Monday, September 26, 2016

Peerless and 4000 Miles

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
'peerless' at Moxie

Playwright Jihae Park is young, female, and much commissioned, and for no other reason deserves our attention. Her new play, peerless, is currently produced by Moxie Theatre, and, since I’m playing catch-up (always, these days, was seen by this old female Friday, September 23, when it had had an entire week to gel.

Peerless is unusual to say the least, even in a world where Shakespeare riffs are common. It takes as launch pad and framework the Bard’s bloodthirsty Macbeth, the play referred to within theater confines as “The Scottish Play.” It was much fun, therefore, to attend a brief, post-performance conversation with Moxie Associate Artistic Director Jennifer Eve Thorn; the play’s dramaturge, Naysan Mojgani; and SDSU professor D. J. Hopkins, who several times actually said the name of the Scottish Play aloud and thereafter performed the spinning, spitting and running ritual required to dispel the curse that is said to accompany such infraction. The audience, which was composed of several groups and us civilians, was so fired up by the play and the ensuing chat that they still lingered in the lobby when I left.

Directed with great inventiveness by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, peerless is well cast and well played, certainly a hallmark of the theater, which has a mission to promote women. As if to the manner born Dana Wing Lau and Jyl Kaneshiro portray college-bound twins, M and L respectively, living in Midwestern suburbia, where they have been placed intentionally by family in order to have a better chance at getting into “The College,” which no doubt has ivy covered walls.

Dana Wing Lau and Jyl Kaneshiro
Photo by Jennifer Eve Thorn
As conceived by the playwright and abetted by Sonnenberg, M and L are so close they speak a patois all their own, a sort of rapid-fire patter that takes some time to fall intelligibly on the listener’s ear. Their relationship, as they plot to eliminate academic rivals for the spot they seek (most likely for M), is love-hate and changes almost imperceptibly over the course of the play, in which they eliminate all rivals, exhorted by a weird classmate, Dirty Girl, played by Thorn in wondrous scary makeup and a brilliant, wild, blond wig. First to be eliminated is an affable, sexually and socially inept nerd named D, played by Justin Lang. D stands for Duncan, of course. Then comes the offing of BF, (boyfriend?) played by Vimel Sephus, a stand-in for another of Macbeth’s victims.

There is much to admire in Shelly Williams’ costume design, especially for the twins. Missy Bradstreet is credited with wig design -- brava, indeed.

Peerless is surely wild and imaginative, and as with the audience Friday night is bound to engender vociferous and lengthy discussions, especially among academics and students of Shakespeare. What fun to pick out the allusions.

Played over 70 minutes without an interval, peerless continues through October 9 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd. $30 with discounts for groups, seniors, students, military and AASD members. or 858-598-7620.

4000 Miles at ion

Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles (Obie for best new play) is a neat little play to be seen through October 15 at ion theatre’s BlkBox, Sixth @Penn in Hillcrest. The play is neat in construction. It is unhurried letting observers in on the whole picture; therefore, this will be a sketchy review because I don’t want to spoil its delicious unfolding for you. Suffice it to say that the work concerns a severely dysfunctional family, of which we see only two members: the rest hover over all else that happens.

Leo (ever fascinating and appealing Connor Sullivan) has arrived unexpected in New York City, having ridden his bicycle clear across the nation, suffering from unbearable grief. He appears at his widowed, wildly left-leaning grandmother’s (Vera, played by Jill Drexler) roomy Greenwich Village apartment. She tells him he can stay only a few days, but he stays much longer. In truth he cares for her deeply and she, for him. She has early onset dementia and is quite upset at “not being able to find my words.” As they talk and reconnect, he has time to put himself together, and she enjoys his company. It’s a sweet, fraught relationship through which we learn about the other family members, and the pair’s unconventional lives and deep undercurrent of need.
Connor Sullivan and Jill Drexler
Photo by Daren Scott

The other characters are Leo’s former girlfriend, Bec (Michelle Marie Trester), and two others played by Yumi Roussin, Leo’s sister and an attractive young woman he picks up in a neighborhood bar.

4000 Miles lasts only 95 minutes and is highly recommended as directed by ion Founding Artistic Director Claudio Raygoza, who provides scenic, lighting and props design. Connor and Drexler are so good I could watch them all night long. Glenn Paris is responsible for the apropos costumes. Herzog is someone to watch. or 619-600-5020.

There will likely be a column here next week. Meanwhile, look for my other reviews in Uptown, Downtown and Gay San Diego

 at and in news racks.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

From Absurd to Sublime

September 19, 2016
Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
A busy week, indeed, ranging from the sublime (Piotr Beczala) to the absurd (The Addams Family Musical):

La Jolla Playhouse opens Tiger Style!
(through October 2 in the Potiker Theatre, or 858-550-1010)

Raymond J. Lee and Jackie Chung in La Jolla Playhouse’s production of TIGER STYLE!, by Mike Lew, directed by Jaime Castañeda; running Sept 6 – Oct 2 in the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre; photo by Jim Carmody.

