Sunday, July 17, 2016

Ion's 20th Century and NCRT's "Ain't Misbehavin'

Charlene Baldridge
Photo: Ken Howard
People Will Do Anything to Get the Part

In the Off the Radar series at the Elaine Lipinsky Stage (Blkbox @Sixth at Pennsylvania) in Hillcrest, ion theatre presents (through July 24 only!) Tom Jacobson’s incendiary The Twentieth-Century Way.

Colton Iverson and Richard Johnson in ion's incendiary The Twentieth-Century Way
Photo by Daren Scott
The work concerns two actors – debutant Colton Iverson as Brown and ion veteran Richard Johnson (Jesus Hates Me and Lydia) as Warren – who show up for a Hollywood film audition. No one is there to conduct the audition. When Warren arrives, Brown has been waiting for more than an hour, proof he really needs and wants the part. While they’re waiting – apparently to audition for the same role – they size each other up as men do. Warren suggests they do a little improv to warm up and show each other what they've got in the way of acting chops.

The improv scenario is 1914 Long Beach and the action involves detectives and newspaper men involved in rounding up and reporting on men involved in anonymous sex. Those acquainted with the work of John Rechy will recognize the ever-recurring scene.
Iverson and Johnson
Photo by Daren Scott
Over the course of an increasingly brutal sexual encounter the two actors do show each other everything they’ve got, overt and covert, through the creation of numerous characters, some of them seductive, all the while maintaining calm, deliberate and cool actors’ approach.

Not for those who object to clinical language, nudity and simulated sex, the piece (produced by Glenn Paris) shows off the skills of two fine actors: Iverson, purposefully insecure and willing to do anything to get the role, and Johnson, always in control as the manipulator. Claudio Raygoza once again demonstrates his genius as director and designer, creating relentless suspense with Jacobson’s astonishing piece, which is certainly full of laughs (nervous and otherwise) despite the increasing suspense and darkness.  It is Hollywood writ true.

Meanwhile, Johnson grows in stature (he’s in the upcoming Airline Highway), and has the most gorgeous butt currently on San Diego stages. 

In his bio Iverson calls The Twentieth-Century Way “this behemoth of a play.” It is that, indeed. or (619) 600-5020.

Recreating ‘Fats’

Many years ago at the interval of what was likely the regional premiere of the 1978 Tony Award-winner for Best Musical, Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Fats Waller Musical Show, I remember this overheard remark – one of my favorite overheard remarks of all time – at the interval: “They’re all black, and there’s no plot.  What kind of musical is this?”

Lest there be any doubt as to the genre, Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a musical revue comprising the pianist/composer’s spicy, jazzy, bluesy oeuvre, for the most part. In addition to Best Musical, the list of the Tony Award winners included performer Nell Carter and director Richard Maltby, Jr. The other performers, whose first names forever identify the characters in the musical revue, were Charlaine Woodard, Armelia McQueen, AndrĂ© de Shields, and Ken Page. Several of them appeared on San Diego stages, most notablyTony nominee AndrĂ© de Shields, who created the role of Noah “Horse” Simmons in Jack O’Brien’s original production of The Full Monty.

At North Coast Repertory, under the capable guidance of director Yvette Freeman, a veteran of the New York and international touring productions of Ain’t Misbehavin’ (she replaced Carter), the
The company of Ain't Misbehavin'Photo by Aaron Ruumley
company (the one-named Yvonne, Cynthia Thomas, Ron Christopher Jones, Anise Ritchie, and Tony Perry) soars, especially in the more relaxed second act, which contains such enjoyable numbers as “Your Feet’s Too Big” (with its devastatingly funny lyric “Your pedal extremities are colossal”), “The Viper’s Song,” “Find Out What They Want and How They Like It,” the sublimely sung “(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue,” and “Fat and Greasy.”

A dynamite instrumental combo is elevated house right, comprising pianist/conductor Kevin Toney, Danny King (drums), Greg McKinney (bass), Julian Davis (trumpet) and Malcolm Jones (reeds). They alone would be worth the admission cost in anyone’s theatre.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ continues through 7pm August 7 at North Coast Rep, 987 D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach ( or 858-481-1055). Then it moves for a brief run August 11-14 at California Center for the Arts, Escondido ( or 800-988-4253).

1 comment:

  1. I saw Andre de Shields onstage in the Chicago production of "Hair"--the man could really sing and dance.