Monday, November 21, 2016

The Kid Thing et al

Report on the Weekend

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard

Bodhi Tree’s production of Peter Rothstein’s All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 (November 19 and 20) was exceptional, absolutely sold out and musically fine. Many from San Diego Opera were in attendance, including people I’ve known for years, former employees, supporters, and also David Bennett, the newish artistic director, who seemed elated (San Diego Opera, FAB United and Sacra/Profana were collaborators). 

Performer/soloists, in period uniforms, were Walter DuMelle, Chad Frisque, Jonathan Nussman, Timothy Simpson, Michael Sokol, and Christoper J. Stephens, many of them Bodhi Tree regulars, including founder DuMelle. They were supported by nine men from Sacra Profana, Colin Barkley, Aaron Bullard, Aaron Burgett, Angel Mannion, Nicholas Root, Mitch Rosenthal, Michael Sparaco, Kurt Wong, and Paul Young, Jr.

The piece consists of a minimum of dialogue, mainly contemporary battlefield and literary citations and poems, traditional music of the season and also music from the WWI era, when the incident of spontaneous truce occurred in 1914. Thus we have “Minuit chrétiens (O Holy Night)” sung purely and lusciously by tenor Simpson, “Pack Up Your Troubles,” “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” “Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella,” “O Tannenbaum” and “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming)” some sung by all, some by the German soldiers, including soloists.

Acoustically the production worked  well, with Sacra/Profana (the Germans) in the main playing area (imagine a church), and featured soloists arrayed on a ramp house right and on various levels of constructed forestall. Breathtaking blend was achieved numerous times.

The soccer game that took place during the actual Christmas Truce of 1914

Photo courtesy of Bodhi Tree
Written by Peter Rothstein, All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 has musical arrangements by Erick Lochte and Timothy C. Takach, was developed and produced in 2007 by Cantus and Theatre Latté Da in Minnesota, and is sung entirely a cappella, conducted here by Juan Carlos Acosta, associate artistic director of Sacra Profana, and directed by Jacob Bruce. Proceeds benefitted the Veterans Museum of Balboa Park, where it was performed.

The Donald, Defender of 'Safe' Theatre

A recent Donald Trump tweet stated “Theater should be a safe and special place,” this in response to a post-performance Hamilton speech directed to vice-president elect Pence, who said on television the next morning that he was not offended, and loved the show. Trump apparently was offended on Pence’s behalf and said the show, which he, Trump, has not seen, is overrated.

What kind of theatre is safe theatre? As Ben Brantley pointed out in Sunday’s New York Times, the late, great Edward Albee believed the exact opposite.  I heard Albee address the purpose of theatre many times during his visits to San Diego, where he was a staunch supporter of Playwright’s Project. The purpose of theatre is to incite, inform and to inflame us to action. And as Moxie Theatre continually endeavors, to introduce those who would be complacent to ideas and people different from their own experience.

Thus I found myself Sunday afternoon (November 20), attending Moxie’s The Kid Thing, written by playwright, film and television writer (“I Love Dick”) Sarah Gubbins, who in 2012 was named Best Playwright by Chicago Magazine and received a Joseph Jefferson Best New Play award for The Kid Thing, which was developed at Steppenwolf Theatre and was awarded an Edgarton Foundation New Play Prize.

Anna Rebek, Katherine Harroff, Connor Sullivan.
Sarah Karpicus and Jo Anne Glover
Photos courtesy of Moxie Theatre

Jo Anne Glover and Sarah Karpicus
as Darcy and Leigh
It was a challenge to warm to the two lesbian couples that meet for dinner in The Kid Thing. Their conversation is exceptionally confrontational. The most outspoken is the truly obnoxious butch transvestite (great three-piece suits by costume designer Jennifer Brawn Gittings) named Darcy (a brilliant, precise performance by Jo Anne Glover). Darcy is a high-powered executive for an international public relations agency and is partner to the femme Leigh (Sarah Karpicus), who wants nothing more than to be a mother. The play takes place in their posh Chicago apartment (scenic design by Sarah Mouyal).

During the dinner party, the femme lesbian Margot and her affable, underemployed (Best Buy) butch partner, Nate (Katherine Harroff), produce a bottle of champagne and announce that “they” are pregnant. The sperm donor is Jacob (Connor Sullivan), who went to school with both Leigh and Margo and who just happens to be in town now. Jacob has completed his degree, spent some time living in Prague, is proud of his high sperm count, and is now addressing his future. He is perfectly amenable to the suggestion that he impregnate Leigh as well, creating a happy, interconnected family into which he can drop as needed. Darcy, for complicated reasons we learn only slowly, will have none of it.

My impression of the women, at least as directed by Kym Pappas and written by Gubbins, is that all drink a bit too much and are not really as settled and secure in their relationships as they would have us believe. By the end of the play I cared more about them, but I was still not fully convinced of their sincerity, worth and likability. The Kid Thing continues at Moxie through December 11.

As in Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart (through December 17 at ion theatre) the dominant character is abandoned by everyone at the end of The Kid Play. These performances, by Jo Anne Glover and Claudio Raygoza, respectively, are among the year’s best and should not be missed.

