A pivotal two weeks in history are dramatized in Lawrence Wright’s one-act Camp David. The Old Globe is presenting the Washington, D.C.-based Arena Stage’s production of this riveting if oratorial play about the 1978 peace accords, when then-President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter hosted Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (Ned Eisenberg) and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (Khaled Nabawy) at the rustic presidential retreat in Maryland. Wright’s Camp David is a tense meeting of the minds sprinkled with a little peanut-farm folksiness from the Carters (Richard Thomas and Hallie Foote).
While Thomas is the name star of Camp David, it is Nabawy’s grimly dignified Sadat and even more so Eisenberg’s multifaceted portrayal of Begin that hit the play’s highest notes of true drama. Begin’s fierce internal struggle fortifies and ignites the action, and Eisenberg is tremendous. (So is Walt Spangler’s scenic re-creation of the woodsy Camp David compound.) Though its principals speechify as much as they interact, Camp David is an absorbing show.
ART is smart. It’s also funny as hell, which makes braving the Gaslamp traffic to see this urbane one-act comedy well worth the effort. The play by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hamptom and directed by Christy Yael-Cox, is the inaugural production in Intrepid Theatre Co.’s seventh season, its first as permanent resident of the Horton Grand Theatre. Yael-Cox, a truly gifted director, has a literate, witty script and three indefatigable actors (Daren Scott, Jason Heil, Jacob Bruce) to work with.
When the pseudo-intellectual Serge (Heil) brings home a monochromatic (that’s being kind) painting that he paid 200 grand for, he unwittingly (well, maybe not) ignites a series of combustible conversations, some of which even turn physical, between himself and his best friends Marc (Scott) and Yvan (Bruce). All three guys’ posturing, neuroses and insecurities come to the fore in delightfully shuddering put-downs, wisecracks and gamesmanship. The actors’ grimaces and expressions of affront and self-righteousness add to the thorough hilarity, which never lapses into silliness. ART is one of those rare plays you just might go see a second time.
Beautiful is not only an entertaining musical biography of the incomparable Carole King, but a retrospective on the gifted songwriters of the ‘60s (King, her husband and partner Gerry Goffin, and the team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil) whose tunes recorded by others dominated the American pop charts. Unlike some jukebox musicals which are little more than impersonations augmented by screen projections, Beautiful is a play with music – and what music. If you ever needed a reminder of King’s towering talent, Beautiful is it. You also learn about the road she took from songwriter-for-hire to solo superstar in the early ‘70s. On this national tour of Douglas McGrath’s Beautiful, the Carole King role is very ably handled by Abby Mueller, whose sister, Jessica, won a Tony for her original Broadway performance.
Five years before the Camp David Accords, currently being dramatized in Lawrence Wright’s play at the Old Globe, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir gave President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger an ultimatum: help us (in the Yom Kippur War with Syria and Egypt) or we’ll use our “temple weapons.” The temple weapons meant nukes. The tense hours surrounding this moment in history constitute the dramatic high apex of William Gibson’s Golda’s Balcony. The 95-minute one-woman show, now onstage at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad, stars Rosina Reynolds in the role Tovah Feldshuh distinguished on Broadway.
As Meir, Reynolds is resolute, even stern, so committed was the woman born Golda Mabovitz in Kiev to the establishment and survival of a state of Israel. The expository Golda’s Balcony is an essential history lesson (with intermittent background projections by Victoria Petrovich) that besides the 1973 showdown with the Nixon Cabinet recalls Meir’s personal journey from Kiev to (of all places) Milwaukee to Jerusalem. But the play directed by Todd Salovey is fiercely political in nature, and Reynolds vividly portrays a remarkable world leader, at a volatile time, who was assuredly not to be messed with.
The agony of loss pervades Kimber Lee’s brownsville song (b-side for tray), the story of a fractured Brooklyn family that loses an 18-year-old son to gang violence. It’s at its most raw and piercing, however, when grandmother Lena (Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson) cradles the murdered Tray’s souvenir football in her arms and sinks onto his bed in tears. Though she opens the one-act drama in a monologue assuring us that the tale about to be told is NOT about her, the Lena character is the prism through which we absorb brownsville song’s heartache and its subtextual lessons about reconciliation and survival. The Moxie Theatre production features the estimable Thompson as Lena, and the intuitive Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, who directed brownsville song as a staged reading in last year’s New Voices Festival at the Old Globe, is at the helm once again.