Written by Mike Lew, an alumnus of La Jolla High School, Tiger Style! pays homage of sorts to tiger-style parenting, the kind in which parents hover over their kids, exhorting them to excel academically and become virtuoso players in the important fields of human endeavor like education and the arts.

The comedy was engendered by Amy Chua’s controversial 2011 memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which strict Chinese mothering is explored.

Tiger Style! is Lew’s comedic exploration of the lives of siblings (Jennifer Chen, played by Jackie Chung and Albert Chen, played by Raymond J. Lee) raised as “tiger cubs” in Irvine. The sibs, who are both Harvard grads, compare notes (he’s a computer whiz; she’s a clinical oncologist) and assign blame for perceived failure in their personal and professional lives. When confronted by their adult children, the parents, played by MaryAnn Hu and David Shih (who play most all the other characters as well), don’t exactly admit their guilt. Their rationale: Every parent, regardless of cultural heritage, wants their children to excel.

In Act II, Jennifer and Albert decide on what turns out to be a catastrophic “China Roots Tour” of their own devising to help them self-identify and perhaps even relocate. Once arrived in China, they discover that their skills are very much appreciated, but there are strings attached if they are to be gainfully employed.

Nate Miller plays Jennifer’s Caucasian live-in lover, who breaks up with her early in the play. He also portrays Albert’s immediate superior at work and the U.S. Customs officer who readmits them to the U.S.  at the 11th hour. The play’s huge asset is seeing Hu, Miller and Shih adeptly playing roles so numerous and well drawn. The other unusual and joyous aspect is a DJ named Shammy Dee, who, from a perch above the proceedings, connects the short, cinematic scenes.

To be admired greatly is Lauren Helpern’s scenic design, which spreads from sea to shining sea, across the width of the Poticker Theatre, dividing the two worlds into three playing areas (left to right), the living rooms, a park with dining facilities on a platform in the rear, and the offices. This works wonderfully well visually; however, because of its width it presents acoustical challenges, because both Albert and Jennifer in particular rush through the play seemingly without requisite tongues, lips, and teeth to articulate the words. Associate Artistic Director Jaime Castañeda directs.

The play sags in Act II, desperately seeking a way out of an ever-increasingly sinister China. Then it simply ends, boom, with our protagonists back in the states, perhaps enlightened and perhaps not. Let’s hope that further work will be done. Meanwhile, what was understood is extremely funny.

Addams Family delightfully morose at Moonlight
Photos by Ken Jacques

Thursday we went to see Moonlight Stage Productions’ The Addams Family, which was new to my experience. It debuted on Broadway in 2010 and is replete with cartoonist Charles Addams’ set of grotesquely funny Addamses. They are, at Moonlight, Gomez (David Engel) and Morticia (Terra C. MacLeod); Uncle Fester (Randall Hickman); Grandma (Samantha Wynn Greenstone); daughter Wednesday (Lindsay Joan); son Pugsley (Ryan Singer); and major domo Lurch (Dustin Ceithamer).

The Entire Addams Family

The Adams Family live in a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t mansion in Central Park (sets and costumes gloriously provided by 3-D Theatricals; book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice; music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa).

Wednesday has fallen in love with Lucas Beineke (Nick Eiter), whom she met late one night in the park while toting a crossbow, and, since marriage seems imminent, she has invited him and his parents over for dinner to see if the families are compatible. They are, and in extraordinary ways, with mamma Alice Beineke (the incomparable Eileen Bowman) and Pugsley providing the means to set free papa Mal Beineke (Corky Loupe) from decades of staidness. It’s gloriously off-the-wall goofy, with a cadre of singing, dancing Addams Ancestors (ten of them!) wandering about, unable to return to their crypt until true love prevails.

Gomez (David Engel) and Morticia (Terra C. MacLeod)

Prevail it does in this purposefully dark tale that celebrates the odd in all of us, wondrously cast and directed by James Vasquez in his way-overdue Moonlight debut. Highlights of the show: Uncle Fester’s ode to his love, “The Moon and Me,” the fabulous “Full Disclosure” dinner party at the end of Act I, and Gomez and Morticia’s tango, “Live Before We Die.”

Continues Wednesdays-Sundays through October 1. Everything from reserved lawn seating (chair provided at entry) to theatre seats is available $10-$55 with food and alcoholic beverages for purchase on site. Picnic in your seats or on the lawn. or 760-724-2110.

Friday is Dance

Ron Davis (aloft) and JP Lawson
Photo by Sue Brenner

Friday I had a rare evening off from musicals and theatre, and spent it on dance, which I once wrote about for a long-ago publication: Fahrenheit, I think it was. The objective was to see one of my favorites, Peter G. Kalivas (the PGK Project) in order to see if they are still as fine as remembered. They are even finer.

