Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Strayed's “Tiny Beautiful Things” Gives Permission to Ask for Help.

Unless you live in an alternative universe asking for help, for yours truly anyway, is one of the most difficult things to do. Asking for help from friends or family is even harder. But evidently not when it comes to strangers especially a stranger you cannot see, like a Dr. Ruth or an Ann Landers or a Dear Abby. 
Opal Alladin as Sugar
So when Sugar, or ‘Dear Sugar’ no first name, last name and sans experience took on the non paying job of offering on line advice to perfect strangers, it changed her life and those who took a chance and reached out for something/someone to soothe their heavy hearts.

Cheryl Strayed, author “Torch”, “Brave Enough” and  “Wild”, published her best selling “Dear Sugar”, based on her anonymous relationships with her advice seekers, it literally took on a life of it’s own.

Academy Award winner Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) adapted the book to stage and is now in an excellent west coast premiere production (James Vásquez) at the Old Globe Theatre/ Sheryl and Harvey White, through March 17th.

Sugar” is excellently played by Opal Alladin giving her advice from her home (Wilson Chin) in between sorting laundry, making lunches for her family, washing dirty dishes left from over meals, picking up toys and eventually returning to her computer from time to time to respond to on-line questions.

L to R. Avi Roque (#3), Keith Powell # 1. (Dorcas Sowunmi #2) Opal Alladin (center)
She is the one constant as the letter writer”#1, #2 and #3 (Keith Powell, Dorcas Sowunmi and Avi Roque) take on several characters. All in due time and convincingly so, they come on to the scene, sometimes one at a time oft times all four are on the stage together.  

They are not touching and it almost feels that they are the only ones there.  They move about taking drinks from the fridge while at the same time the give and take of those asking for advice, the answers are given in turn sometimes making eye contact sometimes not.

If you have ever read any one of the Dear Advice Columns you can expect stock answers. At the outset, Sugar was never one of those types.
After contemplating what another advice columnist would say, she came to the conclusion that most writers wanted to hear the ‘truth’ as when one writer talks about the last words her mother said was ‘love’; “She was 45 and sick and weak she couldn’t muster up the ‘I’ or ‘You’ but it didn’t mater”. 

Dorcas Sowunmi 
From the heart Sugar always responded by telling her own story about her own mother’s death and how powerful the word ‘love is’ and “tackle the mother fu**ing shit out of love.  Look we’re all going to die. Hit the iron bell like its dinnertime.”  Or the letter writer WTF was his contribution.

Sugar always seemed to hit the nail on the head when responding. To some: “Dear All Of Us Who Want To Please,” or “I’m 34 years old and I’m transgender, I was born a female but I knew I was meant to be a male”, and the questions keep coming.

Opal Alladin
Some stories are  difficult to listen to as when a youngster was sexually abused by her grandfather, or the best advice I’ve given is ‘forgiveness’.  

Until finally a bereaved father (an over powering performance by Powell) wrote a list of twenty-two reasons why he can’t go on after the death of his son. “How do I become human again?” Sugar answers each question by the numbers, finally; “Make something of your sons legacy and make it beautiful.”

Thoughtfully directed and staged by James Vasquez in the intimate theatre in the round with solid help from Amanda Zieve’s lighting, Melanie Chen Cole’s sound design and Shirley Pierson’s cozy and casual costumes, “Tiny Beautiful Things” is a shared collection of heartbreak, fun and acceptance performed and acted, in this 90 minute show and tell, if you will play that leaves each of us, who don’t write to Dear Anyone, to reflect on our own behaviors and stories that we tell ourselves.

Opal Alladin and Avi Roque
My heart jumped a few beats when at the end she shares this: “A little girl will get on the bus holding the strings of two purple balloons. She’ll offer you one of the balloons, but you won’t take it because you believe you no longer have a right to such tiny beautiful things. You’re wrong. You do.
Yours Sugar..

Keith Powell (writer #1)
Hats off to the Od Globe with two winning shows back to back in both theatre's. (Familiar closes on the 3rd of March).

Definitely worth a try.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through March 17th
Organization: The Old Globe Theatre
Phone: 619-234-5623
Production Type:
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92103
Ticket Prices: $Start at $30.00
Web: theoldglobe.org
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
Photo: Jim Cox

Monday, February 25, 2019

Broadway San Diego “Aladdin” Sprinkles Gold Dust On A Tried And True Legend.

