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  • “NOISES OFF” –  Lamb’s Players Theatre

    “NOISES OFF” – Lamb’s Players Theatre

    “Noises Off” has “Nothing On.”

    That is to say, the wild and wacky 1982 farce by Michael Frayn, “Noises Off,” has a play within the play called “Nothing On.” Both are equally ludicrous. Together, they’re hilarious.

    We start out at a rehearsal for the cheesy comedy being performed by a 3rd-rate English theater company that tours to far-flung holes-in-the-wall. It’s the night before opening, and everything that could go wrong, does.

    But you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Act II takes place during a performance a month later, where we see extremes of mania and madness backstage.

    By the time Act III rolls around, two months later, we’re watching the complete deterioration of the production; all hell has broken loose into an unhinged delirium of jealousy, revenge and ax-wielding.

    At Lamb’s Players Theatre, Ross Hellwig has to jump around with his pants around his ankles. Brian Mackey has his shoes tied together in a spiteful prank, and is forced to hop up and down a staircase, and later tumble down those same steps.

    Under the direction of Robert Smyth, with superb movement and fight choreography by Jordan Miller, the madcap cast provides gut-busting craziness – from the ditsy, sardine-obsessed Deborah Gilmour Smyth, to the line-dropping inebriate Jim Chovick, the airhead-in-underwear Charlene Wilkinson, and the lunacy added by Omri Schein, Jessica John, Fran Gercke and Cynthia Gerber.

    On opening night, the first act fell flat, too frenzied and less impeccably timed than the rest.

    But boy, do the next two acts deliver: from slamming doors – all seven of them! – to missed cues, botched costumes, missing props, and interpersonal intrigue of amazing variety.

    During the two intermissions,you can watch Mike Buckley’s inventive set being rotated, piece by piece, to shift our onstage/backstage perspective.

    “Noises Off” is one of the world’s funniest farces, hilariously satirizing every part of theater: actors, director, writer, stage manager.

    Funny thing is, over the years, I’ve actually witnessed just about every one of those laugh-inducing onstage gaffes. Now you can, too. Prepare to giggle and guffaw.

    “Noises Off” runs through May 20, at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado.

    Aired: 4/19/2018 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2018 Pat Launer

  • “HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES” –  North Coast Repertory Theatre

    “HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES” – North Coast Repertory Theatre

    He may be England’s most prolific playwright: 82 plays and counting over the last 60 years. He may be a knight. He may create juicy and colorful characters. But the comedies of Sir Alan Ayckbourn are rife with cynicism – especially about marriage.

    And despite the fact that his 1982 diversion, “How the Other Half Loves,” is as clever as his other works, it does not fit comfortably in this #MeToo moment of how men should treat women.

    Among the three couples onstage, there’s one affair, one rumored affair, and one potential affair. The preferred domineering-male response to such an eventuality is the intention to hit his wife. But the women do seem to triumph in the end. Sort of.

    One thing Ayckbourn does flawlessly is muck with dramatic structure. He loves to have multiple scenarios and timeframes occurring at once.

    At North Coast Repertory Theatre, two contiguous living rooms overlap, so a partner in one home may be sitting next to her rival on the sofa in another house. And when two dinner parties are portrayed simultaneously -- with the same two guests -- it’s hilarious how the visitors react to one pair of hosts and then the other, in practically the same sentence.

    This triumph of timing is due to the splendid skills of director Geoffrey Sherman and his superlative cast.

    These may not be likable characters, but they certainly are believable.

    The wealthy couple, with a corporate head who seems to be losing his memory and mind (not really a great source of humor any more), are wonderful James Newcomb and imperious and devious Jacquelyn Ritz.

    The middle-class pair features Sharon Rietkerk as a beleaguered, slovenly spouse who belittles her baby, and Christopher M. Williams as her caustic, two-timing mate.

    The young up-and-comers are nerdy but overbearing Ben Cole and Noelle Martin as his mousey, nail-biting wife.

    The quick-paced, quippy, often sarcastic dialogue makes for comical interactions. The sound design and costumes are spot-on late ‘60s.

    If you don’t flinch at the misogyny, you’re likely to find it all fun.

    “How the Other Half Loves” runs through May 13, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.

    Aired: 4/17/2018 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2018 Pat Launer

  • “BASKERVILLE” –  Scripps Ranch Theatre

    “BASKERVILLE” – Scripps Ranch Theatre

    Sherlock Holmes may never have lived – but he somehow lives on forever.

    It’s endlessly fascinating – in any artform – to re-encounter the detective’s uncanny intelligence, skillful reasoning and methodical thinking. Never mind that he was an opium addict and an inveterate pipe-smoker. We love him for his brain, in spite of -- or maybe because of -- his flaws and peccadilloes.

    One of his most notorious cases, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1902, focused on that terrifying, killer beast of the Devonshire moors: “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

    In 2015, playwright Ken Ludwig thought he’d make hay, and make light of it all, while of course, maintaining the mystery.

    What he created is a 2-hour comedy with about 40 eccentric characters, mostly inhabited by three overworked actors. It’s the quick-changing costumes, the hastily drawn-on moustache, the gender-shifting roles and the dozens of accents, from all over the British Isles, with German, Scandinavian and Texan thrown in – that make “Baskerville” such a hoot.

