Pat Launer, Center Stage
“FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS, PARTS 1, 2 AND 3” – Intrepid Theatre
There’s music in the songs and in the language. There’s rhythm, counterpoint and contradiction in the themes and characters.
In “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 and 3,” Pulitzer Prize-winner Suzan-Lori Parks has begun her 9-part magnum opus, with an epic, poetic drama set during the Civil War.
A slave goes off to fight – on the Confederate side. A chorus raps. A dog speaks the truth. The past melds with the present – in ideas, costumes and colloquialisms. And a Greek myth inspires a simultaneously historical and contemporary story.
Riffing on Homer’s “Odyssey,” Parks creates luminous characters named Homer, Penny and Hero, who changes his name to Ulysses.
The story follows Hero, as he goes off to war with his Texas plantation “Boss-master,” who has promised him freedom. That tortuous decision, leaving those you love for the elusive promise of earning his freedom – while fighting against it – forms the crux of Part 1.
Part 2 finds Hero and his master lost in a wood, separated from their battalion. They keep their captive Yankee soldier in a rough-hewn cage, and together engage in a dynamic discussion of enslavement and liberty.
In Part 3, Hero returns home, having finished his service, and lost his soul.
In this mesmerizing three-hour odyssey, we see the psychological and physical toll of slavery. Horrific reports are laced with lacerating humor (“yoke and joke,” as Parks has called it).
The play considers the cost of a slave and the worth of a man. And the notion of freedom – whether it should be given or taken. It concerns fidelity and loyalty, honesty and identity – for these characters, and more broadly, for all Americans.
When the boss, the slave-owner, says, “I am grateful every day that God made me white,” it’s a chillingly resonant moment.
The Intrepid Theatre production is spectacular, from its bluesy music and songs (composed by the playwright) to its stark design and superlative performances.
Christy Yael-Cox and her co-director, Antonio TJ Johnson, have given us a beautiful, thoughtful, contemplative gift. It’s provocative, unmissable theater.
The Intrepid Theatre Production Of “Father Comes Home From The Wars, Parts 1, 2, And 3” has been extended through November 5, at the Horton Grand Theatre, in downtown San Diego.
Aired: 10/5/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
“HOMOS, OR EVERYONE IN AMERICA” – Diversionary Theatre
Of course, you’ve heard of a New York Minute. Well, you might call the West coast premiere at Diversionary Theatre 100 New York Minutes. It plays at a rapid-fire, rat-a-tat rate.
“Homos, or Everyone in America,” by Jordan Seavey is, structurally and linguistically, as provocative as its title.
The piece leapfrogs in time, from 2006 to 2011, chronicling the relationship between two urban, gay Brooklynites. The story is sliced into jagged, non-chronological segments that we have to piece together. You don’t have to work hard, but you do have to listen fast.
The intelligent, literate work is presented in a style of language play and banter that certain educated New Yorkers eat for breakfast. Literary and political references fly by, expressed in clever and unexpected ways.
But there’s more than just playfulness here. Serious subjects are broached, including the divides within the gay community-- about becoming different from or identical to the heteronormative world, especially in terms of marriage; and the specific complexities and persistent threats of contemporary gay life.
The play premiered Off Broadway just last year, so this is another coup for Diversionary Theatre artistic director Matt M. Morrow.
Seavey’s colorful characters, though nameless, are very specific. The Writer is adventurous, experimental. The Academic is more conventional, dependent and monogamous. Their sexuality is as potent as their arguments and their breakup.
What makes the play relevant to “Everyone in America,” as the subtitle suggests, is that this gay couple reflects universals in all relationships: coping with jealousy and infidelity, commitment and compromise, neediness and independence, confrontation and avoidance.
Morrow’s precise, crackerjack direction underlines the superlative, intertwined performances of Jacob Caltrider and Alex Guzman. The pace at which they have to think, speak, move and shift moods is exhilarating. In small secondary roles, Michael C. Louis and Andréa Agosto are appealing and compelling.
The honesty is brutal and bruising. The raw sex-talk is unfiltered. You come away feeling as if you’ve lived through an intense relationship tainted by trauma.
