Qurrat Ann Kadwani in "Intrusion."
The 18tth San Diego International Fringe Festival winds up this weekend at multiple venues downtown. Here are a couple of offerings I caught on Friday, both of which you can see yourself before the festival is over:
• Qurrat Ann Kadwani’s one-woman show “Intrusion” envisions a society 20 years from now in which rape has been educated and legislated out of existence. Then – a rape occurs, and all the fury and pain believed to have been banished forever resurfaces. In her one-hour performance, Kadwani portrays multiple characters, including a frustrated prosecutor, a theory-spouting psychologist,, a smarmy politician and even a frightened third-grader. “Intrusion” is intense and laden with uncompromising messages about the objectification and victimization of women, as well as the elusiveness of justice. The sight lines aren’t the best at the Bristol Hotel Fringe venue, but you can see clearly the truths Kadwani makes starkly evident.
“Intrusion” will be performed today, Saturday June 30, at 9 p.m. at the Bristol Hotel.
• “Bunny,” presented by Portland’s Prismagic, is a combination of acrobatics, magic and comedy (there’s even a brief moment of nudity), all crammed into about 35 minutes at the Lyceum Space in Horton Plaza. It’s whimsical circus-like entertainment that features “bunnies,” but never does the obvious of pulling one out of a hat. The recorded music accompanying the antics, however, is way too loud.
“Bunny” will be performed tomorrow, July 1, at 11:30 a.m. in the Lyceum Space, Horton Plaza.
Michelle Marie Trester in "Romeo, Romeo & Juliet." Photo by Daren Scott
Anything that pumps new life into the timeworn Romeo & Juliet is welcome. Not only is Shakespeare’s most famous love story a staple on world stages and in high school auditoriums alike, but the lovers tragedy has been filmed and adapted and reinvented to death. The balcony scene has become a literary cliché.
But there’s good news. That very balcony scene provides the backdrop for zany romantic tension in playwright Ruff Yeager’s farcical Romeo, Romeo & Juliet, a presentation of the Roustabouts Theatre, of which Yeager is a co-founder. His play is not a retelling of R&J but a triangular love story about a summer stock production of Romeo & Juliet somewhere on Cape Cod. In the course of rehearsal, principally of that balcony scene, passions simmer to the fore. Nancy (Michelle Marie Trester), who is playing Juliet, is a prattling goody two shoes from St. George, Utah, whose only vice is Sprite soda. But her naivete blossoms into lust for Tracy (Michael Silberblatt), who is playing Romeo. She is unaware that he’s gay and has himself fallen for the show’s neurotic director, Simon (Brian Mackey). Pop-eyed complications ensue in this briskly paced offering directed by Kim Strassburger.
While the story doesn’t deliver any particular surprises, the actors bring their best to the telling. Mackey, a standout already this year in Lamb’s Players Theatre’s wacky Noises Off, executes physical comedy like few others in town. Silberblatt is a graduate of the Coronado School of Arts with a resume that includes King Lear at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Making his local debut with the Roustabouts, he makes clear his intuition for Shakespeare’s exquisite language amid the fun. Partly because her character is the only one who changes during the course of Romeo, Romeo & Juliet and partly because she’s just so out there as Nancy, Trester is the rightful star of this production. Her bosom-clutching, soda-sipping Mormon girl is a genuine treat.
The Roustabouts are staging Romeo, Romeo & Juliet on at Moxie Theatre on a set designed to look like an old barn, which in the play is being employed as a rehearsal space. That every character yearns for a roll in the hay there is half the fun. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 6/27/18.)
Asian Story Theatre's "There and Home Again: More Stories from the Sun Cafe."
