Monday, April 25, 2016

Jesus Hates Me

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
Don’t miss this

Wayne Lemon’s Jesus Hates Me, which opened April 23 at ion theatre, is a knockout comedy noir. The knockout punches are the writing and the expert co-direction of Glenn Paris and Claudio Raygoza and, in equal part, the great casting, acting and design – in other words, just about everything.

Lemon’s first play, premiered in 2009, Jesus Hates Me plays through May 23 in ion’s intimate Elaine Lipinsky Stage at 6th and Pennsylvania in Hillcrest. The plot concerns a group of quirky residents in a small, present-day West Texas town. The matriarch, Annie (Liesel Gorrell-Getz), is certifiably nuts and growing more so, much to the consternation of her 25-year-old son Ethan (Connor Sullivan), a “stranger in his own life,” who still lives with her. Ethan hopes to escape to Colorado, where he’s been offered a job as a ski and horseback riding instructor. Never mind he knows nothing about either. It’s an escape.

The others are Ethan’s best friend, the truth-teller Trane (Laurence Brown), the only black deputy sheriff in Texas; Lizzy (Dana Fares), who owns the local watering hole and is unrequitedly in love with Ethan; Lizzy’s brother Georgie (Charlie Gange), who blew out his larynx in a suicide attempt; and Boone (Richard Johnson), the very model of a ne’er-do-well, whose misguided attempts to ingratiate himself with the others leads repeatedly to hilarious chaos.
The Company
Sullivan, Fares, Johnson,
Brown, Gorrell-Getz and Gange
Courtesy ion theatre

Annie and Ethan operate The Blood of the Lamb Miniature Golf Course. The crucified Christ Jesus presides over the 17th hole. When you achieve the cup, the life-size effigy lights up.

The characters are divinely inspired; the actors, superb. Gorrell-Getz, a known quantity, is marvelous, without over-emoting perfectly portraying Annie’s condition and even, at the 11th hour, suggesting the possible causes of it. It’s great performance of a meticulously written role. From several quarters, I’d heard about Sullivan and even witnessed him in small roles around town. But now, at ion, his prowess is matched by a worthy role. He is one of most natural actors I’ve ever seen and is handsome to boot, though I must say Johnson, also a fine actor, has a most attractive physique as well. (I couldn’t help but notice, having witnessed the protracted scene the two play in their Jockeys.)

Connor Sullivan as Ethan
Photo courtesy ion theatre
Raygoza is responsible for scenic, sound and lighting design, and Mary Summerday for costumes. This is a detailed and fascinating production, what with the miniature golf course, an Airstream travel-trailer, and the bar, each seemingly whole and filled with detritus and human beings hoping for hope and some chance of escape or at least survival.

Don’t miss it. Tickets at or 619-600-5020

Monday, April 18, 2016

Old Man

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
Of Typeface and the River


I don’t know where they found it (possibly through a layout artiste), but several arts organizations have discovered a typeface that I call Victoriana Obfuscata, and it is appearing in more and more programs, confounding those who wish to read comments, lists of names, and other information. Quite simply, the device to add atmosphere or “tone” makes content indecipherable, a frustration and barricade to those who would read. Puh-leez.

That Old Man River

Two current San Diego area productions concern rafting or being swept along on the Mississippi River. Both are worth a look.

The first is a musical titled Big River, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, continuing at New Village Arts through 15. This rafting is benign, though full of adventure.

Way Down River

The company
Photos by Aaron Rumley
The second, Way Downriver; William Faulkner’s ‘Old Man,’ continues at North Coast Repertory Theatre through May 8. This rafting takes place under the duress of the great flood of 1927. More perilous, it, too, is full of adventure and based on Faulkner’s Old Man, adapted by Edward Morgan and directed by David Ellenstein.

Though a bit bloated, the Morgan adaptation of Faulkner’s work is splendidly cast, impeccably acted, and wonderfully constructed, with scenes that alternate from a cell at Parchman State Penal Farm, where the story is being told, to the enactment of the adventure itself, which involves a prisoner named Aikins (Richard Baird) and Ellie (Sara Fetgatter), the woman he is sent to rescue from a nearby cotton mill rooftop. After being issued a rowboat and an oar, the instructions are simple: “just follow the tops of the telephone poles to the cotton mill.” The River has other ideas.

A more waterlogged and bedraggled pair cannot be imagined – Aikins’ prison stripes so muddied that his status is not discernable, and Ellie so ragged and great with child that she is a most pitiable creature. Aikins’ immediate concern once she is in the rowboat is where to find a bit of dry land where she can deliver her child. Fueled by the perils that rise over a number of weeks, a deep, unspoken bond of love is forged before it is sundered by Aikins’ deep sense of the right thing to do once Ellie and the baby’s safety are assured.

To watch Baird enact the subtle change in this basically good, though previously uncompassionate man is truly wondrous, indicated in one instance by a tear that arises in a corner his eye.

Fetgatter’s Ellie is an example of extreme stillness of acting style. No matter what befalls her character, the actor never “emotes” as lesser actors would. Less is more makes for a great love affair and underscores the play’s denouement as all the more cruel and unjust.

Baird and Fetgatter
Photo by Aaron Rumley

Veteran actor Robert Grossman undergirds the play’s two-hour unfolding with a terrific period guitar score, which he composed, arranged and plays beautifully. He portrays Ike, one of Aiken’s two cellmates. Benjamin Cole effectively limns the other, Tommy, a callow, yet appealing youth who savors the adventure. The inimitable Geno Carr almost steals the show in one of his numerous roles, a Cajun who shelters and feeds Aikins and Ellie for a while, teaching the innately skillful Aikins to wrestle, capture and kill ‘gators.

Others who play numerous roles are Max Macke and John Herzog. An extreme departure from the norm, Marty Burnett’s scenic design is absolutely wondrous. Additional designers are Matt Novotny (lights), Alina Bokovikova (costumes), Melanie Chen (sound), Andrea Gutierrez (props), and Aaron Rumley (projections). Kudos to Artistic Director David Ellenstein for his keen casting and astute direction.

North Coast Repertory, 987-D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach, or 858-481-1055

Monday, April 4, 2016

Chamber Music Catch Up

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
Playing Catch Up

Finishing off, in the written word, what’s left on the desk and in the seldom mind is  largely an impossible task when one is 82, as a rule procrastinates, and can no longer read, and/or never could read, copious notes written on top of themselves in a darkened venue.

Other matters that distracted the superannuated writer subsequent to the Art of Élan concert of March 29 are too mundane to mention, but I will anyway  – more of the usual – there were theatrical events I was assigned to write for publication (they had deadlines and pay) and a Mainly Mozart Spotlight Series concert Saturday, May 2, which I shall endeavor to discuss here; that is if I can decipher indecipherable notes and bring up what remains in my memory.

The other distraction (read excuse), which thoroughly consumed me, was getting acquainted with my first iPhone. (This was very complicated, believe me, and the fallout continues, affecting other devices as well as my mental stamina. There are still extant mysteries and malfunctions.) 
Cynthia Phelps

Daniel Phillips
Mainly Mozart Spotlight Series

Ronald Thomas
Saturday, Apr, 3 at The Auditorium of TSRI, La Jolla, Mainly Mozart  presented a delightful program curated by Anne-Marie McDermott. It revolved mostly around the flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, whose collaborators were Daniel Phillips, violin; Cynthia Phelps, viola; and Ronald Thomas, cello. Certainly a sterling group, they played brilliantly in various supportive capacities and combinations. Most of the evening, that is, and especially in the opening Mozart, Flute Quartet No. 3, which was sunny, stately and sweet by turns and especially playful in the andantino section’s theme and variations. As before O’Connor proved herself eminently listenable, with a luscious tone, impeccable phrasing and seemingly effortless breath control. Nothing could be finer than Mozart on a warm spring evening, played to a capacity audience in an acoustically fine auditorium.

Tara Helen O'Connor
O’Connor followed up with Debussy’s all-too-brief Srynx. Then she and Phelps splendidly assayed François Devienne’s Duo for Flute and Viola. Devienne (1759-1803) was a flutist, bassoonist and composer known at the time as “the Mozart of the Flute.” His green-gowned interpreters were like two mezzo sopranos singing Norma and all the cherry duets of eternity, competing, exalting, and creating luscious melody to savor, at times trading fervently ferocious lines. Their spirit of fun and collegiality was palpable.

The program closed with a performance of Beethoven’s String Trio in G Major, which was flawed by faulty violin and cello intonation that quite discomfited the listener. Between-movement tuning did not alleviate the problem, one that might be attributed to numerous things including jet lag or illness. One wishes the gentlemen well.

The next and final 2016 Spotlight Series performance at TSRI takes place at 7:30 pm Saturday, April 30 and features Steven Copes, violin; Hsin-Yun Huang, viola; Peter Wiley, cello; David Shifrin clarinet; and David Jolley, horn, in performance of Beethoven’s Clarinet Trio in B-Flat Major and Dohnanyi’s Sextet in C Major.

Art of Élan

The Formosa Quartet in the gallery
at San Diego Museum of Art
William Zauscher Photo courtesy Art of Elan

March 29 at San Diego Museum of Art, Art of Élan presented one of its excellently played and well thought out performances, this one titled “Song Recollections.” There was not a sung song on the program, but the selections were lyrical and song like nonetheless. Like the Mainly Mozart program later in the week the program also featured the flute, this time Rose Lombardo, who’s been principal flutist with San Diego Symphony since 2012. Her collaborators were the youthful and wondrous Formosa Quartet.

The program began with Dana Wilson’s Hungarian Folk Songs, commissioned and premiered by the Formosa Quartet in 2008 (There is a recording). The work comprises eight songs, rife with grace, zeal, flirtatiousness, and joy; add a bit of ponderousness, too, appropriately in the Porondos section, and culminating in The Bear Dance, which begins very somberly in the low voices of the viola and cello and ends with full-throated broad strokes. Quite and interesting and enjoyable work.

Then Quartet members Wayne Lee (violin), Che-Yen Chen (viola) and Deborah Pae (guest cellist) were joined by Lombardo in performance of Aaron Copland’s Threnodies, written in memoriam of Igor Stravinsky and Beatrice Cunningham. This prefaced the world premiere of Lei Liang’s Song Recollections, for which the entire program was named. The work was commissioned by Art of Élan for the Formosa Quartet and will be heard again April 20 at UCSD.

Lei Liang is a Chinese-born American composer who is currently professor of music and acting chair of the music department at UCSD. He writes that Song Recollections “is based on the folk music of Taiwanese aboriginal tribes which has fascinated me ever since my friends from Taiwan introduced it to me.”

The concert hall was filled to capacity and all present gave accolades to Mr. Liang, who was in the audience for this auspicious premiere.

Coming up for Art of Élan is the season finale – a program titled “By & By” that takes place at 7 pm Tuesday, May 17 at San Diego Museum of Art. Make plans to attend and purchase tickets now. These popular concerts always sell to capacity.

Now that the iPhone is pretty much mastered (Ha!) I promise to do a better job at reportage.