Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Theatre Offers Hope

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
Playwrights Project Showcases New Works

A trip to the Old Globe’s White Theatre Saturday night brought assurance that the future of theatre is in good hands. The Playwrights Project, founded 32 years ago by Deborah Salzer, presented Plays by Young Writers, a festival of winning scripts from the 2016 California Young Playwrights Contest. The winners were selected from a total of 385 plays submitted by students ages 11-18 from across the state. The Festival took place January 19-29 at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center at the Old Globe.

On the evening I was able to attend, the full productions were Supermarket of Lost by 16-year-old Cassandra Hsiao of Walnut and Hackathon by 16-year-old Eliana Dunn of Pacifica. The program included a staged reading of Turtle on a Rock, written by 12-year-old Absinthe McDonald of San Diego. The fully produced plays were directed by George YĆ© and the reading of Turtle on a Rock was directed by Erika Beth Philips. Actors were Roberto Castillo, Brandon Kelley, Gabriella Korte, Dylan Nalbandian, Kelly Nichole, Michelle Trester, and Olivia Wiese.
Roberto Castillo, Olivie Wiese and Gabrielle Korte
in Supermarket of Lost
Photos by John Howard

The works surprised me with their imaginative concepts, the maturity of the writing and language usage, and the establishment of character in so short a time (the entire evening lasted two hours and was followed by audience discussion with the actors, Ms. McDonald, Festival Artistic Director Ruff Yeager and Executive Producer Cecilia Kouma).
Gabrielle Korte in Supermarket of Lost
Because of its imaginative premise and fascinating unfolding, my favorite piece was Hsiao’s Supermarket of Lost. The playwright is a senior at Orange County School of the Arts and has already been recognized for her work nationally.

Winning plays and playwrights in the program not seen are The Dumping Ground by 17-year-old Matthew Maceda of Rancho Penasquitos; Pros and Cons by 16-year-old Katie Taylor of Woodlake; and A Play on Words, written by a team of San Diegans, 14-year-old Samantha Rafter and 13-year-old Minh-Son Tran.

For more information about the Playwrights Project and the opportunities it affords, visit www.playwrightsproject.org

Altar Boyz hit Coronado

Media materials call it “irreverent.” Some might find it blasphemous and sexually explicit, but that’s the point. These Altar Boyz, in the popular, long-running, off-Broadway musical (book by Kevin Del Aguila, music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, conceived by Marc Kessler and Ken Davenport) are a bit beyond boyhood.

It’s a case where one is tempted to write about the capacity audience Sunday at Coronado Playhouse and their reactions to what they saw and heard as they experienced Altar Boyz, munched on their chips and drank beverages alcoholic or not. The atmosphere is casual, and many patrons seemed to know one another. After all, this has been going on for 71 years. The cabaret-table seating for 4 affords ample opportunity for friendly interaction, and it’s self service, so if you go, go early enough to provision yourself and your friends. Coronado Playhouse calls itself “the Community's Theatre,” and indeed it is a member of ACT, construed to be Association of Community Theatres, which include, Lamplighters, Onstage Playhouse, Pow PAC, and others. Because of my limited time, these theatres are seldom on my list; however, I am a fan of choreographer Michael Mizerany, who staged Altar Boyz, and I promised to attend.
The Altar Boyz: Peter Amado, Cody Ingram, SeeJay Lewis,
Dennis Peters and Patrick Mayuyu
Photos courtesy of Coronado Playhouse

Patrick Mayuyu as Juan

There’s not much to the book, just a few lines holding together these five lads who sing about God and Jesus (“Jesus dialed me on my cellphone, telling me to spread the gospel”), dance for 90 minutes and apparently have been doing so for quite some time, having girded up their loins in leather. They are Matthew (Cody Ingram), Mark (SeeJay Lewis), Luke (Peter Amado), Juan (Patrick Mayuyu) and Abraham (Dennis Peters). 

Da Boyz are out to save souls on their tour entitled Raise the Praise, the backsliders among us identified by a machine that measures the numbers of sinners in the room. And the running gag is the number at any given time.

The best thing about the production is that thanks to director Mizerany each “boy” manages to establish a consistent personality, body language and thus fosters the achievement of a tight ensemble. All are good singers with a reverence for delivering the words. They are also good dancers. In support of them we find an excellent band comprising music director/conductor/keyboard Sean La Perruque, keyboard II Michelle Gray, electric guitar Nikko Nobleza and drummer Raynald Marte. The take away songs include “Rhythm in Me” and the heartfelt “Believe.”

Altar Boyz, which is played without interval, continues at 8pm Thursdays-Saturdays and 2pm Sundays through February 19 at Coronado Playhouse, 1835 Strand Way, Coronado. www.coronadoplayhouse.com or (619) 435-4856.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Bridge, Beau Jest and Tchaikovsky

The Bridge, Beau Jest and Tchaikovsky

On Wednesday, Jan. 18, I went to a matinee of Beau Jest at Lamb’s Players in Coronado. The show lasts about two hours and I was on the Coronado Bridge by 4pm, having endured some heavy traffic to get there. Even so, I figured I had plenty of time to drive over the bridge, meet a friend at my Hillcrest condo, grab a sandwich at Panera and get to San Diego Rep (SDRT) by 7 for the opening of Hershey Felder’s Our Great Tchaikovsky, Felder’s musical biography of Russian composer Piotr Illyich Tchaikovsky (1849-1893).

I did not know that some guy had decided to jump from a bridge farther north at Commercial Street, and the cops, hoping to dissuade him, had closed all but one lane of I-5 north! So once having committed my naive self to the bridge, I was on it for TWO HOURS!  But my friend and I made it to Tchaikovsky, even managing half a sandwich apiece.

