Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Excellent “Blue Door” at Moxie is a must see.

I recently attended what was to be the final performance of Tanya Barfield’s emotionally charged and captivating “Blue Door” at Moxie Theatre, but an announcement from Jen Thorn, one of the founding mother’s of the theatre that four more performances have been added to the calendar. (Through March 5th)

My recommendation, get your tickets now so you won’t have missed two premiere performances by two outstanding actors in what already seems to be a blockbuster season for Moxie.

First let me say that San Diego is at the hub of some pretty exciting theatre theses days. From an excellent solo performance by Shana Wride in “The 2.5Minute Ride” at Diversionary to a two man tour de force performance at Moxie, small theatres rock!

Cortez L. Johnson and Vimel Sephus
Lewis (Vimel Sephus) is a math professor struggling with his past as a Black Man. He is also an accomplished mathematician living in a white man’s world. Even his white wife is fed up with him because he refuses to march in the Million Man March on Washington. That’s just one of the issues that we hear about as a reason for the demise of his sixteen year marriage.

On the other hand, Simon (Cortez L. Johnson) IS his past and refuses to let him forget it. Simon represents four generations of his family, his ancestors and his present. All of these memories or nightmares happen in Lewis’ head as he fitfully tries to sleep in his now empty house.

The present time is 1995 but the story toggles back and forth from 1851 to1995. As mentioned, Simon/Rex/Jessie accelerate the memories.  He brings the truth of Lewis’ past home while Lewis agonizes over it. He makes excuses for his actions in ways that seem plausible, but the battles in his mind rage on giving way to his finally coming to grips with his humanity and the beginning of yet another journey into self without denying his past.   

Vimel Sephus and Cortez L. Johnson
The awesome threesome made up of director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, Vimel Sephus and Cortez L. Johnson drive this realistic and gut wrenching play. Johnson is a force to be reckoned with as he takes on the characters of great grandfather, grandfather, father and brother all in different contexts, different time frames but with a familiar thread that explains in detail their violent history leading up to the present.

He’s animated and saunters from one end of the stage to the other. He shows us an appealing charm when he talks of his first love and brutal when making a point of truth to his brother Lewis.

Sephus is more cerebral in his facial expressions, his body language and at once funny in trying to explain his experience with an all white gathering of his peers and their significant others. For the most part though he is guarded with his realizations of his past trying not to remember. I can’t say enough about their performances. Both rate five stars.

Cortez L. Johnson
Shelly Williams’ costumes are a direct contrast between past and present. Sherrice Mojgani’s lighting and Emily Jankowski’s sound with Victoria Petrovich’s scenic design of five see through panels give the set an eerie look and sound of what might be hiding behind each panel.

Oh, and the Blue Door? At one point in the story Lewis’ mother suggests, on her dying bed, that he paint the door to their house blue to keep the evil spirits out.

With only a few more performances left, I strongly recommend you head to Moxie and get a real taste of what drives theatre companies and staff to do what they do.  

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Extended through March 5th
Organization: Moxie Theatre
Phone: 858.598.7620
Production Type: Drama
Where: 6663 El Cajon Blvd. Suite N. San Diego CA. 92115
Ticket Prices: $30.00
Web: moxietheatre.com

Photo: Daren Scott

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Shana Wride Shines in Lisa Kron’s “2.5 Minute Ride” at Diversionary Theatre.

Yes, its Lisa Kron’s piece, but it belongs to Shana Wride now. Kron’s “2.5 Minute Ride” currently in an extraordinary solo performance by Shana Wride is the stream of conscious love letter to her Dad as she looks back on his past, his loves, his childhood ties, family, parents and her relationship to it all.

Hat’s off to Diversionary Theatre for bringing this emotionally charged, funny and heart-rending tale to San Diego audiences. Kron’s piece is a perfect selection for the Park Ave. location. It addresses all the issues that have become a Beacon for Diversionary. Fine assists come from Sean Fanning (scenic designer), Kate Bishop (Costume), Curtis Mueller (lighting), Bonnie Durben (properties)  and Melanie Chen (sound).

Shana Wride in "2.5Minute Ride"
Kron’s 80 or so minute autobiographical narrative played at the La Jolla Playhouse in 1996. She performed the piece back then I remember her skills as a storyteller. But that was long ago and now we have a very different take with Wride’s retelling.

