Jacque Wilke (left) stars in "Pride and Prejudice" at Cygnet Theatre. Karli Cadel Photography
Sorry, Jane Austen lovers, but “Pride and Prejudice” is just such a bore.
But thanks, playwright Kate Hamill, for putting some much-needed pizazz in the too-oft-told story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Just as she did previously with Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” and with William Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair,” Hamill created a contemporary adaptation for “Pride and Prejudice” that even the cynical at heart can appreciate.
Cygnet Theatre’s staging of Hamill’s Pride and Prejudice is long, but also long on spirit and ingenuity. From a purely subversive standpoint, it could be thought of as “The Pointer Sisters at Pemberley.” The R&B trio’s “Jump (for My Love)” is this production’s de facto theme song, symbolic not only of Lizzy’s empowerment but also of the Hamill adaptation’s abandoning of convention.
The original novel has not been abandoned, however. This Pride and Prejudice is very much true to what Austen wrote in 1813. The premise, simply put, is that Mrs. Bennet (Shana Wride) is bound and determined to marry off her eligible daughters, Elizabeth (played with pluck and conviction by Jacque Wilke) among them. The narrative takes many a twist and turn from there, with Elizabeth’s maturation leading her to understand herself and love. But this Pride and Prejudice, played out on an industrial-looking, quick-change set designed by Sean Fanning, choreographed by Michael Mizerany, and directed by Rob Lutfy, goes where no telling of the tale has gone before.
Actors Kevin Hafso-Koppman, Jake Millgard and Adrian Alita (beard and all) perform at times in drag. Notably, Hafso-Koppman portrays both Mr. Bingley and the consumptive-sounding Bennet daughter Mary. Pop tunes including Madonna’s “Material Girl” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” supplant Regency-period harpsichord music. Comic lines and unpredictable exits and entrances prevail.
Most of this activity is apt to generate grins and chuckles more than gales of laughter. The nature of most spoofs, whether in film, on television or on the stage, is that the results are hit and miss. Devotees of the novel shouldn’t be offended; the play is in its way a tribute, imitation being the highest form of flattery and all that.
(Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 5/29/19)
Left to right: Brad Oscar, Jessie, Cannizzaro and Shay Vawn in "The Gods of Comedy." Jim Cox photo
Ken Ludwig’s The Gods of Comedy does not require of its audience a knowledge of Greek mythology. Just a sense of humor and an affinity for farce that from the very outset swings for the fences. The gods in Ludwig’s world-premiere comedy at the Old Globe Theatre are Dionysus, the God of Comedy (Brad Oscar, seen last year in La Jolla Playhouse’s The Squirrels) and Thalia, the Muse of Comedy (Jessie Cannizzaro). They’re inadvertently summoned from Mount Olympus to the modern day by a frazzled young academic (Shay Vawn), who is wearing a magical necklace that was given to her by a street vendor while abroad. Frolicking and cracking wise like a seasoned vaudeville duo, the gods are there to help poor Daphne recover a priceless ancient manuscript entrusted to her -- which she’s lost.
That’s the tension, such as it is, of the play, which is in actuality a pretext for Ludwig’s broadly conceived characters to cut up, quip, mistake identities and make frantic entrances and exits from the stage. Devotees of Ludwig’s wackier comedies such as Lend Me A Tenor and Moon Over Buffalo will be right at home with this new show. So will Old Globe patrons who recall Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery and Robin Hood! In previous engagements at the Balboa Park theater.
Predictably, Oscar and Cannizzaro walk away with The Gods of Comedy, emboldened by the go-for-broke script and some clever stage effects that allow them and George Psomas as the armored, uber-macho god Ares to show off their powers. But the supporting cast directed by Amanda Dehnert holds its own. The petite Vawn is thoroughly charming. Jevon McFerrin nimbly affects exasperation as the professor who first discovers the valuable manuscript (Euripides’ lost tragedy of Andromeda). Both Steffanie Leigh and Keira Naughton shine too as a vamping film actress and a donation-hungry college dean, respectively.
As is customary at the Globe, the sets are gorgeous. These are by Jason Sherwood. They create an autumnal playground evocative of a prestigious eastern college for the visiting gods and those in their sphere to provide two hours of familiar but enchanting entertainment.
(Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 5/22/19.)