World Premiere Tchaikovsky at the Rep

Hershey Felder as Piotr Illyich Tchaikovsky
Photo by Daren Scott

Each time I go to SDRT they’ve unwrapped more of the remodel/refurbishing. Wednesday night, the powers that be put many of the critics in one big clump in the balcony. I was in the center section, far house left, on the aisle. Musically, the sound mix between recorded orchestra and live piano was flawless (I saw the keyboard in its entirety and Felder mostly from the side as he played and talked).

As the young Tchaikovsky gradually gave up jurisprudence studies in favor of the St. Petersburg conservatory of music, Felder played many of the composer's simple songs. Tchaikovsky meets Nadezhda von Meck and begins his decade-long correspondence with her, and Felder moves into the more familiar repertoire of symphonies (including the "Pathetique"), concertos, the Romeo and Juliet overture and the Nutcracker ballet. The musical selections advance the plot subtly and impeccably. Even in the throes of emotion, the pianism is solid, yet occasionally, as with all live performance, imperfect. Erik Carstensen is the sound designer. Trevor Hay directs. Costume designer Abigail Caywood’s understated wardrobe is perfect.

The physical production (scenic design by Felder) depicts Tchaikovsky’s countryside dacha; with birch trees right outside (behind) and a background forest of birch. There are projections (lighting design and projection design by Christopher Ash), too; however, the spoken word is frequently muddled (this is a flaw of the theatre, even from downstairs). The text is simply spoken, touching and poetic. Felder’s slow build to the show’s emotional climax is a study in form, and the ultimate effect, on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, is devastating.

Hershey Felder as Tchaikovsky
Photo by Daren Scott

Felder has created a brave, political bombshell that is an indictment from the beyond the grave of several things: Russia’s denial of Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality, the effect of Pres. Vladimir Putin’s recent laws regarding homosexuality (his aim is to purge the country of gays), and Trump’s troubling admiration of Putin.

Tchaikovsky evoked memories of my first and final trip to Russia in 2008. My daughter and I were in mixed company and felt safe being who we are and with others being who they are. Soon, all of us realized that we’d enjoyed the last, best freedom and tolerance of the Other in Russia, and it would not be safe for some of our company to return; and indeed, in good conscience, for the rest of us to return either. As for our incoming president there is no normalizing or controlling his outrageous behavior. We must face our uncertain future with individual calm and faith, and thank God for artists who speak the truth of history.

Our Great Tchaikovsky continues through February 12 only at San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza. Advance sales have already broken Rep records, so gather your tickets while you may at www.sdrep.org or 619-544-1000. Regular Performances:

·         Thursday, January 19 at 8 p.m.
·         Friday, January 20 at 8 p.m.
·         Saturday, January 21 at 8 p.m.
·         Sunday, January 22 at 2 p.m.
·         Sunday, January 22 at 7 p.m.
·         Wednesday, January 25 at 7 p.m.
·         Thursday, January 26 at 8 p.m.
·         Friday, January 27 at 8 p.m.
·         Saturday, January 28 at 2 p.m.
·         Saturday, January 28 at 8 p.m.
·         Sunday, January 29 at 2 p.m.
·         Sunday, January 29 at 7 p.m.
·         Tuesday, January 31 at 7 p.m.
·         Wednesday, February 1 at 7 p.m.
·         Thursday, February 2 at 8 p.m.
·         Friday, February 3 at 8 p.m.
·         Saturday, February 4 at 4 p.m.
·         Saturday, February 4 at 8 p.m.
·         Sunday, February 5 at 2 p.m.
·         Wednesday, February 8 at 7 p.m.
·         Thursday, February 9 at 8 p.m.
·         Friday, February 10 at 8 p.m.
·         Saturday, February 11 at 2 p.m.
·         Saturday, February 11 at 8 p.m.
·         Sunday, February 12 at 2 p.m.
·         Sunday, February 12, 2017 at 7 p.m.

Beau Jest at Lamb’s Players Theatre

Earlier on Wednesday I went to Lamb’s to see what promised to be a wonderful production of James Sherman’s romantic comedy, Beau Jest. Set in Sarah Goldman’s (Erika Beth Phillips) Chicago apartment in 1989, the piece concerns Sarah’s relationship with her mother (Sandy Campbell) and dad (John Rosen). She’s been dating a gentile named Chris (Jason Heil) and has lied to the folks, saying they’ve broken up, and further, that she has a new, Jewish boyfriend (Ross Hellwig), who’s a surgeon. In truth, he is an actor hired from an escort agency because of his Jewish-sounding name. The truth-teller in the piece is Sarah’s suspicious brother, Joel (Omri Schein), a psychotherapist.
Erika Beth Phillips as Sarah
and Ross Helwig as Bob
Photo by John Howard

Beau Jest is an extremely funny play. Sadly, though well acted by an appealing company, it is exceptionally dated and more than a bit off. The first act, which presents a family dinner and a Seder, is the funniest due to its squirm factor, with Bob having to navigate tradition and also convince the parents he is a physician. The second act turns serious as Joel, having discovered the truth, insists on everyone’s emotional honesty. Anytime you have an outrageous mugger being the most serious character, you’re in trouble. Kerry Meads directs.

Jemima Dutra’s costumes are delightful, especially Sarah’s initial two-piece red dress with a bit of peplum flair, and Joel’s god-awful sweaters. Both ladies and gents wear them well. Mike Buckley’s detailed set is a winner, and Deborah Gilmour Smyth’s amusing sound design, a veritable treasure. Rachel Hengst creates properties and Nathan Peirson, the lighting. It's a most enjoyable romp.

Beau Jest continues Tuesdays-Sundays through February 12 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado, lambsplayers.org or 619-437-6000.