Friday through Sunday, Sept.16-18, at Tango del Rey in Pacific Beach, Kalivas and his company of five, plus apprentice dancers, presented Break It Down, a program featuring two Kalivas premieres – “Break It Down” and “Sound Body”  -- and two “re-premieres,” one Boroka Nagy’s “I’m Ready to Go” and the other, dancer John Paul Lawson’s “Dusk to Dawn.”  During its 23-year existence (in San Diego since 2002) PGK has always featured the work of other choreographers and now has 20 such works in its repertoire.

The company has a modern, classical feel, with emphasis on the visceral, masculine and feminine, delivered by a personality filled troupe whose artistry, physicality and concentration extends to their fingertips. They are the triple-threat John Paul Lawson (he taps, too); Desiree Cuizon Fejeran, whose attitude-filled “I’m Ready to Go” is a stitch; stately, authoritative Jennifer Puls; the versatile and dynamic Alyssa Junious; and the truly mesmerizing Ron Davis, who captivates one’s senses. Apprentice company (Project TOO) dancers are Assistant Director Kymmi Kallems, Jessica Kelley, Caroline Courtney, Martin Anthony Dorado, Kevin Truitt, Caitlyn Silvas and Cassandra Snyder.

An engrossing evening, Break It Down was PGK’s final San Diego program of the season. They soon depart for a tour of Washington State, among other locales. Kalivas promises “a stunning 2017 season” with the company he founded after training and dancing with the Joffrey and Alvin Ailey companies.

Tango del Rey has a marvelous dance floor, just the right size for PGK; however, in my humble opinion production values would have been enhanced with some additional lighting instruments. Oops, a note from Kalivas calls the lighting (intentionally) “moody.” The recorded sound was good and music amplification was smooth.

Piotr Beczala in Recital
Photo Jean-Baptiste Millot

Polish Tenor Lives Up to Hype in Perfect Outing at Balboa Theatre

It’s rare that an opera singer so completely and tirelessly fulfills the promises made on his behalf by those eager to sell tickets to his recital. Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, 49, did that and more Saturday night at the Balboa Theatre, which proved the perfect recital hall, with him in it.

Beczala’s singing is impeccable, he is movie star handsome, and so relaxed in the ease of his delivery that the recital was akin to listening to a perfectly engineered recording – only we were here, live and alive, listening to the voice, seeing the amazing jaw and cheekbones, and reveling in the very model of manhood.

Purists may complain that the recital was not a formal, usual recital – groups of related art songs followed by an operatic aria or two – and they’d be correct. So it was an entire evening of operatic arias and encores. Who cares? Why quibble when face to face with such an outpouring of delight, such a surfeit of perfection?

The voice never shifts registers perceptibly: it’s just one lavish sound from low to mid to high – all in the same pipe with no apparent “placing,” replete (in other singers) with facial contortions and change in quality. It’s one solid, beautiful sound, an example of what voice teachers call singing consistently in one’s authentic voice. No fuss, no muss, no strain. And most of all no worry about will he make the high note or not. The high voice is glorious and reliable.

The program began with Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Mattinata,” which lies so high and flashy that it is usually sung near the end of a program, when the tenor is fully warmed up. Then Beczala launched into the arias – “De’ miei bolenti spiriti” from La traviata, and “Di’ tu se fedele” from Un ballo in maschera – followed by four Gypsy songs by Antonin Dvorak, which allowed more cantabile and pianissimo singing, including a purely and affectingly sung “Když mne stará matka zpívat, zpívat” (“Songs my mother taught me”). Completing the recital’s first half were two more arias – “Vidino divná…” from Rusalka and “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from Das Land des Lächelns, and “Cäcilie,” an art song by Richard Strauss.

Arias from Werther, Romeo et Juliette, Carmen (“Flower Song,” with a ravishing pianissimo ascent at the end), and Luisa Miller began the second section of the recital, which concluded with two arias from Tosca, “Recondita armonia” and “E lucevan le stele,” in which Beczala poured out all the vocal beauty in the world. Talk about sated!

As if that were not enough, Beczala sang three encores, the first, Salvatore Cardillo’s Neopolitan song, “Core ‘ngrato,” dedicated to his wife, who was in the audience, and the others, a Polish song by Miczylslaw Karlowicz, and Robert Stolz’s “Ob blond, ob braun, ich liebe alle Frau’n.”

Such a generous and relaxed recital was truly a blessing (at the piano was the incomparable Martin Katz), and I look forward to Beczala’s return in a production, which is likely to be some years hence because he is so much in demand. The tenor previously sang here in La bohème (2010), A Masked Ball and Verdi Requiem (2014).

I'll be back next week with more reviews. Meanwhile, enjoy yourselves. I may be reached at or you may comment on the blog