

    “Cloud Tectonics” runs through February 25, at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.

    Aired: 2/8/2018 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2018 Pat Launer

  • “CARDBOARD PIANO” –  Diversionary Theatre

    “CARDBOARD PIANO” – Diversionary Theatre

    When a play begins with a psalm, and is set in a church, it sets up certain expectations. Considerations of sin, transgression, immorality, perhaps.

    All those appear in “Cardboard Piano,” as do brutality, murder and war. But playwright Hansol Jung subverts expectations.

    Horrible acts are committed, and then re-committed. But there is no real remorse or salvation. Homophobia turns to abject hypocrisy. And the ugly cycle continues.

    It all starts out so sweet and amorous. On the eve of the Millennium, in a remote Ugandan village, two very young women have found forbidden love. Chris is the white daughter of American missionaries; Adiel is an idealistic village girl. They are giddy about their private, clandestine wedding, and they tape record their marriage vows, as Chris reveals her plans for them to escape.

    But in a war-torn, homophobic nation, their bliss won’t last long. First, an escaped soldier, bleeding from his head, blunders in, seeking sanctuary. The women try to minister to his wounds. Then, a fiercer guerilla rebel comes looking for the 13 year-old escapee. Things take a shockingly violent turn.

    In the second act, more than a decade later, Chris returns to bury her father’s ashes. She meets the native pastor and his wife. Ironically, he’s been practicing a sermon about the Good Samaritan, at the same time he’s about to banish a young gay man from his congregation. The pastor’s offenses go far deeper than that. Recognitions and revelations mount up.

    In often poetic language, the play asks how far the justifiability of forgiveness extends.

    At Diversionary Theatre, a strong and committed cast, under the direction of Jacole Kitchen, brings the story to throbbing life. Though the first act gets off to a sluggish start, Act 2 contains the darkest drama, and the riveting Wrekless Watson, as Pastor Paul, takes the most ravaging emotional journey.

    The design is simple and effective, but the questions posed are complex: Can the past be erased, or fixed like a torn-up toy piano?

    “Cardboard Piano” runs through February 25, at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.

    Aired: 2/7/2018 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2018 Pat Launer

  • “SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE” –  South Coast Repertory

    “SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE” – South Coast Repertory

    There’s nothing like feeling that you have the inside track on something.

    The fictional 2014 play, “Shakespeare in Love,” takes us behind the scenes to watch the creation and evolution of “Romeo and Juliet.”

    The film version, co-written by the brilliant playwright Tom Stoppard, and screenwriter Marc Norman, won the Best Picture Oscar in 1999. It had tons of inside jokes. The more you knew Shakespeare’s plays, the more you enjoyed the little tossed-off lines that would one day be famous.

    The movie was often hilarious. The stage play, adapted by Lee Hall, now running at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, is more fun than funny.

    Some actors bellow. A few can’t be heard. The would-be Juliet, daughter of a wealthy tradesman, is in love with the stage -- and the up-and-coming playwright. She winds up being Shakespeare’s muse, and the first woman to perform on an Elizabethan stage. In true Shakespearean style, she starts out dressed as a man, auditioning for the role of Romeo. Carmela Corbett is charming in the role.

    The biggest shortcoming in this film-to-stage conversion is that it still feels like a screenplay, with short scenes that beg for cross-cuts, and music-and-dance transitions that further slow already-sluggish scene changes.

    The whole production feels too elaborate for the proceedings. Simpler and swifter would be better.

    The costumes are attractive, and aptly ornate for Queen Elizabeth, amusingly played by Elyce Mirto. Corey Brill, a UCSD alum, is delightfully droll as Shakespeare’s frenemy, Kit Marlowe, who feeds Will some of his best lines – at least in this version. As Shakespeare, Paul David Story is thoroughly likable, and has credible chemistry with his lady love.

    Under Marc Masterson’s direction, the swordplay is convincing and the Irish-tinged Renaissance music is appealing, though the high-tenor vocals tend toward shrill.

    At nearly 2˝ hours, both play and production need trimming. But whether you love – or fear – Shakespeare, you’ll have a ball picking out the famously familiar lines.

    “Shakespeare in Love” runs through February 10, at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.

    Aired: 2/1/2018 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2018 Pat Launer

  • “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” – North Coast Repertory Theatre

    “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” – North Coast Repertory Theatre

    These days, it’s possible to circle the planet in 67 hours. So going “Around the World in 80 Days,” as Jules Verne imagined in his 1872 novel, seems a bit quaint.

    The book was a sly but affectionate satire of British manners, captured in the 1956 movie and various stage versions.

    Though slapstick comedy never seems to go out of style, ethnic humor and racial or cultural stereotypes are a lot less amusing than they used to be.

    North Coast Repertory Theatre is presenting the San Diego premiere of Mark Brown’s 2001 adaptation of the Verne novel, helmed by Allison Bibicoff, who has directed the piece twice before. The theater is billing this as a production “in the hilarious style of ‘The 39 Steps.’” If only.

    What made that show so brilliantly comical was its simple theatricality – its paucity of props and costumes, just quick-change, ingenious hilarity.

    Although the elephant ride is inventively conveyed, there could be a lot more of that magic-of-theater ingenuity, instead of every train and boat ride looking and feeling virtually the same. There weren’t that many means of transportation in the late 19th century, so a certain amount of repetition is inherent in the text – but there shouldn’t be so much in the staging, which is fussy without being funny.

    At the center is the punctilious, supercilious Phileas Fogg, who embarks on the titular journey on a bet from his whist-playing, upper-crust cronies. Richard Baird is the unflappable fulcrum, while chaos swirls around him.

    His servant, Passepartout, riotously embodied by Omri Schein, does all the resourceful, acrobatic problem-solving, but Fogg gets the girl, while asserting the imperialist view that money gets you absolutely anything. Not the greatest moral message for our time.

    The marvelously versatile comic actors Will Vought, Loren Lester and Lovlee Carroll pretzel-twist themselves into some 40 characters. The set, costumes and moustaches are fun, and the suspense does build toward the end.

    Overall, it’s a pretty lightweight romp, but a terrific actor showcase.

    “Around the World in 80 Days” runs through February 4 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.

    Aired: 1/18/2018 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2018 Pat Launer

  • “THE COLOR OF LIGHT” – Vantage Theatre and Talent to aMuse

    “THE COLOR OF LIGHT” – Vantage Theatre and Talent to aMuse

    Matisse was an atheist. His muse was a nun.

    At age 72, the artist hired a 21 year-old student nurse to care for him post-operatively. He was furious when he found out she was a novitiate.

    But still, she enchanted him, became his spiritual love, and brought a dying man back to life. And more important, back to art.

    In 1947, the nun asked him to design a stained-glass window to help raise money for her impoverished convent. Instead, he offered to design her an entire chapel. He considered it to be the masterpiece of his life.

    Inspired by this intriguing true story, New York-based writer Jesse Kornbluth created his first play, “The Color of Light,” whose world premiere here in San Diego is produced by Vantage Theatre and Talent to aMuse at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center.

    Fifty percent of the well-crafted dialogue comprises direct quotes from the artist and the nun. We learn a great deal about Matisse – his love of color and light, his inner torment, his reason for painting. But there’s only a passing mention of the wife he “sent away.”

    We meet Pablo Picasso, Matisse’s friendly competitor, amusingly portrayed by James Steinberg. Their interactions are delightful. But two additional characters -- the architect-priest and the Mother Superior -- are unnecessary, and disrupt the flow of the piece.

    Except for Picasso’s two spirited visits, the play is about this triad – the nun, the caregiver and the artist. And that’s where the focus should stay. Those three performances -- by Cecily Keppel, Bobbie Helland, and O.P. Hadlock -- are quite compelling.

    The production gets off to a slow start, with a sluggish pace, too many short scenes and not enough action or conflict. This is underscored by the frequent and pointless moving of furniture. Momentum picks up significantly in the second act.

    Director Robert Salerno shines best in his projections of Matisse’s creations – the paintings, the cutouts, and especially the gorgeous Chapel at Vence, which should be the final image we see.

    The play is a good beginning. With judicious cuts, it could have legs. It certainly has art.

    The world premiere of “The Color of Light” runs through February 3 at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center, downtown.

    Aired: 1/17/2018 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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