The 18tth San Diego International Fringe Festival is under way in multiple venues downtown. Some highlights from the first weekend:
• Asian Story Theatre’s “There and Home Again: More Stories from the Sun Café” is a poignant and personal piece that is part history lesson, part dramatic re-enactments. In a gripping hour of vignettes, the company’s talented cast covers a lot of ground, from the Japanese-American internment camps to the fledgling days of San Diego’s downtown neighborhoods. Historic images projected on a screen and iconic music from the ‘40s accompany much of the storytelling in the intimate (though acoustically challenged) Geoffrey theater space inside the Spreckels. But “There and Home Again …” is foremost a family story, with the bygone (at least in its original conception) Sun Café the home base for tales of love and sacrifice and perseverance.
“There and Home Again: More Stories from the Sun Café” will be performed again on Tuesday, June 26, at 6 p.m., and Saturday, June 30, at 7:30 p.m.
• “The Magic in This Soul” is Blindspot Collective’s treatise on discrimination, adapted from more than 100 interviews that local high school students conducted with members of San Diego communities – in particular those marginalized or victimized by the ignorant, small-minded and hate-filled. In the one-hour production directed by Blake McCarty, 10 Blindspot performers tell the stories of those judged and oppressed because of the color of their skin, their sexual preference or gender identification, or because of a disability. In the age of the Trump presidency, their true stories are all the more heart-rending. Trump should see “The Magic in This Soul.” So should you.
“The Magic in This Soul” will be performed again Wednesday, June 27, at 9 p.m., Friday, June 29, at 9 p.m. and Saturday, June 30, at 7:30 p.m., all in the Lyceum Space at the San Diego Rep.
• Performer Tyler West says barely a word in his pantomime-heavy one-man show “Abeyance,” but he doesn’t really need to. He’s that skilled at sounding like a gurgling water cooler or making you believe he’s out on the ledge of a tall building with pigeons perched on every appendage of his body. The most fun comes when the tireless West recruits audience members to improv a few bits with him, so be prepared to be recruited if you attend one of his two remaining shows at the Bristol Hotel on First Avenue.
“Abeyance” will be performed again on Saturday, June 30, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 1, at 4 p.m.
• Audience participation is also inevitable, but even more fun than at “Abeyance,” in mind reader Mark Toland’s show in the Geoffrey. Amazing is the only way to describe the things Toland pulls off in a fast-moving exhibition of telepathy, with attendees as subjects. Toland’s also a quick wit, which should entertain even the most stubborn skeptics. But by the end of his show, you probably will be a believer yourself.
“Mark Toland: Mind Reader” will be performed again on Tuesday, June 26, at 9 p.m., Friday, June 29, at 9 p.m., and Saturday, June 30, at 4 p.m.
Have fun at the Fringe! It’s a San Diego summertime tradition that puts Comic-Con to shame.
:Left to right: Brian Salmon, R. David Robinson and D.W. Jacobs in "Uranium + Peaches." Photo by Melissa Jacobs / Salk Institute
How might the world be different today had the United States not dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in August of 1945? That’s one of many provocative questions raised by “Uranium + Peaches,” a new play by Peter Cook and William Lanouette which received its world premiere performance last Thursday at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla. Lanouette is the author of “A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb,” and Szilard is one of three characters in the play based on a real-life meeting in Spartanburg, S.C. in which Szilard, a protégé of Einstein’s, and Manhattan Project chemist Harold Urey tried in vain to dissuade President Harry Truman’s adviser Jimmy Byrnes from sanctioning the use of the newly developed A-bomb on Japanese cities.
The one-act “Uranium + Peaches” was staged in the Salk Institute’s Conrad T. Prebys Auditorium under the direction of Delicia Turner-Sonnenberg, one of the best in San Diego theater. Her cast: Brian Salmon as the cocky, faux-gracious Jimmy Byrnes; D.W. Jacobs as the caustic Urey; and R. David Robinson portraying Szilard, who goes from plaintive to desperate to sadly resigned by the end of the fruitless meeting in South Carolina. The June 21 performance was a staged reading, with the actors still on book, and only Salmon was able to make the audience forget about the presence of scripts. But the tense drama, a bit over an hour in length, has possibilities, for the gravity of its subject is undeniable and the history it recounts is haunting given the consequences – in August of 1945 and in the years since.