My review of The Normal Heart will run in a forthcoming issue of Uptown News. 

Happy turkey day to all!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Sound of Music

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard

Sound of Music tour

When the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The Sound of Music opened on Broadway in 1959, perennial ingénue Mary Martin, who originated the role of Maria and got a Tony Award for it, was pushing 50. When director Jack O’Brien conceived the current touring production of the much-seen, beloved musical, he envisioned and cast Kerstin Anderson, a woman half Martin’s age, who had just completed her sophomore year in college. Anderson’s name and bio still appear in the program, indicating she may still be playing the role in the tour, but not in San Diego, where it was played by understudy Anna Mintzer the night I saw the show (November 16), which continues through Sunday at the Civic Theatre.

The musical is set in Salzburg, Austria, just prior to the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938.

As you may recall, the unruly Maria, a postulant at Nonnberg Abbey, is sent by the Mother Abbess to become governess to the children of Georg Von Trapp (tour original Ben Davis), ultimately falls in love with him, and escapes the oncoming Nazi nastiness, along with von Trapp and the kiddies, by climbing the alps “(Climb Ev’ry Mountain”) and ultimately winding up in America. 

As for the touring company in San Diego, where O’Brien was longtime artistic director at the Old Globe: It’s not that Mintzer is bad; it’s just that I had looked forward to hearing the highly praised Anderson. If reviews are any indication, Mintzer adopts some of the O’Brien imbued charm and naiveté that set Anderson apart at half Martin’s age. Exceptionally tall (she dwarfs Melody Betts as Mother Abbess, who steals the show with sheer volume in “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”), Mintzer is nimble of foot and bubbling with enthusiasm as she teaches the seven, orphaned von Trapp children to sing and dance (“Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things”). Her voice, though not rich in timbre, is adequate. As is seemingly built into the role, Davis comes across as rather starchy, but he has a lovely voice, employed in various ensembles including “Edelweiss.” In addition to Leisl, the children are Roy Gantz, Ashley Brooke, Austin Levine, Iris Davis, Kyla Carter and Anika Lore Hatch as the adorable, scene stealing youngest moppet.

Ben Davis as Capt. Von Trapp
Photo Matthew Murphy
In addition to Davis, Darren Matthias (Franz, the Butler), Donna Garner (Frau Schmidt, the Housekeeper), Paige Silvester (the eldest child, Liesl), Teri Hansen (Elsa Schraeder), Merwin Foard (Max Detweiler) and Christopher Carl (Admiral von Schreiber) portray the roles they originated in the tour. Austin Colby, originally an ensemble member, portrays Rolf, who is sweet on Liesl (“Sixteen Going on Seventeen”). Their song and dance number is memorable.

Paige Silvester as Liesl and Austin Colby as Rolf
Photo Matthew Murphy

The score is a reminder of what the American musical used to be, with the title song, “Maria,” “So Long, Farewell” and “Something Good” additional standouts. The touring production is also enhanced by Douglas W. Schmidt’s opulent yet utilitarian scenic design, Jane Greenwood’s costumes, Natasha Katz’s lighting and Danny Mefford’s choreography.

Sadly The Sound of Music tour suffers from the Civic Theatre’s usual sound dichotomy: Spoken word, unintelligible and singing amplification, better. Under the baton of Music Director Jay Alger, the 17-piece (four traveling, including Alger; 13 local) union orchestra is exemplary.

The Sound of Music continues at 7:30pm tonight, Friday and Saturday, with additional performances at 2pm Saturday and 1 and 6pm Sunday. or (888) 937-8995.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Eclectic week: Malashock, Measure for Measure, and measuring the Artistic Directors

Taking Stock

Malashock Dance Signature II

Friday, Nov. 4 at Dance Place Liberty Station, lovely Andrea Rehm  and Nicholas Strasburg, a most commanding partner, set the Abbe Wolfsheimer Studio ablaze in “Everybody Knows,” one of nine Leonard Cohen numbers in John Malashock’s 2009 Shadow of Mercy.
Rehm and Strasburg
Photo by Jim Carmody

Cohen’s hard-hitting, bittersweet and sometimes cruel music/lyrics are riveting and are matched in tone by Malashock’s choreography (each section, as he says, is a little story), set on Rehm and Strasburg and other company members Blythe Barton, Andrew Holman, John Paul Lawson, Jennifer Puls, Lora Segura and Justin Viernes. The body types and talents, possessed of amazing power, are perfectly utilized in realizing Cohen’s work, which is all the above and more.

There was an article about Cohen in The New Yorker last week. I became so engrossed when reading it that I wasn’t able to talk when a friend phoned. (Words are my drug of choice.) Cohen is the same age as I, and I certainly identify with his rebellion and his courage of expression. Would that I had the guts. The work is visceral and honest and not in the least academic or written to please. He was a seeker who suffered lifelong depression exacerbated by use of drugs, among them acid, and alcohol.

