Sunday, July 3, 2016

Saturday and "Sunday"

Charlene Baldridge
80 years ago
Sunday in the Park with George

Friday night at San Diego Museum of Art’s Copley Auditorium, ion theatre, in association with San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA), opened its production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1984 Broadway, Pulitzer Prize-winning Sunday in the Park With George, co-directed by ion Producing Artistic Director Glenn Paris and Kim Strassburger, with musical direction by Mark Danisovszky. Executive Artistic Director Claudio Raygoza is the producer. The first professional production of the work in San Diego, Sunday in the Park with George continues Tuesdays-Sundays through July 16.

If you’re a Sondheim devotee like I, you’re not seeing Sunday in the Park for the first time (I saw it at The Goodman in Chicago many years ago and the painting was on view at the Art Institute one block away—the Art Institute was my home away from home when I was studying voice in the Loop). I plan on buying a ticket to see it again.
Melissa Fernandes as Dot
and the company of Sunday in the Park
Photo by Daren Scott

Be assured the ion company is as good as that seen anywhere, starting with the leads (Melissa Fernandes as Dot/Marie and Jon Lorenz as Georges/George) and moving right through the entire company of 14 to the smallest, Louise, the Child, played by 5th grader Katrina Heil.

Jon Lorenz as George, who returns to La Grande Jette
in Act II
Photo by Daren Scott
Others in the outstanding company (where else such a gathering of San Diego’s finest?) are Stewart Calhoun, Morgan Carberry, Devlin, Walter DuMelle, Priti Gandhi, Patrick Gates, Jesse MacKinnon, Lizzie Morse, Julia Nardi-Loving and Wendy Waddell.

Sunday in the Park with George concerns the French painter Georges Seurat (1859-1891), his innovative, post-impressionist style (pointillism), and his utter concentration on his work in progress, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. In Lapine’s book for the musical, Georges’ obsession causes him to neglect Dot, his mistress, who also poses for him (“I love your painting; I feel I’m fainting” in the opening, title song). Ultimately she leaves him and marries Louis, the Baker (Charlie Gange) and soon after gives birth to Marie, Georges’ daughter. She and Louis move to America. To thrilling effect, every character in the musical’s first act appears in Seurat’s painting, which also opens Act II with “It’s Hot Up Here.”

Mixing up the centuries in Act II:
Fernandes as Dot and Lorenz as her grandson,
Photo by Daren Scott
Each actor plays a different character in the musical’s much shorter second act, which takes place 100 years later in a museum. Lorenz plays Georges’ artist grandson, George, and Fernandes plays Dot’s daughter, Marie, George’s mother, now an old woman in a wheelchair. George, a successful sound sculptor stuck in a rut, searches for meaning – (“we leave only two worthwhile things behind, art and children”). George feels like he’s got a good thing going but he’s been doing it over and over again and it’s killing his creative purpose. His assistant leaving him to return to NASA is a real wakeup call. And it isn’t until he gives credence to his heritage through reading Dot’s notebook and returns to La Grande Jatte that he gets the inspiration to move forward.

Though Sunday in the Park has deeply amusing lyrics, and harkens both back and forward in his oeuvre musically, the work is as impressionistic as the impressionists, as forward-looking as the then soon to be erected Eiffel Tower, it is quite unlike any other musical, even one by Sondheim. Interesting to note that Georges’ artistic principals are based on scientific theory of color; and George’s art is based on mathematics of sound and color.
The work in progress: Dot & Company
Photo by
Daren Scott

Many theatergoers are confused by the musical’s abrupt disconnect between the acts and fail to admire the piece as a total, moving investigation into, and celebration of, the singular, obsessive, artistic process, and a constructive exhortation and celebration of the challenge faced by those who live on the periphery of an artist’s inability to connect. Somewhere in the vastness of Act Two’s eternity Dot gets it, and somewhere, as well, George realizes the vastness of artistic possibilities at his fingertips. That’s why the second act is so vital to the whole.

There’s no rake in this auditorium, so plan to arrive early to select a seat with an unobstructed view. The stage is elevated. The musical is accompanied by two grand pianos, house right, one manned by Danisovszky, the other by the excellent Daniel James Greenbush. Kudos to the company for clean diction and to the un-credited sound designer and sound operator Spencer Lynn for the cleanest sound ever in this auditorium, at least from my front row seat far house left, where noise from the restaurant outside the doors occasionally intruded. I just chalked it up to murmurs from the river.

Other designers are projections designer Blake McCarty; costume designer Janet Turner Pitcher; lighting designer Christopher Loren Renda; and scenic designer Matt Scott.

 Sunday in the Park with George: continues through July 16; Tues @ 7pm; Thurs & Fri @8pm; Sat @ 2pm and 8pm; Sun @ 2pm. Actual dates are: Fri July 2, 2pm & 8pm; Sun July 3, 2pm; Tues July 5,
7pm; Thurs July 7, 8pm; Fri July 8, 8pm; Sat July 9, 2pm & 8pm; Sun July 10, 2pm; Tues July 12, 7pm; Thu July14, 8pm; Fri July 15, 8pm; Sat July 16 2pm & 8pm.
Where – The James S. Copley Auditorium at The San Diego Museum of Art, 1450 El Prado, San Diego, CA, 92101
Tickets – General Admission: $45; Senior (60+): $35; Military: $35; Student: $35. Discounts
available for ion and SDMA members. or (619) 600-5020.

The Fringe and I Sputter Out

Saturday morning, I took an internationally aware friend to see Bin Laden: The One Man Show, knowing how much he would appreciate what I consider the finest of the Fringe. He did. And I enjoyed seeing the well-researched, terrifying piece again, coming away with an even greater understanding of its intent and the threat we still face on a daily basis. Today in Baghdad. This week in Istanbul and Bangladesh.

Samuel Redway as Bin Laden
Photo courtesy SD Fringe Festival

 Saturday afternoon I went down to the Spreckels only to find A) no parking, and B), I’d bollixed up my schedule, and C) the elevator at the Lyceum was out of order so I could not get to Nations of San Diego Dance. So after spending $10 to park and after seeing one horrible, interminable, nameless show at the Geoffrey, I gave up and came home, an ignominious conclusion to an otherwise favorable Fringe Festival. Lessons: things do not always go smoothly, one I’m still learning at 82, and energy is no longer inexhaustible.

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