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 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, or 619-437-6000.

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