Among the Cohen songs in Shadow of Mercy are “Famous Blue Raincoat,” “Take This Waltz,” “Story of Isaac” (touchingly performed by Holmes and Strasburg), “The Gypsy Wife” (luscious and varied women Barton, Puls, and Segura, partnered by Lawson). Shadow of Mercy ends with “If It Be Your Will.”  Author of the much-covered song “Hallelujah,” Cohen explored many faiths lifelong, and at one point became a Buddhist monk, living abroad for many years. You can hear him perform on line.
Strasberg and Rehm
Photo by Raymond Elstad
The second half of the Malashock Signature II program, which continues at 7:30pm Thursday-Sunday, November 10-13, comprises the world premiere of Malashock’s yKnow, set on the company with music by yMusic Ensemble of New York City. The theme concerns a dance company much like Malashock’s, as he said, full of chaos, a bit of rivalry, deep affection and true caring. Although it’s a horse of an entirely different color than Shadow of Mercy, it celebrates working tout ensemble, which these eight dancers surely do, producing some exciting, extreme and even comic images, something much needed after Cohen’s dark vision.

Throughout the 90-minute evening, costumes by Elisa Benzoni are fascinating in their harmonic dissimilarity, and Erica Buechner handles the lighting, which is rudimentary but effective.

Tickets (hurry, some performances are sold out) at or 619-260-1622.

The Globe for All

Sunday afternoon at the downtown central library, I attended The Globe for All’s fine, friendly and raucous production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, which is performed in the round through November 20 in as many as 18 non-theatrical venues. The tour goes among others to community centers, senior centers, homeless shelters, and correctional centers. The company, headed by Christopher Salazar as the Duke, includes other professional actors Ally Carey, Leisel Gorrell-Getz, Fiordelino Lagundino, Jake Millgard, Masha Millgard, Makha Mthembu, Daniel Petzold, Davina Van Dusen, and Nathan Whittmer, plus DJ Mike Vale. It is directed by Patricia McGregor. As a result of these free performances, many will see Shakespeare and even live theatre for the first time.
(from left) Christopher Salazar as Duke and Makha Mthembu as Isabella performing for the audience from the San Diego Public Library, Central Branch. The 2016 production of The Old Globe's touring program Globe for All, Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, directed by Patricia McGregor, tours community venues Nov. 1 - 20. Photo by Jim Cox.

On the floor at the edge of the playing area was a little boy who looked to be around 4 or 5. He was absolutely rapt during the entire performance. Many were there with their families, and free refreshments were served.

Artistic Directors Panel

Artistic Director Barry Edelstein was present at the library performance and at a Monday night artistic directors panel I attended, hosted by Lamb’s Players. The panel and guests were hosted by Lamb’s and the event was sponsored by the San Diego AEA Liaison Committee. All the ADs involved have resident space and use Equity actors in their seasons. Jason Heil was moderator.

In addition to Edelstein, those on the panel were Steve Glaudini of Moonlight Stage Productions, David Ellenstein of North Coast Repertory, Kristianne Kurner of New Village Arts, Sam Woodhouse of San Diego Repertory, and Robert Smyth of Lamb’s Players. Each spoke briefly to the artistic and financial condition of their theatre and also addressed the state of San Diego area theatre and their place in the community.

There were many actors and other arts-related people at the event, which lasted from 6 to 10pm, including two receptions at which those present interacted. Many were actors hoping to get an audition and to be cast. All had a good time getting to know one another and the artistic directors. I was reminded once again of the challenges the ADs face and their courage and dedication. I went home extremely grateful to be doing what I do.

Miss You Like Hell

Kristina Alabado and Daphne Rubin-Vega
in Miss You Like Hell.
Photo by 
Look for my review of La Jolla Playhouse’s Miss You Like Hell in San Diego Community Newspaper Network publications. I sat in the dark at the opening,  wondering why Quiara Alegria Hudes’ book for the musical seemed so familiar, and then I realized it’s based on her play 26 Miles, which has seen two local productions. It’s a doozie about the mother/daughter relationship – just my kind of complicated piece.

Personal News

Speaking of the mother/daughter relationship and on a personal note, I am traveling to Tampa November 10-14 to see three performances of Jake Heggie’s The Work at Hand, conducted by Michael Francis, played by The Florida Orchestra and sung by mezzo soprano Jamie Barton with Anne Martindale Williams, cellist. These are the last scheduled performances of the orchestral chamber work that uses my late daughter Laura Morefield’s text. December 2 Heggie’s new opera, It’s a Wonderful Life opens in Houston, occasioning another trip. this time to my favorite boutique hotel, the Lancaster, where I am meeting friends for the premiere. What a blessed and privileged life I enjoy at 82.

Requiescat in Pacem

The theatre community lost two dear souls this week: George Weinberg-Harter, 72, a former colleague, first at San Diego Opera back in the ‘70s (when I still sang and was in the touring production of The Old Maid and the Thief) and then, as a writer, including a collegial association when we were both members of the San Diego Critics Circle. He died November 7 of a heart attack. The second loss was much admired actor Owiso Odero, who got his MFA at UCSD, did some acting at the Old Globe, in film and television, among many others, and who collapsed and died November 4 while in rehearsal for a play. He was only 41.