    Ludwig borrows liberally from movies, including “Young Frankenstein,” the Mel Brooks mashup. So we get a gnarled, hunchbacked, creepy male and female Igor, and a “Walk this way” moment, among many memorable others.

    Staging the play requires enormous sleight-of-hand. And Scripps Ranch Theatre has the right man for the job: director Charles Peters is actually a professional magician.

    He’s also an ace at making theater magic, putting his five cast members through their rapid-fire, hair-trigger-timed paces. The result is no mystery… it’s downright riotous at times.

    Robin Thompson and Michael Lundy make a delightful duo as Holmes and Watson. And everyone else is pretty hilariously portrayed by Bob Himlin, and the sidesplitting Russell Clements and Michelle Marie Trester.

    The case, which unfolds with the usual twists, turns and red herrings, keeps us guessing, aided by the effective lighting, sound and fog machine.

    The era of the late 1800s is fittingly conveyed by the Steampunk set Peters conceived, with its overlapping and interlocking gears. Perfect, since everything onstage runs like clockwork.

    “Baskerville” runs through April 22, at Scripps Ranch Theatre on the campus of Alliant University.

    Aired: 4/10/2018 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2018 Pat Launer

  • “THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH” – Diversionary Theatre

    “THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH” – Diversionary Theatre

    The title of Philip Dawkins’ play, “The Happiest Place on Earth,” gives a false impression. But then, so does Disneyland, which features prominently.

    The 90-minute solo piece is basically a depressive’s disquisition on the illusion of happiness – as it plays out in three generations of the playwright’s family, which takes refuge in The Magic Kingdom. One particular Christmas trip stands out.

    There’s an old adage about writing that says, the more particular and specific the narrative, the more universal it becomes.

    But despite the exhaustive detail about the family and the design, rides and intentions of Walt Disney’s 1955 creation, there’s little for the audience to hang onto here, and no character to care about, including the storyteller, the youngest male of the mostly female clan.

    Dawkins performed the piece himself in its Chicago premiere two years ago. Now, at Diversionary Theatre, with the same director, Jonathan L. Green, the choice was inexplicably made to cast a woman in the role – the talented and engaging local, Jacque Wilke. She tells us she’ll be playing Philip for the evening, but not exactly why.

    The stage is designed to look like a classroom, with a beat-up wood desk, a large chalkboard, and a pull-down screen for laminate overheads, mostly actual Dawkins family photos.

    So, who are we supposed to be? The evening starts out like a lecture about Walt Disney and his real and imagined world, and turns into an intimate reminiscence, about the brutal reality of death and the family’s escape to the fantasy of Disneyland.

    The most compelling characters are Philip’s grandmother and her husband, who dies suddenly and too young. But it’s hard to keep their four daughters straight, and Wilke doesn’t differentiate them sufficiently.

    The points about Disneyland’s escapism and the futility of a lifelong pursuit of happiness are made early and often.

    Why do we need to know all this about Disneyland? Why don’t we learn anything about the playwright? This is his highly personal sharing of supposedly meaningful family stories that leave us feeling a little left out.

    “The Happiest Place on Earth” runs through April 15, at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.

    Aired: 3/29/2018 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2018 Pat Launer

  • “KING CHARLES III” – Coronado Playhouse

    “KING CHARLES III” – Coronado Playhouse

    I’m not sure how the royal family feels about “King Charles III,” but Shakespeare would love it.

    Borrowing from the notorious borrower, playwright Mike Bartlett gleefully steals and subverts characters, plot-points and lines from the Bard’s Plays.

    His drama-with-comic-moments is written in iambic pentameter. But instead of re-creating history, Bartlett foretells it.

    In the not-too-distant future, Queen Elizabeth passes on, and her son, Prince Charles, is ready to assume the throne. But like so many historical contenders to the crown, he won’t ascend without a struggle.

    The first bill brought before him is designed to limit freedom of the press. Rejecting a role as mere rubber stamp, Charles refuses to sign. The result is chaos in the streets and in the palace.

    Charles soliloquizes, questioning his identity, à la Hamlet. An ambitious, Lady Macbeth-like Kate sets a nefarious plot in motion to replace Charles with her husband, William. A composite of Macbeth’s witches and Hamlet’s apparition, the ghost of Princess Diana appears to offer enigmatic prophesies. And Harry, chafing at the constraints of royalty, acts very much like the young, party-hearty Prince Hal in “Henry IV.”

    Bartlett’s ingenious creation, celebrated as Best New Play in its 2014 London premiere, garnered five Tony Award nominations when it ran on Broadway. It’s delicious fun, but also provocative and disturbing, viewed in light of the precarious state of freedom of our own press and the chaotic nature of our Capitol.

    The Coronado Playhouse, a plucky community theater, has miraculously snagged the local premiere, offering a superb production under the confident and nuanced direction of Tyler Richards Hewes. An outstanding, sumptuously costumed ensemble of 17, many playing multiple roles, deftly displays a range of British class and dialect distinctions.

    As a Charles look-alike, Richard Rivera paints a magnificent portrait of an indecisive man who, in choosing duty and principle over pomp and ceremony, manages to disrupt the monarchy and divide the country.

    Everything about this excellent production is impressive. All one can say is: Long Live the King!

    “King Charles III” runs through April 22, at the Coronado Playhouse.

    Aired: 3/28/2018 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2018 Pat Launer

  • “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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