The athleisure clothing biz gets a skewering in Moxie Theatre’s production of Yoga Play, which also purports to being incisive about cultural appropriation and gender dynamics. But essentially Dipika Guha’s work, which premiered two years ago at South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa, is a high-level farce reliant upon stage antics and sight gags.
That’s not a problem. Quite the opposite. After a gabby first act, Yoga Play hits its comedic heights in the second act, notably in a scene in which a dippy yoga teacher (Tamara Rodriguez) is schooling the clothing company exec (Sri Chilukuri) who’s posing in ludicrously fake beard as a renowned yogi. This requires some explanation: When a public relations scandal hits, the new CEO of Jojoman (an obvious take on the athleisure outfit Lululemon) decides that the damage can best be minimized by having an authentic yogi speak for the company and its sincerest (wink wink) intentions. When the yogi who is recruited (Matthew Salazar-Thompson, intoning like Peter Sellers in “The Party’) turns out to be a fraud with his roots in Santa Monica, CEO Joan (Jo Anne Glover) drafts colleague Raj for the job. It’s a very contrived premise, but the Moxie cast directed by Callie Prendiville brings its “A” game to the stage.
Chilukuri proves more than up to the task of transforming himself from one of Joan’s two trusted execs (the other being Albert Park as Fred) into the awkward faux-yogi he’s coerced into portraying, which he deems offensive to his cultural heritage. Whether he’s enduring the enigmatic silences of the recruit by way of Santa Monica or the aggressive tutelage of the off-the-wall instructor Romola, Chilukuri’s comic exasperation never wanes. Fittingly, however, Raj facilitates the story’s consciousness-raising denouement.
Glover’s Joan is funniest when she’s fainting or on the verge of doing so, and Park’s Fred when he’s recounting dreams, particularly one about a talking bird using foul – or is it fowl? – language. As for Salazar-Thompson and Rodriguez, who are playing the broadest characters, each just goes for it.
Silly as it can be at times, Yoga Play successfully sends up the corporatization of mindfulness and the commercializing of dressing right, and at the right price, to achieve it.
(Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 5/15/19.)
An audience-pleaser that started with Whoopi Goldberg in a film 27 years ago, Sister Act has been a subsequent stage hit as an Alan Menken-Glenn Slater musical for 13 years. Why? Crowds love funny funs. While the movie has Whoopi, the musical has knee-slapping, gaily choreographed ensemble numbers with the sisters like “Raise Your Voice,” “Take Me To Heaven” and the show-closing “Spread the Love Around.” Otherwise, Sister Act is about five songs longer than it should be.
San Diego Musical Theatre’s production of Sister Act is reliable and showbizzy, with the aptly named Miriam Dance in the starring role of Deloris Van Cartier, the aspiring performer who is hidden away in a convent for witness protection. Dance, along with Sandy Campbell as the Mother Superior, are first-rate. So is the orchestra conducted by Don Le Master. On opening night, the proceedings were plagued by some sound problems, but the rapt patrons didn’t seem to notice a bit.
(Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 5/1/19.)
Jason Heil, Hannah Logan and Judy Bauerlein in "Sweat." Photo by Jim Carmody
Emotions run red-hot in Lynn Nottage’s deservedly Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Sweat. Plant workers in oppressed Reading, Pa. who are already surviving paycheck to paycheck face the loss of their jobs and identities as the company looks to Mexico for cheaper labor. When one of them, African-American Cynthia (Monique Gaffney), attains a management position, her white friends feel betrayed, and racial tension further roils the emotions.
San Diego Repertory Theatre’s production of Sweat, directed by Sam Woodhouse, is fiery and formidable, an impeccably acted two-plus hours that never relents in intensity. Besides Gaffney, the stellar cast includes Judy Bauerlein and Hannah Logan as Cynthia’s angry and rapidly deteriorating “ex friends,” Cortez Johnson as her conflicted son Chris, and Steve Froehlich as the truly frightening Jason, who will become a white supremacist. The play shifts between the year 2000 and eight years later, when ex-cons Chris and Jason are seen with a parole officer (Antonio T.J. Johnson). For a work that travels not only through time but along the sharp edges of social and political spectra, Sweat is masterfully grounded in stark human tragedies. This is one not to miss.
(Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 5/1/19.)
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat