Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Classic Week

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
The perfect classical week stretched from Mendelssohn to Rossini, from Downtown San Diego to Carlsbad Village, with the theatrical side trips sometimes wondrous in nature. I am here on a Monday/Tuesday morning with a messy household but clean laundry and groceries in the fridge. Life is good. Here is the report.

Gil Shaham and Mendelssohn

The experience began Sunday, Oct. 17, with San Diego Symphony’s Jacobs Series season opening, graced by guest artist Gil Shaham, one of my favorites. He played the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with maestro Jahja Ling on the podium and the orchestra in rather fine fettle. It was heaven to hear and to see this gracious, superb artist as he danced his way through the movements, advancing playfully on concertmaster Jeff Thayer, who responded facially, stuck as he was in his chair. Thayer and the orchestra, as always, responded musically as well. Never cause for concern tonally, Shaham is a total delight, dispelling the rumor that all is unbending when it comes to the demeanor of classical artists. He’s so human you want him at your dinner table.

Lamb's Players Equivocation

The first part of the week itself was restful in advance of my overstuffed but satisfying weekend, which began on Friday with Lamb’s Player’s Theatre’s regional premiere of Bill Cain’s unbelievably satisfying Equivocation, which director Deborah Gilmour Smyth and her leading man, Robert Smyth, first saw in its 2009 premiere at Ashland. Lamb's stupendous company – Paul Eggington, Francis Gercke, Caitie Grady, Ross Hellwig, Brian Mackey and Robert Smyth, is amazing, and the play itself – about Shakespeare and the Gunpowder Plot – is eminently satisfying to the Bardophile, with all kinds of references to Lear, Macbeth and Hamlet. Oh, I think I must return to see it again before it closes November 20. www.Lambsplayers.org

This production, running in the San Diego area at the same time as Cygnet’s August Wilson repertory (through November 6) makes us the luckiest theatregoers on the West Coast just now.

Cinderella goes to the opera

Saturday night, we attended San Diego Opera’s production of Rossini’s Cinderella, which I wrote up for Opera News. The spectacular physical delight comes from a co-production between Opera Queensland, New Zealand Opera and Leipzig Opera, where it returns this December. Catch it here at the Civic Theatre October 25, 28 and 30 ere it dissolves. www.sdopera.org

Prince Ramiro (David Portillo) plants one on his intended bride,
Cinderella (Lauren McNeese)
photo by J Katarzyna Woronowicz Johnson

Sunday presented a rare doubleheader – Neil Simon’s 1993 Laughter on the 23rd Floor at North Coast Rep and Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage at New Village Arts. Simon, of course, is the master of comedy, though like all his plays Laughter has its tristesse in that it concerns the end of an era in television comedy, with Simon’s firsthand knowledge as informant. He was there and it shows.

North Coast fields a fine company of unusually subtle farceurs directed by Tom Markus. All the characters are writers on a weekly TV show based on Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows,” circa 1953.They are Brett Alters as young Lucas (the Simon character), Louis Lotorto as the fashion plate ladies man, Milt; Nicholas Mangiardo-Cooper as a lovable Russian immigrant named Val; Christopher Williams as Brian; Phil Johnson as Kenny; Omri Schein as Ira Stone; Amanda Sitton, outrageously funny as the only female writer; Artistic Director David Ellenstein as the comedian, Max Prince; and Caroline Drage as Helen the gofer.
David Ellenstein as Max Prince
Photo by  Aaron Rumley
The action moves like a well-oiled clock. It’s a grand, tight ensemble. Worth the drive just to see Ellenstein in his boxers punching holes in the office walls.


Although I’m not a great fan of Reza, I must admit she has insight into people’s behavior, an instinct for what’s funny about that behavior, and an ear for dialogue. Seeing both her hit plays, God of Carnage and Art (at the Horton Grand) in one month was a trial for this woman who will do anything to avoid confrontation. Like Annette in God of Carnage, it makes me feel ill, though not to the extreme in Reza’s play.

Annette Raleigh (Artistic Director Kristianne Kurner) and her exceptionally busy corporate attorney husband, Alan (Manny Fernandes), are invited to meet with the Novaks (Melissa Fernandes as Veronica and Jeffrey Keith Jones as Michael) in their spacious, art-filled, black and white Manhattan condo. Veronica is a writer and Michael is involved in marketing household goods. They have done very well for themselves. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss a playground altercation (with injuries) between the couples’ 11-year-old sons.

Manny Fernandes and Jeffrey Keith Jones
Photo by Shawn Hagen

What begins as civil discourse with an equally civil disagreement over minutiae of a written description of the playground incident devolves into chaos, much like the civil discussion and disagreement over a painting in Art.

Jessica Bird directed NVA’s outstanding company on Kristen Flores’s deliciously designed all black and white set. The actors are clad, equally brilliantly, in black and white by costume designer Elisa Benzoni. Lighting by Sherrice Nojgani is a plus (we know those dimly lit spaces off the living room), and sound designer Blake McCarty almost overcomes the venue’s penchant for swallowing dialogue not spoken straight at the audience. Sigh.

It was a delightful day – two enjoyable plays in North County with a collegial dinner in between – the fitting culmination to a classical week.

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