Lee’s play weathers its slow spots (most in the flashbacks with Tray and his stepmother), though the interchanging depictions of past and present don’t consistently allow the impact of a scene to sink in. But Cortez L. Johnson is a Tray to root for (and grieve for), and the affections between him, his grandmother and little sister (Zoe Sonnenberg) make knowing his fate all the more chilling.
Lamb’s Players Theatre’s revival of its 2000 musical American Rhythm might well have been titled “American Marathon.” Over the course of nearly three hours, an ensemble of 10 sings and dances to what has to be over 100 songs (at least in part) from more than 100 years of American musical history, and they make dozens of costume changes along the way. This show written and arranged by Kerry Meads and Vanda Eggington (directed by Meads with inspiring choreography by Colleen Kollar Smith) is exhausting to watch, but not as exhausting as it must be for the cast and the seven musicians up there.
American Rhythm is a nostalgic trip that delights most of all in the second act when the historical period stretches from the ‘50s to the present. Prior to then, it’s strictly Squaresville. But with Act 2 comes welcome comedy in between and within the numbers, from a sophisticated Rat Pack knockoff to variations on “Whip It” and “YMCA.” The athletic Siri Hafso is the dazzling dancer in the ensemble, which also features affable interpretations and antics by David S. Humphrey, Caitie Grady, Sandy Campbell and Kiana Bell.
For its West Coast premiere of Lisa D’Amour’s Airline Highway, ion theatre has forsaken its blackbox space in Hillcrest for the roomier confines of the Tenth Avenue Arts Center downtown. A wise decision, considering that during the play’s wild Act 2 party scene, as many as 17 actors crowd the stage.
D’Amour’s earthy tale of the down-and-out residents of the Hummingbird Hotel along New Orleans’ titular Airline Highway, and how they hold a Mardi Gras-style “living funeral” for their beloved matriarch (an ex burlesque queen), is not just a slice of underbelly life. It’s a turbulent dissection of losers and survivors. The Hummingbird’s denizens are real-seeming people with frailties and demons. Claudio Raygoza skillfully directs the debauchery, the devotion and the naked drama that unfold, sometimes all at once, on the behind-the-hotel set. With the exception of a teenage outsider who D’Amour’s script has tell us what it all means, Airline Highway is destination theater.
Lizard Boy smacks of a graphic novel set to music. This highly-charged import from the Seattle Rep, Diversionary Theatre’s inaugural show in its 31st season, is a misfit’s meet-up story wrapped in a myth about dragon blood, scaly skin and the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Justin Huertas’ story is pretty preposterous even in a broad comic-book way, but his one-act three-person show is redeemed by an often-impressive musical score. When he, Kirsten Delohr Helland and William A. Williams set aside their implausible characters and devote themselves to Huerta’s affecting songs (many of them about the quest for identity), Lizard Boy acquits itself well indeed. One piece of free advice, though: lose the kazoos.
Relationships are complicated enough without their moments of high drama recurring over and over again, and not always in the same way. But in the “multiverse” explained by physicist Marianne, the more grating half of the two lovers in Nick Payne’s techno-contrived Constellations, that’s the dynamic not only of love but of all human interaction. It’s within this sphere of scientific exposition that the 75-minute Constellations, directed by Richard Seer, unfolds in the Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre.
The decidedly non-linear story of Marianne (Victoria Frings) and Roland (Christian Coulson) is likely to get under your skin in a hurry. Whether that’s a pleasant or annoying experience may hinge on the following: your scientific literacy; your affinity for numerous workshoppy moments in which the actors exchange the same lines of dialogue while reflecting different attitudes or temperaments; and your own romantic past. If only the secrets of this multiverse were as illuminating as Bradley King’s exquisite lighting design.
Jesus may indeed hate Ethan, the protagonist of Wayne Lemon’s self-indulgent 2005 play. But Lemon must have loved writing Jesus Hates Me because the script glories in its would-be profundities, like “Pain’s the only way I know I’m alive,” and cutesies like the Blood of the Lamb Miniature Golf Course. Ion theatre’s Glenn Paris and Claudio Raygoza co-direct this West Texas-set tragicomedy that tries very hard to shock, but is better at just plain southern discomfort. Certainly there’s nothing novel about people trapped in a small town who are aching to get out. They include Ethan (Connor Sullivan), who’s hamstrung by a troubled parent (Lisel Gorell-Getz) who would give Norman Bates’ ma a run for her money.
None of the lot is what you’d call sympathetic, though Richard Johnson’s Boone is so outrageously doltish you can’t help but like him. The specter of a mannequin Jesus literally hangs over the action and the deep-fried misery, misery that no one lets you forget for a minute.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat