Sunday, September 30, 2018

Miller’s “All My Son’s” Still Packs a Solid Punch.

There’s something about watching the dynamics between Joe and Kate Keller, characters in Arthur Miller’s 1942 Tony Award winning play “All My Sons” that’s a bit off.

Mark Solz as Joe Keller and Allison Macdonald as Kate Keller
In 1942 this country was at war. According to an article brought to Miller’s attention regarding faulty airplane parts, Miller penned “All My Sons” and put real faces and real consequences on amoral actions all done for the sake of the all- mighty buck. The domino effect was imminent death to those brave service men flying plane’s with faulty equipment.

“All my sons” is a drama and a tragedy with humanitarian fallout that sent shockwaves throughout the world, the Keller family and their small, incubated neighborhood community.  

Joe Keller and his best friend, next-door neighbor and business partner Steve Deever, owned a manufacturing plant that was government contracted to manufacture and supply airplane parts to the US Army.

At some point in time, when the aircraft engine cylinders were in high demand and the partners were under pressure to satisfy their government contract, defective parts (there were cracks in the cylinder heads) were among those shipped and placed into war aircraft.

It just so happened that on that fateful day Joe, who had never been sick a day in his life, or for that matter, missed a days work called in sick. When Steve called Joe at home to see what he should do, Joe told him to ship the engines, flaws and all.

It was later discovered that because of the defective parts twenty-seven planes went down killing all aboard. Both men were arrested and accused of selling faulty parts. Joe managed an appeal claiming that he never spoke with Steve and that Steve acted on his own.
Allison Macdonald and Mark Solz
Joe was set free leaving Steve to serve out the jail sentence. Both Steve’s children, son George and daughter Ann, close neighbors of the Keller’s, disowned their father.

But things were about to change as we pick up the story three and a half years later 1947, in Joe’s sprawling backyard (Skyler Hill and a dozen or so helpers with construction) where both Ann, whom we learn is planning on marrying Chris, (she was Larry’s fiancée) and George who has broken his vow of silence with his father (he is now a NY attorney) stand face to face with the past, present and future.

Chris is now in the family business but carries that guilt with him always.  Kate, Joe’s wife still believes that Larry is alive and won’t even acknowledge that he might have died. Every one tiptoes around her so as not to upset the applecart. Kate knows that if she admits Larry’s death, she is in essence acknowledging Joe’s guilt in the matter.

Had Miller been alive today, he might have picked up on the scandal surrounding the automobile industry and the defective work some companies shoved under the rug and pretending not to notice. Cars with defective airbags were on the road and consumers were dying as a result of the flaws. Years after the fact the Feds finally got around to holding hearings and recalls.  

Miller’s 1947 play ran for only 328 performances but still managed to win the Tony Award for Best Author and Best Director of a Play. His criticism of the American Dream, that caused the downfall of Keller and the destruction of his family lies at the heart of “All My Sons”. It was the main reason Miller was called before the House Committee on Un American Activities in the 50’s. He was called out for his left leaning thinking and critique of greed and mendacity. 

What the powers that be failed to notice was the enormous tragedy that lay just beneath that struggle for the American way of life. Till this day “All My Sons” still packs a powerful punch.
Mark Anthony Flynn as George Deever and Emily Candia as Ann Deever
Now playing through Oct. 24th at OnSatge Playhouse in Chula Vista, director James P. Darvas and his somewhat uneven cast managed to hush the audience (on the night I arrended) when, Joe, confronted with the powerful and unrelenting truth of it all from George, Chris and Ann, admits that ‘they were all his sons’, my eyes welled up and I had all I could do stop my self from bawling.

Aaron Lugo is the goodness and blind innocence of son Chris who wants to believe with his entire being that his father is innocent of any wrongdoing. At one end of the truth and reality spectrum, he’s ready to move on with his life and settle down with Ann in spite of the fact that both parents object, for different reasons.

Lugo’s Chris grew on me as his character gained a backbone and showed some genuine heart, genuine remorse with a sincere understanding grasp of his part in this family dynamic.

Emily Candia is spunky as Ann Deever. It looked like she stepped right out of a 1940’s (Pam Stampoly-Ericson) bandbox. More than anything she doesn’t hold back on feelings as she subtly reasons from just happy to be back in the fold to knowing that that is the farthest thing from her reality. 

Mark Anthony Flynn's George hesitatingly steps into the Keller backyard, troubled and uncomfortable to be there. Expecting to find his sister Ann and take her away with him, he does an about face and softens when he sees Kate, but it’s not enough to convince him that Joe Keller didn’t ruin his family.

Allison Macdonald plays Kate with all the pent up emotions only a mother can understand, on the one hand and a concerned wife who knows her husband all too well on the other.
Mark Solz and Aaron Lugo as Chris Keller
When she cautions Joe: “Be smart, Joe, be smart” you know how complicated Ann is and that something is amiss in her oft times demanding and stubborn way. Back to that dynamic: what Joe did that many years ago, is always hanging in the balance of every move they make and ever word that speak.

Joe, played with mocking bravado and  undaunted reality to accepting responsibility by Mark Solz runs the gamut of emotion from ‘man on top of the world’ to finally getting that the boys that were killed by his decision to let the order go were not just about his sons (‘that he did it for his sons, to have a better life) but  that they were ‘all his sons”.  That is the passion and the truth of Miller.
Aaron Lugo and Emily Candia
Lesser characters, Dr. Jim Bayliss (Devon Wade) and his feisty wife Sue (played with too much anger and not enough subtly) by Jess Boles Lohmann, drop in and out of the Keller’s back yard as the drama of the Keller family percolates. They bought the Deever’s house and she, aware of the details of that night, evidently feels she has a right to push everyone around.

Dale Goodman’s lighting design is perfect and Pam Stompoly-Ericon’s hair designs come right out of the 40’s playbook framing the time.

“All My Sons” is still one of my all time Miller plays. Had the cast slowed down a bit in their delivery and their diction been more exact, this would have improved the overall satisfaction of a difficult play to mount.

I will never understand the savagery of war that makes us all victims and perpetrators at  once. Hats off to OnStage and Darvas for venturing into deep waters where no one comes out a winner and everyone is a loser. 

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Oct. 24th
Organization: OnStage Playhouse
Phone: 619-422-7787
Production Type: Drama
Where: 291 Third Ave. Chula Vista, CA
Ticket Prices: $22.00
Photo: Daren Scott

Thursday, September 27, 2018

“Bull in a China Shop” “You want a revolution?" “I am a revolution."

The old English15th century proverb ‘Children should be seen and not heard’ specifically referred to young women. No one told that to Mary Woolley who was on a journey to revolutionize women’s education at the dawn of the twentieth century. In 1899 New England she was interviewing for a job heading up a women’s seminary and she spared no one from hearing her out, vulgar language and all.

“Listen. I’m a bull in a china shop. You give me a struggling women’s seminary, I’ll give you a fu**ing preeminent school of critical thought for women.

You want training ground for good pious wives? F**k that. I’ll give you fully evolved human beings. So you’re afraid they won’t fine husbands? So what. I say: if a man is interested in a headless woman, send him to France. 

This was supposedly a practice run but in the play it was conducted by and for Dean Welsh (a most credible and steady Milena (Sellers) Phillips), the Dean of the school. It looked and sounded like the ‘real deal.’

“Bull in a China Shop” by Bryner Turner is the opening show of Diversionary Theatre’s 33rd season, and what a doozy it is. Turner calls it a “Queerling” of history. This is no “Children’s Hour”, Lillian Hellman’s play that premiered on Broadway about two women running an all-girls school, unjustly accused by an unhappy student, of being lesbians. Both women’s lives were eventually ruined.
Jo Anne Glover and Melena (Sellers) Phillips
It is an in your face story of two women, Mary Woolley (JoAnne Glover- Moxie Theatre ) and her lesbian lover and former student Jeannette Marks (Tamara McMillian-“Men on Boats”), who schlep off to South Hadley Mass. to change the world. One is a student and would be teacher the other president of the college. 

“Bull” traces Woolley and Marks’ tempestuous love affair through a modern lens but set at the turn of the 19th century that actually happened eons before the characters in Hellman’s 1934 play emerged.

Tamara McMillian

Leading up to her call to Holyoke Seminary for Women, (later changed to Mt. Holyoke) she was the first woman to attend Brown University in Rhode Island where she earned her Masters Degree and as we will learn both women, in their own right, had great influence on the Women’s Suffrage Movements that eventually led to the 19th Amendment and a woman’s right to vote.

Director Kim Strassburger’s keen eye for its brevity (the show is 90 minutes in length) and pin point short scenes sets the stage on Ron Logan’s sparse one door, a few windows and bed that converts to a desk, frame the story as the life and vicissitudes of the women sea- saws back and fourth.

While Woolley fought for the rights of the students to study lab, science and math and the donor’s were withdrawing their funds, Marks went on to create the first Theatre Arts Department and playwriting classes while getting her degree and becoming a sought after English professor.
Tamara Mc Millian and Andrea Agosto

Inspired by their letters, ”Bull” tells it like it is. The women’s relationship lasted nearly forty years and made it through the good, the bad and the ugly including a little dalliance by Marks with one of the students (president of her secret fan club), Pearl (Andrea Agosto) who had a mad crush on her when Wooley was on an extended trip to Asia.

Agosto gives a bravado performance when she is let down by Marks in their brief sexual encounter by standing outside her window and launches into a long diatribe of love, hate and  revenge.

Taking into consideration that so much is going on in a series of short sequences I never felt I was watching a play. The relationships are so genuine, so real I almost felt I was a fly on the wall seeing their love, joys and attitudes and ideas unfold, blemishes et al.
Jo Anne Glover as Woollsey
Marks’s insecurities as a lover fearing the loss of love of Woolley’s affections hung over their heads almost until the president’s house became a reality and the two, not separated by dorm living, became a reality.  Here they no longer needed to slink into each others rooms like it wasn't the best known secret on campus.

With the ebb and flow of outside influences altering the back and forth and the strengths of their personalities shifting like the sands of time the women we met at the top of the show had reversed roles several times.

Marks became popular with the students but scorned by the other faculty and Woolley matures in a way that felt as if she is almost backing down on her passionate desires to be a rebel and start a rebellion. 
Jo Anne Glover and Tamara Mc Millian
Both Glover and McMillian are at their best when they are taking on the world outside themselves and come to the same conclusions but from entirely different mindsets. It’s also heartening and heartbreaking to be with them engaging in their struggles for equality, especially now.  

Little would they know that women are still fighting for those same rights. What would they have to say about the mindset of men that reduce women to objects in the 21st century? I would say that’s for another time, but the time is now!

Costume designer Beth Connelly’ s aptly has Ms. Glover in more masculine attire while the multi racial cast is in turn of the century button up to the neck and floor length dresses or jumpers, all in Victorian getups, bloomers, buttoned up shoes and more femimine garb for Dean Welsh.  

Curtis Miller’s lighting and TJ Fucella’s sound add to the overall feel and look at what Diversionary Theatre, Ms. Turner and Ms. Strassburger might happily call an overall successful opening season play.

Hats off to Diversionary

 See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Oct. 14th
Organization: Diversionary Theatre
Phone: 619-220-0097
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 4545 Park Blvd. University Heights, 92116
Ticket Prices: $15.00-$55.00
Photo: Daren Scott

Saturday, September 22, 2018

“The Heart Of Rock And Roll” Makes World Premiere At Old Globe

The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa is mounting the world premiere of “The Heart Of Rock And Roll”, a jukebox musical based on the music of Huey Lewis And The News” through Oct. 21. 

No, it’s not his musical biography chronicling Lewis’s’ music as in “Beautiful”, Carole King’s musical journey or the  “Jersey Boys”, (‘Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons’) “Motown” or more recently “The Donna Summer Musical”.

To appreciate “The Heart of Rock And Roll”, think Jimmy Buffett’s  “Escape To Margaretville” or Abba’s “Mamma Mia”. Both feature the music of each artist but include a story to fit the music. “The Heart of Rock and Roll” uses that same formula with Jonathan A. Abrams’  (Book) and Tyler Mitchell’s and Jonathan A. Abrams (Story) with no less than 23 of their hit numbers, of which I recognized three.

As stories go, this one is about as sound as young (20 year old) Sophie Sheridan who is looking for one of three men that could possibly be her father by inviting them out to the Greek Island of Kalokairi, to walk her down the isle. It features at least 11 Abba hits that fit into the story.

In “The Heart of Rock & Roll” the story revolves around the dilemma Bobby (an excellently talented and charming Matt Doyle) a struggling thirty something musician, and his band buddies have to make about keeping their band together. 

Struggling to make it big, they lack the oomph needed to get them over the hump to be recognized, especially from band promoter Nina (a feisty Lindsay Nicole Chambers) who has already nixed them after seeing them perform at Chicago’s Empty Bottle Club. (“Walking The Thin Line”)

Bobby pawns his guitar and is off to the cooperate world of Stone (Inc.) Box Company in Milwaukee where they make (what else) cardboard boxes.  He applies for a job in sales (“Hip To Be Square”), steps out of his role right from the get go, snags a huge account with an odd ball client, Fjord (Orville Mendoza) a Finnish- Mongolian, if you will, who lures Bobby into the sauna to do a little ‘business’. He’s impressed with his sales know how.

This is all done over the protests of Stone owner’s daughter Cassandra (Katie Rose Clarke another talent with which to be reckoned) who is on his back every time she thinks he steps out of line, and if you can’t see where this story is heading… woe is me. (“Do You Believe in Love?”)

Other characters worth mentioning include Patricia Covington as Roz the HR gal at Stone Inc. She has some powerful chops. Cassandra’s smarmy boyfriend Tucker (Billy Harrington Tighe) who wants to swoop her off her feet, sell the business and settle her in to a life of an at home Mom, after being on the executive end of Stone, Inc. (Good luck on that one). He’s a pain in the behind but drew some laughs with some of his antics.

 Here’s a disclosure: I never heard of Huey Lewis And The News until I did some research after hearing about the show. My hero’s of Rock Roll (way back then) included Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Bill Haley and The Comets, Fats Domino and The Platters.

However I made a reality reality check with my adult daughters and  they were all on board and, of course knew about Lewis in the ‘80’s. (Where was I?)

To that end, I found the story line and the musical numbers plugged into the opening segments to be lacking in direction for the first twenty or so minutes; I had no idea where the story was going. Those around me though were almost falling out of their collective seats as soon as the lights dimmed.

My lack of enthusiasm wasn’t for the absence of talent. The nonsensical sit -com makeup of the show just never tickled my funny bone and the story was as predictable as day follows night.  

That said the entire cast is over the top screaming with talent. Bobby’s band-mates F. Michael Haynie, Lucas Papaelias, and Zachary Noah Piser all talented, but no cigar (in the play) reluctantly watch him leave the band.

As fate would have it they meet up in at the Great Lakes Shipping Convention in Chicago at he annual convention where the band is still trying to make a comeback and is still in need of a lead singer.

Derek McLane’s easy on easy off set designs brings us to several locations including the Navy Pier (in the background) the box factory and convention site where under Lorin Latarro’s clever choreography has the crew dancing on plastic bubble wrap, (“Working For A Living”) a hotel lobby and rooms as a meeting place for the ‘boxers’.

As a side there is quite a bit of dancing once again showing off the overall versatility and strength of the cast and the strong direction by Gordon Greenberg. Brian Usifer’s musical arrangements of Lewis’s hits sounded more like ballads, some rhythm and blues (to my ears) than my expectations of Rock & Roll.

Paloma Young’s costumes give most of the cast a squeaky clean -cut look keeping in line with the ‘80’s time frame and Howard Binkley’s lighting design puts a soft wash on the pastels. John Shivers and David Partridge’s sound deliver the goods to most everyone’s satisfaction.  

The show runs over two hours with one intermission. If it’s the hope of producers to bring another jukebox musical to Broadway, this one will need trimming and a bit more meat on its bones.

But it’s “The Power Of Love” that will drive Lewis and his team, his followers and his music to the next level. So go for it if you believe in that power and you can identify.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Oct. 21st
Organization: The Old Globe Theatre
Phone: 619-234-5623
Production Type: Jukebox Musical
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA
Ticket Prices: Start at $39.00
Venue: Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage
Photo: Jim Cox