Wednesday, August 29, 2018

One Million Things in “Every Brilliant Thing” Make a Difference.

If you love ice cream, you are not alone. It’s the #1 thing on the Narrator’s list of “Every Brilliant Thing” by playwright Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahue.

Lists are good things to keep you on track. My late husband made lists every day. Until his death, I thought they were an exercise in futility. Now I make my own. So there ya go! But all lists are not created equal.

In Duncan Macmillan and comedian Jonny Donahue’s one man (plus audience participation) play “Every Brilliant Thing” now on stage at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town through Sept. 16th, the playwright explores topics most don’t discuss in public, like depression and suicide. The emcee of sorts leading the discussion is Ro Boddie with fine feel good direction by Rob Lutfy.  
Thoughtful Boddie
He sets the stage: “The list began after her first attempt. A list of everything brilliant about the world. Everything worth living for.” It all started when he was seven.

He was removed from class and taken to the hospital by his father who wasn’t quite sure the what’s of his seven year old. His mother was being treated for life threatening depression.

“Why? and Why? And Why?” were the cries of this youngster when nothing in the world felt right especially when his cat had to be treated at the vet and the ongoing illness of his mother took center stage most of his life. His highs and lows continued long after her death when she succomed to suicide.

How to tell this story that lasted throughout his childhood and into his adult life, attending college, through a marriage that showed promise, but in the end crumbled under the weight of all he knew to be true?
Charming Boddie
Make a list of all that’s brilliant, meaningful and beautiful. Keeping in mind that ‘beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
1. Ice cream.
2. Water fights.
3. Staying up past your bedtime.
4. The color yellow.
6. Rollercoasters.
324. Nina Simone’s voice.
823. Skinny Dipping
2000. Coffee.
1,000,000. Listening to a record for the first time (“Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall”)

Don’t be misled, though. Contrary to what I had envisioned, this 80 minute piece found and took on a life of its own as patrons, those willing and or signed up before the show, were given scratches of paper, empty envelopes, etc. with a number that coincided with a number the star would shout out and then proceed to read off and Boddie never lost sight of where he was in his family’s saga treating it with gentleness and compassion.
Interacting Boddie
First to the school councilor then to the vet (both chosen from the audience) and on to his college girlfriend Sam, another member from the audience that for all intents and purposes could very well have been an actor, so into it was she. Another audience member chosen to be his father was also an excellent contender as leading audience member of the night.

Keep in mind the list started off as a child’s fantasy looking for ways to prevent his mother from depression and thoughts of suicide and followed him through adulthood. The message continued, if not right then and there, then later: GET HELP!

 How to deal with mental illness, suicide and depression is always at the core of this narrative and Boddie and Lutfy gently pry us in different directions and moods not always those of  angst and tension but at times with a little humor.

Boddie is up and down and all around the theatre, crisscrossing though isles and rows of seats keeping everyone alert and wondering where he will show up next. Audience members are on the stag and around the theatre. No one knows who they are until they are called on. On opening night some projected beautifully, others could barely be heard. That was my main complaint.
Spotting Boddie
Accomplished actor that he is (Craig Noel winner as Actor of the Year in 2016) one might think that he is talking about his own family in his own living room designed by Abigail Caywood and lit by Caroline J. Andrew with sound design (record player and keyboards) by Steven Leffue. 

"Every Brilliant Thing".  Yesssssss!

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Sept. 16th
Organization: Cygnet Theatre
Phone: 619-337-1525
Production Type: One Person Show
Where: Theatre In Old Town, 4040Twiggs St. San Diego, CA 9210
Ticket Prices: $25.00-$60.00
Venue: Cygnet Theatre
Photo: Ken Jacques

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Moxie’s “Voyeurs de Venus”: Moving, Unsettling and Explosive

Among the many plays Lydia Diamond has written “Voyeurs de Venus” (2006), “The Bluest Eye” (2007) and  “Stick Fly” (2008), Moxie Theatre in Rolando produced the first two and the now defunct Mo’Olelo the third.

I’ve always been impressed with Diamond’s plays; the subject matter, and characterizations and the overall messages she shares. "Venus” is the most jolting and jarring.

Moxie Theatre is at it again with founding mother Decilia Turner Sonnenberg at the helm directing as she did in 2013 “Bluest Eye” that takes place in Ohio. “Venus” takes us on a different journey, a journey that begins in South Africa 1800’s and ends in current day Chicago 2002.
Joy Yvonne Jones
For a brief history (some might dispute all the facts) but one that is new to yours truly, the Venus in Diamond’s play is an indigenous woman from southwest Africa whose name was Saartjie Baartman (Joy Yvonne Jones). She was a dancer, a mother and a drummer who grew up serving French and Dutch colonists. She spoke English, Dutch and some French. 

At some point in her life one of her adoptive ‘parents’ sent her to Europe where she became somewhat of an oddity after she was sent into the trafficking trade and was dubbed “Hottentot Venus” a slur that followed her throughout.

In the nineteenth century racial ‘science’ and popular culture considered her unusually large backside as exotic and hypersexual. 
Cashae Monya
Call it exploitive; call it racial profiling, history or just plain voyeurism for the sexually repressed but when she arrived in England she was put on display (having been shipped in a shipping crate) by one Alexander Dunlop (Fred Harlow) and stood naked in a cage while European women (and men) gawked at her.

These images continued even after her death where she found no peace as her genitalia were dissected (by  Georges Cuvier scientist/professor at the Museum of Natural History in Paris)  and a wax mold of her large buttocks remained on display in a French museum until recently. 

Here the play gets dark and somewhat difficult to watch as the bloody mess is on display for everyone’s imagination to conjure up whatever pictures pop into mind. Call it exploitive; call it racial profiling, history or just plain sensationalism.

The story doesn’t end here.
Cashae Monya and Justin Lang
Into the mix, Diamond introduces another African woman, Sara Washington (Cashae Monya) a contemporary scholar, a writer and an anthropologist writing a book about Baartman’s story. She struggles with the history, as the past is juxtaposed with her now findings and the graphic nature of that history, one that borders on her own exploitation of a woman she, Sara, felt was exploited.

The play toggles back and forth in time and place, past and present where we meet both women, one dancing a tribal dance in her native Africa, the other in bed with her husband James (Justin Lang) in Chicago.

She’s promoting a book deal he’s a patient and loving husband and sociologist, but the marriage is in trouble. Sara’s meetings with book publishers Carl Richards (Max Macke) and African American James Bradford, (Cortez Johnson) become more difficult to sell.
Cortez Johnson and Cashae Monya
Because of her many doubts about the very same concerns she had around the victimization of her subject, she too is challenged about whether to go ahead with the deal or not. Her meetings with Bradford test her vulnerability their mutual attraction and finally her need to succeed as in spite of her conflicts.

With her steady and expert direction, Sonnenberg and her excellent cast take us through tribal dances (Michael Mizerani) dressed in Shelly Williams costumes, time and space sequences (Justin Humphries three different locations emphasized by Nate Parde’s lighting design) and the trials and tribulations of Sara’s dilemmas giving us a bird’s eye view into how complicated both of these women were and are. 

As usual Cashae Monya is spot on target as the go getter author /anthropologist bustling with ideas, trying to keep her marriage fresh and wavering between exploiting her book subject and her need for recognition. Ms. Monya’s energy and complete immersion in her role as Sara Washington is without flaw.
Joy Yvonne Jones and Cortez Johnson
Newcomer to yours truly, Joy Yvonne Jones approached the role of Saartjie Baarrtman with dignity and conviction. As the abused young woman, her steadfast comportment, nonverbal at times, says volumes. In contrast Cortez Jonson’s Booker, the one who has to give the OK to Washington’s book deal is confident, somewhat arrogant and most of all, seductive and provocative.

Justin Lang is both loving and accepting husband to Sara and the acclaimed Dr. Cuvier who considered Saartjie to be the missing link between humans and animals. He wins a gold star for the quickest costume changes.
Nancy Ross and Justin Lang
Nancy Ross is fine as Millicent Duncent, Cuvier’s assistant and the two dancers Jocelynn Johnston and Ashley Strwart round out a most talented cast enabling Diamond’s work to have been given a serious outing.

But for Diamond and those of us wrestling with the question:  “By doing this play, is she herself exploiting Saartjie Baartman?”
Diamond thinks not adding: “But I understand if someone felt differently, I would accept that.” You be the judge.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Sept. 9th.
Organization: Moxie Theatre
Phone: 858-598-7620
Production Type: Drama
Where: 6663 El Cajon Blvd. San Diego, CA92115
Ticket Prices: $28.00-$38.00
Photo: Moxie Theatre

Monday, August 27, 2018

"Phantom” is Back With A Fire Shooting Chandelier And Plentiful Voices.

“Phantom of The Opera” had its World Premiere on Oct. 9, 1986 at Her Majesties Theatre in London (still running) winning every major British award including the Oliver and Standard Awards. The New York production opened on Jan. 26th 1988.

It won seven Tony’s including Best Musical. Internationally, its success has grossed over five billion (that’s a ‘B’) dollars and seen by over 2.5 million people around the world.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart wrote the music and lyrics respectively with additional music by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The story, based on the novel “Le Fantôme de L’ Opéra by Gaston Leroux, is a love story twisted as it may be and that’s the attraction.
Quentin Lee Oliver and Eva Tavares
The love triangle between Christine Daaé (Eva Tavares) a beautiful chorus girl turned ingénue in the new opera soon to be opening at the Paris Opera House, Raul, Vicomte de Chagny, (Jordan Craig) patron of the Opera House and the partially deformed half masked Phantom (Quentin Oliver Lee) make up the love triangle in this somewhat horror/love story. So it goes, one pulling at her the other enchanting her with his music.

The Phantom, deformed at birth, was sent as a child to be gawked at at freak shows. Somehow he escapes and now haunts the catacombs beneath the opera house terrorizing all its occupants. Smitten with this new young beauty, Christine, he fires the now star Carlotta Guidicelli (Trista Moldovan) of the upcoming opera for which they are rehearsing, insisting Christine be the star as he appeals to her  (“Angel of Music”) by taking her into the underground world he calls home.
Quintin Lee Oliver and Eva Tavares
When not trying to court (and I use the word cautiously) and nurturing Christine, the Phantom pretty much bullies the new owners of the Opera House Monsieur Firmin David Benoit) and Monsieur André (Rob Lindley) who are the perfectly clueless managers, to do his biding. He also has a way with anyone else he thinks isn’t worthy of performing there. That would include the resident diva Carlotta and her leading male Ubaldo Piangi’s (Phumzile Sojola).
Eva Tavares and Quentin Oliver Lee 
The Phantom spooks them often enough and in as many ways as to push them out of the limelight and replace Carlotta with is own protégée. In one scene Carlotta is in the middle of an aria and the backdrop falls almost hitting her. Blame is placed on the ‘Opera Ghost’. On balance, their little funny shticks are in fun contrast to the seriousness of the Phantom’s obsession with his newfound love.  It’s all so creepy but fun!
Eva Tavares and Jordan Craig
So sue me. I like Andrew Lloyd Webber. Some of his works at least. My patience wears thin with “Cats” even though I have an affinity for cats. It’s done too often.  In fact, before “Cats” the musical, I had cats (the four legged kind) that ran my house. I even have T.S. Elliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” somewhere in the house. That said, I think “Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat”, “Evita” and “Jesus Christ Super Star” have some of the cleverest lyrics ever. Some of the big showstoppers in these musicals are still (slobbery as they may be) lovely.

This new national tour passing through our fair city through the Sept 2nd is looking very healthy, thank you very much. Broadway/San Diego has brought this blockbuster back to us in what is billed as ‘a spectacular restaging by Cameron Mackintosh including a new chandelier that weighs 1 ton. Sitting under that weight would send shivers, but on with the show.
Trista Moldovan
The staircase at the top of Act II in the colorful, ‘Masquerade Ball’ has been replaced by a large overhead mirror reflecting the players dancing, in disguise, at the Grand Ballroom of the Opera House.

The chandelier in the Phantom's underground dwellings are replaced by lots of fire shooting up like firecrackers and the long unsteady staircase leading to his rooms replace the mist filled canoe ride through the labyrinths under the opera house, and Ubaldo rides in on a chariot rather than an elephant., little stuff like that. The good news is that the sound is fantastic as far as the music is concerned but still muffled when the actors are talking to each other.

Other subtleties that someone seeing the show for the first time will never miss, have been taken over by a massive revolving set that, most likely makes setting up and striking less labor intense.What remains is the music of Lloyd-Webber, the backbone of this “Music Of The Night”.
Kristie Dale Sanders
The opening sounds still sends chills up my spine when we hear Da-Da-Da- Da-Ta-Da… and the music box clinks to life when the monkey pops up and begins clapping his tiny cymbals the new and improved beaded chandelier that shimmy’s, shakes and shoots out fire streams and little plastic shards into the audience still reverberate.

With Quentin Lee Oliver as the overpowering all consuming Phantom ready to swoop down and pull Christine into the dungeons, there is no question of who is in charge here. Oliver has a beautiful and rich tenor voice n contrast to her long ago admirer Craig’s Raul with a fine baritone voice but often sounded nasal.

Both soprano’s Ms. Tavares and Ms. Maldovan sounded like angels (of music) both having an appealing presence and gorgeous voices. Madame Giri (Khristie Dale Sanders) the choreographer for the ballet girls has a rich Mezzo, and if we are counting, the women’s voices soar above and beyond Mick Porter’s sound design.    

Completing the pictures are Nina Dunn’s video and projection design on Paul Brown massive looking set, choreography by Scott Ambler with sure footed direction by Laurence Connor, Paul Constable’s lighting and Maria Bjornson’s masterful costumes and complete with Jamie John’s on target musical direction.

“Music Of The Night”, “All I ask Of You”,  “Wishing You Were “Somehow Here Again”… yup I do love that music for what it's worth. 

If you’ve not seen it, give it try, it is pretty spectacular looking!

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Sept. 2nd
Organization: Broadway San Diego
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1100 3rd and B Streets
Ticket Prices and show info:
Venue: San Diego Civic Theatre
Photo: Matthew Murphy