With direction by Rosina Reynolds (herself the recipient of the Craig Noel Award for Best Solo Performance in her portrayal of Golda Meir in “Golda’s Balcony) Wride’s perfect performance of Kron’s story is filled with layers of love, surprise and dedication. I can think of no better messenger than Wride’s Bravura tour de force performance to bring home the goods.
Kron’s story takes us on two journeys where humor and horror are juxtaposed on each other. Traveling on their own tracks and merging seamlessly at certain intersections they offer tidbits about her mother, her brother and some family idiosyncrasies that are funny and typical of most Jewish family mishegashes. Added to the obvious, the stories are poignant almost to teary. It is an experience of a lifetime watching and living vicariously through her eyes.  

One is her trip to the Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio where every year by ritual, her family heads out for three days, in three separate vehicles. One day is the travel day, one day is spent sampling the food and where she ultimately rides the mean streak rollercoaster, The Mantis, a new standup rollercoaster, with her near blind, diabetic father.  

The other is a trip she took with her father to Poland and Germany to revisit his birthplace, to see where her grandparents lived, grew up and later a visit to their final resting place in Auschwitz.

Taken on school trip to Auschwitz by Eytan Argavani
From her Midwestern Jewish background, to her partner of choice, to her brother’s Orthodox wedding (side splitting funny bit about the wedding plans and Lisa and her partner at the time, to be bridesmates) to the Germany trip, to her fathers job as a G.I. (he had to get himself declassified as an illegal alien), whose job it was to interrogate captured Nazi’s, Wride tells it as if it belongs to her.

 “I felt I had made a profound connection with him on this trip” …and that “up until this time everything in my life was a shadow. “The only true emotional reality was what happened to my father and his family 50 years ago”.

“I have a checklist in my head; things I have to do before my father dies. Number one: Look him in the eye and tell him that I love him. “Wow! That hit home!

Sitting through Kron’s story I couldn’t help but think back on the OH! So many Holocaust memorials I visited in my lifetime. From Washington, D.C. to Yad Vashem to Boston to Amsterdam and a memorable trip to Ellis Island where the stacks of hats, luggage, glasses, shoes and clothing brought collective gasps from those in my group. 

And of the course the pictures sent back to me from my two older grandchildren, who while living in Israel took a school trip to Poland and Auschwitz. The tracks, the barbed wire fences the sign above the entrance to the camp Arbeit Macht Frei. She left nothing out.  

“ My father is a small man contained and neat. He smells like lavender.”

“When I was in college I was taught that if you are standing near a piece of furniture on stage you should put your hand on it because that will make you look bigger. See? See how that works? I’m putting my hand on my father’s life.”

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through March 19th
Organization: Diversionary Theatre
Phone: 619.220.0097
Production Type: Solo/Tour de Force
Where: 4545 Park Blvd. University Heights, 92116
Ticket Prices: Start at $15.00
Web: diversionary.org

Photo: Daren Scott

Monday, February 20, 2017

San Diego Musical Theatre opens 10th season with “9 To 5 The Musical”.

In 2016 Hillary Clinton was the first woman to become a serious contender for president of the United States. The fact that she lost her bid in the Electoral College will be on the minds and lips of millions for years. The fact that she was so close to breaking the ‘glass ceiling’ but was stifled by a schoolyard bully says volumes about the way our country sees women vying for leadership positions.

In 1969 Golda Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel; Angela Merkel is Chancellor of Germany, Estonia, and Switzerland. New Zealand, Taiwan, Myanmar, Nepal, Malta, Norway, Chile, Denmark all had/have women as either heads of state, presidents or whatever those countries want to call their leaders.

Someone please explain to me, why the hell we here in the U.S. of A. still don’t consider it essential to elect a woman president but it’s OK to elect a chronic liar and bully to this highest office in our land? It is after all 2017. Never mind, don’t get me started!

This brings me to the Dolly Parton (music and lyrics) and Patricia Resnick (book) 1980 musical aptly titled “9 To 5 the Musical” which is now in an ambitious production at the Spreckels Theatre downtown through Feb. 26th as San Diego Musical Theatre celebrates its tenth year.

Parton’s ode to women in the workplace based on the movie of the same name traces the journey of three suppressed and overworked women who pretty much carry the workload for ‘Consolidated Industries’ their place of employment.

Karyn Overstreet, Joy Yandell and Allison Spratt Pearce
Violet Newstead (Joy Yandell) is the long -suffering single parent office manager, Karyn Overstreet (Doralee, Parton’s alter ego) is Hart’s personal secretary (that everyone thinks is his playmate) and down home country bumpkin, and Judy is the recently divorced and newcomer who never before worked in an office (Allison Spratt Pearce).

They work together in a space dominated by a misogynistic, chauvinistic and self -centered boss they all love to hate by the name of Franklin Hart Jr. (David S. Humphrey). Humphrey does an outstanding job both physically and with outstanding chops to match. “Here For You”.

Some of the more pressing and still relevant issues like equal pay, double standards for promotions, treating women as sex objects, dress codes and career opportunities are played out with some pretty high level gyrations as when the three kidnap the boss and stow him away holding him hostage while they go about transforming their home away from home from 9 to 5, into a more friendly and work environment.

While the show doesn’t sport much razzle-dazzle, SDMT has a penchant for attracting some outstanding talent on both sides of the isle, actin, singing and technical.

2016 earned them a Craig Noel Award for Outstanding Musical Direction and Outstanding Lead Performance in a Musical, Female for “Ragtime”).

This current production backs up that claim with Christina J. Martin’s lighting, Kevin Anthenill’s sound design and some cool projections and Janet Pitcher’s coordinated period costumes that add to the overall look and sound of the show.  

Cynthia Ferrer directs with efficiency and enough humor that makes it difficult not to chuckle. Tamilyn Shusterman choreographs bringing out the best (another strong area for SDMT) in the entire ensemble with at least 20 performing including Wendy Waddell,  Bethany Slomka and Siri Hafso.  Don LeMaster heads the SDMT 13 piece band.

Joy Yandell (center) David S. Humphrey looking on
Joy Yandell, who is excellent and pretty much carries the show, is in almost every scene (“One of the Boys”). Her talents shine. In the end she finds true love and a position of leadership she well deserves. All three work overtime (pardon the pun) to keep the story and their jobs afloat. “Let Love Grow”.

Joy Yandell 
Karyn Overstreet is a hoot as the buxom pistol packin’ mama who threatens to transform the boss from a ‘rooster to a hen’ if he doesn’t comply. “Backyard Barbie”.

Allison Spratt Pierce (in another spangled gown compliments of costumer coordinator Janet Pitcher) finally grows up and finds herself to be a competent working woman. “Get Out and Stay Out”  and “Shine like the Sun”. 

Candi Milo provides another layer of comic relief as the company/bosses spy Roz Keith. She is loyal to her boss hoping he will throw her a bone only to be loathed by the others. She turns in a Brava performance. “Hart to Hart”.

“9 to 5 the Musical” opened on Broadway in 2009 to modest reviews. But SDMT has come a ‘long way baby’ and based on past and future productions (Their next show is “Damn Yankees”) they are in for the long haul.  

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Feb. 26th
Organization: San Diego Musical Theatre
Phone: 858.560.5740
Production Type: Musical
Where: 121 Broadway, Downtown San Diego 92101
Ticket Prices: $32.00-$72.00
Web: sdmt.org
Venue: Spreckels Theatre

Photo: Ken Jacques

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Comedy Morphs to Tragedy in Intrepid Theatre’s “ Perfect Arrangement”

There is something to be said about being witness to the past. I distinctly remember watching the McCarthy Hearings (House Committee on Un-American Activities) on TV and thinking (at that time), “What a scum Bag!” The pervert had us checking under our beds for Communists. I also remember my neighbors being dragged away in broad daylight never to have returned to their homes. They were accused of being Commie sympathizers.

In 1950 McCarthy ‘claimed that there were 205 ‘card carrying communists that worked for the U.S. State Dept.’ This set the stage for a witch- hunt that went after anyone deemed a threat to our national security including ‘sexual perverts or shady characters. (Think the homosexual problem including 91 people suspected of being ‘shady’). Payne's thesis is based on “The Lavender Scare” of the 50’s McCarthy era.

It is with this backdrop that Intrepid Theatre Company is mounting Topher Payne’s “Perfect Arrangement”, at The Horton Grand Theatre through March 12. It’s a wanna- be comedy that morphs suddenly into a mouth dropping tragedy.

The cast of Perfect Arrangement with Laura Bohlin, John DeCarlo, Joshua Jones, Jennifer Paredes, Brooke McCormick, Cynthia gerber and Tom Stephenson. 
The play opens in Bob (John DeCarlo) and Millie Martindale’s (Laura Bohlin) living- room -apartment. With them are Jim and Norma Baxter (Joshua Jones and Jennifer Paredes) and Kitty and Theodore Sunderson (Cynthia Gerber and Tom Stephenson). Bob and Norma work for the State Department and Theodore is their new boss.

In the background sounds of Sha-boom (Life could be a dream) can be heard as the beautiful people laugh and joke around. If one didn’t know better, one might think that they came in the middle of an “I Love Lucy” episode”, so exact is Gerber as the ditzy red headed mime of Lucy. Her zingers and near perfect timing keep the audience in stiches throughout the play even though they oft distract later on.  

As the others swoon about making small talk around drinks and recipes trying to make this little setup appear to be the ‘perfect arrangement’ the two couples can barely contain themselves until Kitty and Theodore leave the apartment.

Laura Bohlin and Jennifer Paredes
With a sigh of relief and a quick reshuffle Bob and Jim and Millie and Norma resume their proper places next to each other and the four settle, at least for the moment. You might guess though, not for long.     

Bob, the top investigator in his department and his secretary Norma, now have to go after gays as well as Commies. On the sidelines, Jim, a public school teacher and Millie, who once had aspirations of a writing career but keeps the home fires burning, are caught in the crosshairs as the perfect arrangement begins to show signs of stress.

Joshua Jones and John DeCarlo
Artistic director Christy Yael-Cox directs this fast paced (almost too fast) not so funny comedy through hoops and hurdles as the net around couples gets tighter and tighter when the boss continues his demands to fire all those deemed risks and deviants, threatens to send Norma to another office and downgrade her position and a blast from the past catches up with Millie.

A not so popular (read ready for the chopping block because of casual sexual affairs) Barbara Grant, (a wonderful Brooke McCormick) another employee/ translator of the state department, sashays back into her life and reminds her of indiscretions between the two when she was a teacher and Millie her student. This sets off alarm bells between Millie and Norma while putting Bob in a compromising situation.  

Once again things begin to unravel as the two couples plan and plot ways to bring Barbara down, save their own skins and resume their ‘normal’ lifestyles. Unfortunately as the four go off in different directions, so does the play. The quick turn about took yours truly by surprise as it veered off into uncharted territories; one not expected and almost out of the blue. Politics they say make strange bedfellows.

Laura Bohlin and Cynthia Gerber
While Payne’s play is not perfect, it is especially as relevant today as it was in the 50’s. That said the production suffers from some credibility gaps, notably the relationship between the women. Given the fact that the play is set in the 50’s might be reason for the superficial affections both Bohlin and Paredes bring to the table, but I doubt it.

This is after all, after years of fighting for their rights, the LGBT community is hardly holding back their feeling whether private or public. Theirs left much to doubt. The romantic connection never followed the dots. That might change as the play settles in. I hope so.

The men fare a bit better, even though their characters are less developed. DeCarlo’s Bob gives a splendid performance as one who wants to go along to get and along and play ball, but is looking out for #one when all is said and done. His decisions, in the final analysis were showstoppers for yours truly.

Joshua Jones’ Jim has little more to do than be funny when needed. His overtly, perhaps over cooked body language and movements are never in doubt, but are barely noticed by the Sanderson’s who probably would never recognize a ‘gentleman who prefer, ah-the company-of other gentlemen’. Kitty’s comeback, “You don’t mean fags, do you.” Later on in Act II he convinces when his ‘perfect arrangement’ is falling apart and his mate is ready to take no prisoners. His fears for his job are real and it shows through.  

Laura Bohlin, Cynthia Gerber and Brooke McCormick
Both Gerber and Stephenson work well as the outsiders with Gerber dropping every offensive stereotype and nasty reference to race and religion known to man in the 50’s. Unfortunately they are making a strong comeback with this current administration. Stephenson is right on target as the no nonsense boss who barely breaks a smile.

Jeanne Reith’s perfect and oft times stunning looking 50’s outfits brought back memories of another era. Sean Yeal-Cox set defines the play as when Bob and Jim leave Millie and Norma’s up scale Georgetown, D.C. apartment they exit through a closet door to go to their adjoining apartment when all is said and done. Clever!

Karen Filijan’s lighting design, and T. J. Fucella’s sound design round out the high quality looking productions we have all come to expect from Intrepid Theater Company.

Taking a page out of McCarthy’s playbook, we must be vigilant and keep our ears tuned into what’s coming down the pike especially with the new Att. General and the stripping away of everything the LGBT community and women’s rights advocates have fought for since Roe v Wade and Stonewall.

“Perfect Arrangement” is a must see for those who carry the banner of “Never Again” on more than just one front.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through March 12th
Organization: Intrepid Theatre Company
Phone: 1-888-718-4253
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where: 444 Forth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
Ticket Prices: $29.00-$58.00
Web: intrepidtheatre.org
Venue: Horton Grand Theatre

Press: Daren Scott