Color this vibrant piece of theater dramatic and extraordinary.
“Homos, or Everyone in America” runs through October 15, at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.
Aired: 10/4/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
“AMERICAN HERO” – New Village Arts
When I heard the title of Bess Wohl’s play, “American Hero,” I thought it was going to be about a courageous act, having just seen “A Piece of My Heart,” about women in Vietnam. Then I read that it was about people in low-paying jobs, stressed and threatened by the Great Recession, which reminded me of the wonderful drama, “Skeleton Crew.”
“American Hero” doesn’t come close to those, but it has lofty aims.
The action is set in a strip-mall sandwich shop. Two of the three so-called “sandwich artists” we meet have lost their prior employment. The other works two minimum wage jobs: one that ends at 4am, while this one starts at 7am.
The three employees are very different, and they bond somewhat, including an awkward, non-credible sex act. Soon after opening day, they find that their immigrant boss has disappeared and the franchise is in limbo, at peril of closure. There are other immigrants, perhaps the young girl working to support her sick father.
She’s the one who gives us a dream sequence, featuring a superhero that’s supposed to look like a sandwich, but in this production, looks nothing of the sort… though he does spark some serious ingenuity in the young girl, to keep the business going.
Late in the generally slow-moving 90-minute piece, a guy from corporate headquarters arrives, in a completely improbable turn that leaves the trio worse off than when they began.
So, what exactly is the playwright trying to say? Her play seems to be a collection of issues raised and abandoned, questions unresolved and points not satisfactorily made.
At New Village Arts, under the guidance of artistic director Kristianne Kurner, the four actors are obviously working hard (sometimes acting to excess). The three sandwich makers don’t exhibit a significant amount of credible camaraderie. The fourth actor plays a bevy of other characters, in an array of ill-considered wigs. The set, lighting and sound are serviceable.
But the piece comes off as too sad to be funny and too superficial to be meaningful.
“American Hero” runs through October 15, at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.
Aired: 9/29/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
“IRONBOUND” – Moxie Theatre
In Martyna Majok’s drama, “Ironbound” is both a location and a condition.
It’s a multi-ethnic, working-class New Jersey neighborhood, and “Ironbound” also describes the predicament of the central character, Darja, who is shackled by poverty and circumstance. One half-step from homeless, she holes up at a seedy bus stop, boxed in by a chain-link fence.
The play hopscotches in time, between a hopeful, pregnant Darja and her young, musician-husband, both recently arrived from Poland, in 1992, and the desperate, defensive survivor Darja of 2014, who has suffered through two husbands and a philandering boyfriend, and whose addict son has taken her car and disappeared.
As if all that isn’t enough, the factory where she worked has shut down, she just lost her house-cleaning job, and the boss who became her second husband was physically abusive.
She takes refuge at the bus stop, but it’s by no means a safe space, as a black street hustler points out. He feels sorry for her – 42 years old and still waiting for a bus – a kind of vehicular Godot that will never come.
The hustling high schooler offers her money, but her fierce pride makes her unwilling to take anything from anyone.
Truth be told, Darja is somewhat complicit in her situation. Bad choices, coupled with a hard edge and hot head, have hindered her prospects for improvement.
But Majok’s spare, gritty writing makes us care about Darja and admire her unflagging resilience.
At Moxie Theatre, the three males are wonderfully portrayed. But the fulcrum is Jacque Wilke, who gives a stunning performance, deeply accented, multi-faceted and delicately nuanced.
Moxie’s new artistic chief, Jennifer Eve Thorn, backed by an excellent design team, directs with compassion and muscularity. There isn’t a lot of action, but the piece paints a heart-rending portrait.
Despite the bleak scenario, there are rays of light and humor in this intense, 90-minute, unblinking look at the ordeal of immigrants.
We can’t afford to turn away – for the good of our consciences, and our unequal, often unwelcoming country.
“Ironbound” runs through October 22, at Moxie Theatre, near SDSU.
Aired: 9/27/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
“LAST OF THE RED HOT LOVERS” – North Coast Repertory Theatre
Phil Johnson is up to his old tricks: his bag of comic tricks, that is. Cast with a trio of terrific women, the relentless funnyman and comedic Everyman is the guy in the midst of a midlife crisis in Neil Simon’s 1969 comedy, “Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” now playing at North Coast Repertory Theatre.
At 47, Barney is starting to face down mortality. Having been married for 23 years, he feels that life – and the sexual revolution – are passing him by. So he decides to have an affair.
Over one year, two acts (and 2½ hours), Barney arranges for three assignations, in the least likely of rendezvous spots: his mother’s fastidious New York apartment. And he only has three hours till she gets home from work.
Barney reeks of flop-sweat; he’s neurotic, awkward and klutzy. Each meetup is a disaster in its own way. Barney’s too “nice,” too “decent” for this sort of thing: he can’t shut up, he can’t make the first move, he can’t get to first base.
The play feels dated, but it’s vintage Simon: quick with the quips and snappy one-liners, with a fixation on death roiling beneath the sunny surface.
Each of the colorfully caricaturish women has her own little vice: Elaine, the sexy, sarcastic Katie Karel, endlessly swigs scotch; whack-job, hare-brained Bobbi, hilariously portrayed by Noelle Marion, is a rubber-limbed pot-head; and Jeanette, played by Sandy Campbell with prissy, weepy, purse-clutching precision, is dependent on anti-depressants.
The first act tends to drag, some moments are decidedly un-PC, and the whole proceeding feels like a sitcom of its era. But director Christopher Williams keeps the pace popping. The set and costumes are attractive, and the performances are impeccable.
And let’s face it; in 50 years, midlife crises haven’t gone anywhere. Neither has the feeling that the world is changing too fast, and whizzing by at breakneck speed.
So, Carpe Diem. Take what you can from this show, and have yourself a few well-earned laughs.
“Last of the Red Hot Lovers” has been extended through October 8, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
Aired: 9/14/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
“WILD GOOSE DREAMS” – La Jolla Playhouse
Metaphor, fantasy and hard, cold reality collide in “Wild Goose Dreams” by Hansol Jung, a spectacular world premiere co-produced by the La Jolla Playhouse and New York’s Public Theater.
Set in Seoul, South Korea, the play begins with a fairy tale, whose moral is: If you have a choice between family and flying to Paradise … Fly!
Birds, flight and illusion are intrinsic to this magical tale. When to stay and when to go. Where love and loyalty lie.
Minsung is a Goose Father, a South Korean man who sent his family to America for his daughter’s education. He stays behind, works hard and lives a Spartan life, so he can send everything abroad. But he’s very lonely. He seeks solace at an online dating site.
There he meets Nanhee, who defected from North Korea, leaving her father behind. She, too, is lonely. The course of their rocky relationship is traced in the 105-minute/one act play. But that’s barely a skeleton of what this magical, highly theatrical drama is like.
Nanhee’s vivid, terrifying dreams are enacted. And even more stunning, the internet itself is brilliantly brought to pulsing life, its cacophony of voices and distractions, tones and beeps personified by an outstanding Chorus that talks, sings, chants and confuses.
Sometimes, they speak all at once. Sometimes, their voices can’t be heard. For some, the discord and lack of realism may be too much. But for those looking for something fresh, young and wildly imaginative, this is one unique and magnificent piece of theater – both the play and the thrilling production. The performances are superb. The direction and choreography are electrifying, though the wood-hewn, raked stage is nearly bare most of the time.
But we get completely caught up in the challenges of living in both Koreas. The play raises questions of identity – and connection. With all our online friends, likes, pokes and tweets, why are we so deeply disconnected? And why have we allowed the internet to hijack our lives?
The unpredictable love story, which takes some dark turns, focuses on two people misled by fear and misunderstanding. It crosses boundaries and borders to remind us that, when given the opportunity, we should take wing and soar.
“Wild Good Dreams” runs through October 1 at the La Jolla Playhouse, on the campus of UCSD.
Aired: 9/13/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
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