"The Squirrels," a world-premiere black comedy, at La Jolla Playhouse. Photo by Jim Carmody
Squirrels are neither cute little critters nor scavenging tree rats in Robert Askins’ allegorical play “The Squirrels.” What they are is human at humankind’s worst: conniving, combative, even racist. This depiction makes for a gnawing black comedy with actors sorta clad as squirrels engaging in lust and bloodlust all for the want of nuts. Naturally, this signifies more, but Askins’ script is smart enough to resist easy contemporary illusions. In fact, there’s a sense of traditional Greek drama in the portrayal of his warring Gray and Fox Squirrels, and, turning Elizabethan, the play’s tragicomic despot figure (a Gray Squirrel named Scurius) suffers a Lear-like deterioration.
La Jolla Playhouse’s world-premiere production of this new work by Askins, best-known for the outlandish Hand to God, is brisk, loud and mildly graphic. Director Christopher Ashley’s ensemble includes Candy Buckley, the reason to see last year’s Kill Local at the Playhouse, and Broadway veteran Brad Oscar, The Squirrels’ antagonist who doubles as an emcee/scientist. Unfortunately, the 85 minutes it takes to make Askins’ sociopolitical points is excessive, even for a one-act show. That leaves a story populated by characters that frolic and shout a lot, but the laugh lines (enough already with the mucking jokes) are strained. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 6/20/18.)
Once is an utterly beautiful musical experience, and a Broadway show (it won eight Tonys at the 2012 awards) that connects all the more in the comparatively intimate confines of Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado. It’s there, under the skillful direction of Kerry Meads and the musical direction of G. Scott Lacy, that this wistful musical makes everyone Irish for a day. Set in Dublin, Once is an unapologetically sentimental tale about love and believing in oneself an in others. Catie Grady portrays the Czech girl who inspires an uncertain Irish singer-songwriter (Michael Louis Cusimano) to artistic heights, and they fall into a love that can never be. Both, but especially Grady, are moving and magnetic presences on the Lamb’s stage, singing and playing instruments like the rest of the sizable cast.
The exquisite music and lyrics of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, consisting of brooding ballads and rousing band numbers alike, outshines Once’s mostly predictable story (based on the 2007 film). That’s fine. This is a production to be savored on a visceral more than a cerebral level, and one to be celebrated too. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 6/20/18.)
To borrow from The Who’s Pete Townshend, the kind of guitar god celebrated in “School of Rock,” the kids are alright in this stage-musical adaptation of the 2003 hit film that starred Jack Black. In fact, the kids are by far the best thing about the Andrew Lloyd Webber-driven “School of Rock The Musical,” in which most of the adults are portrayed as uptight bores or just plain uptight. Not only are the fourth-grade characters more entertaining than even the Dewey Finn character amply filled by Black in the movie (and by Rob Colletti onstage), but the young actors playing them rock, especially those who end up performing in the show’s climactic “Battle of the Bands.”
The “School of Rock” musical is less than three years old and is making its San Diego debut, through Sunday, at the Civic Theatre downtown. It features 12 songs by Lloyd Webber (with lyrics by Glenn Slater) while retaining three from the Richard Linklater-directed film. Of the newbies, the catchiest is the playfully anarchic “Stick It to the Man,” and while none of the tunes really rises above the level of boilerplate guitar band, the musicianship, including that of the kids, is solid.
As in the original film, the musical’s story (penned by Julian Fellowes of staid “Downton Abbey” fame) finds slovenly slacker Dewey Finn booted from his band No Vacancy and crashing with nerdy schoolteacher pal Ned Schneebly (Matt Bittner) and Ned’s girlfriend Patty (Emily Borromeo), one of the aforementioned uptight adults. Facing banishment for lack of paying rent, Dewey impersonates Ned to grab a job teaching at very proper Horace Green School. It’s there, after a spree of anti-establishment antics in the classroom, that he discovers the musical talent of his pupils, and under his rowdy tutelage they’re transformed from sedate classical players to rockers. The stars, playing their own instruments with panache, include guitarist Zach (Vincent Molden), drummer Freddy (Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton), bassist Katie (Theodora Silverman) and keyboardist Lawrence (Theo Mitchell-Penner).