The first national tour of “Aladdin”, with all the glitz Broadway and Las Vegas can muster, flies easily (on its magic carpet) into the Civic stage as effortlessly its Genie (Major Attaway) holds us in his grips the moment he’s let out of his lamp. (“Friend Like Me”)

Lissa de Guzman and Clinton Greenspan
And while the star is the wayward street urchin, Aladdin (Clinton Greenspan) who tries to woo princess Jasmine (the beautiful but kickass Lissa deGuzman) no one on the set entertains and holds us hostage as Attaway aka Genie does.

The 1992 Disney animated film of the same name is based on the Arabic folklore “One Thousand and One Nights” as it follows Aladdin’s trail finding the magic lamp and unleashing a bigger than life Genie to his elusive street games to his meeting the princess to his attempts to win her over to final success. 

Major Attaway as Genie

As the story goes Aladdin is broke and needs some kind of something to get money to live. Petty pick pocketing and stealing won’t do the trick. After he finds the lamp and releases Genie he gets three wishes. He is totally smitten with the Sultans daughter, meeting her by chance in the market square. He disguises himself as a wealthy prince hoping to impress the Sultan (Jerald Vincent) and his daughter and eventually ask for her hand in marriage.

Clinton Greenspan as Aladdin
Any resemblance to the film will have to be gleaned from the story and the songs with music by Alan Menkin, lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin and book by Chad Beguelin, not from the glitz seen from top to bottom and side to side with Bob Crowley scenic design, Ken Travis’ sound design, Gregg Barns costumes, Natasha Katz’ lighting and direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw. But OH it is enchanting.

This Pot’O Gold and pure enjoyment show flows seamlessly  from the busy streets of Agrabah to the palace gates  and back again filling our senses with colorful costumes, statuesque models prancing, dancing and singing. Both Greenspan and de Guzman are in fine voice.

Aladdin’s pals Zach Bencal, Philippe Arroyo and Jed Felder (Babkak, Omar and Kassim) always at the ready for Aladdin to either break away from some sinister plots by the sorcerer Jafar and his side kick  Iago, (Jonathan Weir and Jay Paranada both humorously effective), to landing in jail with him or just plain entertaining and goofing off give way to the rest of the cast to show off their singing, dancing and acting prowess. 

Clinton Greenspan as Aladdin
The fast paced plot (even though it runs a bit over two hours) with an over abundance of talented ensemble members slows down a bit when the two lovers (“A Whole New World” ) manage to show some affection looking like the real deal when they magically fly above the city on their magic carpet; it is truly the stuff of fairy-tales. Fairy tale and all the love story is on again off again but pays off for the lovers in the end. Sigh!
Lissa de Guzman
Danny Troob’s orchestrations along with conductor/director Faith Seetoo’s rich sounds coming from the pit puts this production in the must see column.

Billed as a family show, and without the hokey-pokey that might be going on in Vegas stays there, this wonderfully entertaining production is well worth the trip downtown for the whole family.

Spectacular Dancing

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through March 3rd
Organization: Broadway San Diego
Phone: 619-570-1100
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1100 Third Ave, Downtown San Diego 92101
Ticket Prices: Start at $33.00
Web: broadwaysd
Venue: Civic Theatre
Photo: Deen van Meer

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

"Hour Of Great Mercy” Finds Safe Haven At Diversionary Theatre.

Playwright Miranda Rose Hall’s brand new play, “The Hour Of Great Mercy” is making its world Premiere at Diversionary Theatre on Park Boulevard through March 3rd where it has found a safe haven in that community’s house.

Far from the crashing waves and almost expected non-stop sunshine of San Diego, Ms. Hall’s play takes place in the hinterlands of a fictional Alaskan town (her words) of Bethlehem, population 25,000 give or take. Most residents see very little daylight and when the population does grow, it’s not by leaps and bounds, it’s more like one birth maybe a year if that. The same can be said about the loss of a long term resident.  
Andrew Oswald, Patrick Mayuyu, Eileen Rivera, Tom Stephenson and Dana Case with the Aurola Borelalis in background
What is also significant about this particular location, whether real to the playwright or not, the irony does not go unnoticed. What happens in this remote snowy desert of Alaska where redemption, forgiveness, mercy, reconciliation, death, compassion and the priesthood, Jesuit that is, is that every decision made is based on some ingredient baked into the sum total of at least one tenant of Catholicism.

If you’ve ever been to the Holy Land, Bethlehem might be on your list of places to visit since…well, I’m the last person to educate anyone about Bethlehem, except to say that I have been there. And, I might add, I did learn that the “Hour Of Great Mercy” refers to the time that Jesus died”.

But far from cultural and religious atmosphere, of Baltimore, MD, Alaska was where the playwright relocated, after college, to ‘perform service with a Jesuit volunteer corps’ …for people receiving long term and –end- of- life care.
Andrew Oswald and Dana Case
This is where we first meet Maggie (a convincing and compelling Dana Chase) lecturing to a class on Gun Safety. She is interrupted when her brother-in-law Ed comes into the room and all bets are off for the class to continue. In reality, Maggie invited Ed to come home.

Dana Case as Maggie
Ed (an equally credible and gentle Andrew Oswald) a former Jesuit priest left Bethlehem years ago to come out and live a life more normal to his life style than the restrictions of the priesthood.  

His alcoholic brother Roger (Tom Stephenson gives a two thumbs up bravo performance), is the reason for Ed’s return home as well for some reconciliation and forgiveness.

A tragedy of enormous proportions happened to this small family and both brothers found terms to deal in very different ways.  Ed left. Roger took to drinking. Ed is also dying of ALS/ Lou Gerig's Disease. More importantly, he is planning on taking his own life.  Roger wants nothing to do with his brother and refuses to see or speak with him; doesn’t even seem moved when the news of Ed’s condition and contemplations are revealed.

Tom Stephenson
Most of Roger’s time is spent in his makeshift radio hut heavy with  family trinkets (Kristen Flores) where he talks of local news to those interested. It is his get-a-way and a platform to escape from dealing with his pain and loss of feelings except for the bitterness and loath he harbors in his being, and that includes his relationship with his soon to be ex -wife, Maggie.  

One of Roger’s detractor’s is the elderly Irma (Eileen Rivera), who also has history of loss in her small family. Irma immigrated fro the Philippines with her husband years ago and is a regular pain in Roger’s arse. She provides much comic relief to some rather heavy -handed topics and shows up just at the right time adding much needed levity to some very deep and emotional topics.

Playing an important role in Ed’s life is a young man, Joseph (a beautifully intelligent and emotional Patrick Mayuyu) who meets Ed at the waters edge as he about to go through with his threat. 
Patrick Mayuyu and Andrew Oswald
Joseph, a nurse, has just gotten the shaft from his former lover and is ripe for a fast romp but his compassion for Ed is so deep that it becomes almost a religion in and of itself.  Together they and a very feisty Irma, form a family bond where they look over and take care of each other. 

Staged beautifully by veteran actor, Rosina Reynolds  (“Twilight Of The Golds”, “Broken Glass” and “Golda’s Balcony”) now in the director’s chair, the action takes place in short, economical scenes that in their totality bring the characters full circle to where each has the blessing of another in this compelling and compassionate, somewhat poetic family drama.

Each frame weaves the complexities and raw emotions that brings to life, in the baron wilderness of the Northern Lights, a family adrift yet held together by commonality and a deeply felt religious conviction.

Ms. Reynolds and her talented cast along with the technical support from the staff at Diversionary include costumes by Elisa Benzoni, sound by Emily Jankowsky and lighting by Curtis Miller is laced with some well- meaning humor, that puts to rest that religion can’t have its light side by -side moments of understanding and forgiveness.
Eileen Rivera
Ms. Hall and Diversionary are to be congratulated in this world –class collaboration. The playwright is also under commission from LCT3/ Lincoln Center, Yale Rep., and Trinity Rep. and is currently Resident Playwright and ensemble member with LubDub Theatre in New York. If you want something done ask a busy person.

Thanks to Artistic Director of Diversionary Matt Morrow, because of his foresight our community is richer for this experience.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through March 3rd.
Organization: Diversionary Theatre
Phone: 619-220-0097
Production Type: Drama
Where: 4545 Park Blvd. #101, San Diego, CA 92116
Ticket Prices: $15.00-$50.00
Web: diversionary.org
Photo: Simpatika