Monday, February 13, 2017

Blue Door and 9 to 5

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
Blue Door at Moxie

As part of my catch-up endeavor, I attended Tanya Barfield’s Blue Door Friday, Feb. 10 at Moxie Theatre. On the surface, the play would appear a radical departure from the theatre’s mission to produce women’s work, being that the two-person acting company is all male. However, as Jennifer Eve Thorn pointed out in a pre-show chitchat, be that as it may, the production provided more opportunities for female designers and technicians than any of the shows in Moxie’s 12-year history. 

”One of the ways we fulfill our mission is by defying stereotypes,” it is written in the program, “whether related to what women write about (in this case men) or whether it’s about what jobs they excel at. So this play is about men AND it’s brought to you by a whole host of really fierce females. How MOXIE is that?”
Vimel Sephus as Lewis
Photo by Daren Scott

The astonishing two-hander is directed by Founding Artistic Director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg and features Vimel Sephus as the protagonist, Lewis, a highly educated mathematician, university professor and author, whose wife (unseen but voiced by Sephus) is leaving him because he refuses to participate in the 1995 Million Man March on Washington D.C. She thinks his participation might re-connect him with his own blackness. Playing other characters, including Lewis’s ancestors, is Cortez L. Johnson.

Cortez Johnson as Simon
Photo by Daren Scott
Both men are Moxie veterans. Sephus, a San Diego native, played in Moxie’s peerless and Our Lady of Kibeho, and Johnson played the title role in Kimber Lee’s Brownsville Song (b-side for Tray). Bringing these two together for Blue Door is the most powerful match-up of two black actors since ion theatre produced (and Sonnenberg directed) Susan Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog with Laurence Brown and Mark Christopher Lawrence in 2012.

Lewis has been plagued by insomnia ever since his wife left and he was placed on forced sabbatical. Principally, the nightly storytellers include his great-grandfather, Simon, a slave in love with Katie Maddox, who works on a neighboring plantation; his grandfather, Jesse; his abusive, drunken father, Charles; and his brother, Rex. Lewis is the only one in this long line of intelligent ancestors who went to college, and he’s very proud of it. But now, things are falling apart.

The richness of the storytelling, even though Lewis doesn’t want to hear it, is what ultimately restores the man and allows him to stop hating. How this unfolds is brilliant, exacting, and precise, splendidly paced and performed and interlaced with song. The onlooker is stunned by the truth that has kept Lewis prisoner for so long.

Bravo to director, playwright and actors for this satisfying and grueling journey (played without interval), and special thanks to the women artists who built it: Victoria Petrovich, scenic design; Shelly Williams, costumes; Sherrice Mojgani, lights; Emily Jankowski, sound, Angelica Ynfante, props; and Leigh Scarritt, vocal coach and pianist.

Blue Door has just been extended through March 5 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego. or 858-598-7620.

9 to 5 at San Diego Musical Theatre

Having seen Topher Payne’s 1950s era play, Perfect Arrangement (Intrepid Theatre at Horton Grand Theatre) the night before, I felt catapulted to another era again (this time the ‘70s) when I witnessed a Sunday matinee of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 at the Spreckels Theatre. Based on the hit film with Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, the piece is surely one of the silliest and most hyperactive musicals ever gestated, and it is held together by a rock score with a decidedly country feel (played at the Spreckels by a fine 12-piece band conducted by Music Director Don LeMaster). It’s tailor made for Parton fans, because she wrote music and lyrics. Patricia Resnick wrote the book.
The infamous toking scene
Alison Spratt Pearce, Joy Yandell and Karyn Overstreet
Photo Ken Jacques

The production at the Spreckels is that of San Diego Musical Theatre, playing through February 26. Interesting to note that actor who played the detested boss, Franklin Hart, Jr., in the 2009 Broadway premiere of 9 to 5 was Marc Kudisch, who played the beloved boss in the world premiere of Thoroughly Modern Millie at La Jolla Playhouse.
David S. Humphrey as Hart, Karyn Overstreet as Doralee
Photo by Ken Jacques
Hart is portrayed here by David S. Humphrey, and I must admit to not recognizing him immediately and to forgetting what a great voice he has, robust, well produced and musically accurate. It’s a Broadway quality piece of work, and so are the performances of the three women protagonists. This is what we’ve come to expect of San Diego Musical Theatre.

If you recall the original film, the Parton role is Doralee (here, Karyn Overstreet), a bountifully endowed blonde rumored to be having affair with the married Mr. Hart. The Fonda role is recently deserted and divorced Judy (Allison Spratt Pearce) who arrives for her first day of work at Consolidated Companies and is taken under the wing of Violet (Joy Yandell in the Tomlin role), a vibrant redhead and longtime employee.
Yandell in "One of the Boys"
with the male ensemble
Photo by Ken Jacques

Quite by accident, the (powerhouse singers) three gain control of the company (Hart is held captive in his own home), and make changes (they forge Hart’s signature), gaining the love of their co-workers and approval of the company’s board chairman (a wonderful cameo by Paul Morgavo), who exiles Hart to a South American branch, and elevates Violet to CEO of this one.

Over the course of this unfolding tale, directed by Cynthia Ferrer and choreographed by Tamlyn Shusterman (some wonderful tap ensembles), we meet many co-workers, including Candi Milo as Roz, Chaz Fuerstine as Joe, and Wendy Waddell as Margaret. Others in the company are Danielle Airey, Scott Arnold, Jordi Bertran, Gerilyn Brault, Caitlin Calfas, Ryan Dietrich, Steven Freitas, Donny Gersonde, Siri Hafso, Catie Marron, Shayne Mims, Alex Nemiroski, Janissa Saracino, Kaleb Scott, Tara Shoemaker, Bethany Slmka, Kendra Truett, and Austin Wright. Christina J. Martin is lighting designer; Janet Pitcher, costume designer; and Kevin Anthenill, sound designer.

9 to 5 plays at 7:30pm Thursdays, 8pm Fridays and Saturdays, and 2pm Sundays, Spreckels Theatre, 121 Broadway, Downtown, $32-$72 (discounts for students, children, seniors, under 30 and groups), or 858-560-5740.

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