Colletti, a veteran of “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway, is in the daunting position of trying to walk and rock in Black’s formidable footsteps, but he and Lexie Dorsett Sharp as school principal (and closet rock fan) Rosalie Mullins are “School of Rock’s” grown-ups to root for. Among the other young actors in the ensemble, Iara Nemirovsky shines as the domineering student Summer Hathaway, while Grier Burke belts out a crowd-pleasing, a capella “Amazing Grace.”
The rock ‘n’ roll of “School of Rock” is evocative of a time before iTunes and Spotify, a time of exhaustive guitar solos and gyrating hair bands. In that respect, this show’s leitmotif feels nostalgic, even anachronistic, more so now than perhaps it did when the film was released 15 years ago. But as a soundscape for a feel-good story about underdogs determined to stick it to the man and have fun while doing so, “School of Rock” strikes all the right chords. (Review originally published in The San Diego Union-Tribune on 6/15/18.)
Florian Zeller’s quietly intense drama The Father at the North Coast Repertory Theatre takes the audience into the “reality” of the mind of a person with deteriorating and heartbreaking dementia. Eighty-year-old Andre’s (James Sutorius) perceptions and recognitions change from scene to scene, and sometimes even faster in this unsettling but relevant play. Helpless and frustrated is his daughter Anne (Robyn Cohen), who aches to do “the right thing” for her father and for herself.
Sutorius’ performance is courageous and unshowy in this numbing one-act production
directed by NCR’s David Ellenstein. The supporting cast includes Richard Baird, Shana Wride, Jacque Wilke, Matthew Salazar-Thompson and Cohen, who experiences every grown child’s most painful nightmare. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 6/13/18.)
The life of Anita Bryant – both destructive and self-destructive – is one of the two narratives that entwine in Diversionary Theatre’s promising world-premiere musical The Loneliest Girl in the World. The other is that of a young man named Tommy: bullied, closeted and at the outset of the story a loving fan from far of the beauty pageant runner-up from Oklahoma turned wholesome singer. Bryant’s eventual transformation into a righteous hatemonger leads Tommy through difficult yet affirming life changes of his own.
The impetus for Bryant’s devolution could benefit from some contextual heft, but most everything else works in this alternately witty and impassioned show written by Gordon Leary (book and lyrics) and Julia Meinwald (music), and directed by Diversionary’s Matt Morrow. The melodic score is moving without becoming rhapsodic, and its clever turns spoof the pop and political landscapes of the ‘50s and ‘70s especially. As Bryant, the gifted Allison Spratt Pearce humanizes without creating sympathy for a figure justifiably demonized by the gay community. Sam Heldt, meanwhile, is deeply vulnerable as Tony, and in multiple roles Steve Gouveia, Shaun Tuazon, Lauren King Thompson and Marci Anne Wuebben effect the illusion of a much bigger show on a much larger stage. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 6/13/18.)
Extensive knowledge of opera isn’t essential to appreciating Nathan Gunn Flying Solo, a one-man show written by Hershey Felder and starring the estimable baritone Gunn. But it might help. The arc of Gunn’s biographical story, which he recounts onstage for 90 minutes at the San Diego Rep, is his operatic career, most notably at the Met in NYC. Further, among the selections he performs, those from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” or Benjamin Britten’s “Billy Budd” contain all the passion that is less present in renderings of, for example, “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’” from Oklahoma. Clearly, Gunn’s heart is in opera.
The undercurrent of the narrative Felder has written for Gunn is the opera star’s relationship with his father, a father like so many (especially on screen or onstage) who is emotionally reluctant. Gunn must be commended for reliving that relationship each performance. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 6/6/18.)
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.