Thursday, August 29, 2019

Wishful Thinking Aboard "The Coast Starlight”

There’s a lot going on in the minds of those aboard "The Coast Starlight” by Keith Bunin, developed last year under the DNA New Work Series at the Playhouse and aptly directed by Tyne Rafaeli. It is in a world premiere production and is currently on stage at the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre through Sept. 15.

The Coast Starlight leaves Los Angeles heads north and reaches its destination of 1377 miles, in Seattle in a about 35 hours and makes 28 stops along the way. It’s definitely not the starlight express but for the passengers aboard on this particular trip, the only one passenger, T.J. (Nate Mann), might have been better off if time stood still.
Mia Barron, Rob Yang, Stephanie Weeks, Nate Mann, Camila Cano-Flavia and Rhys Coiro
There's lots going on with the six passengers who connect with each other on different levels; some fit into the community at large, others are played out in the imagination or minds of what might have been said/done or changed minds.

Seldom do strangers on a train speak with one another. At one time I did have a lovely train partner from the Netherlands while traveling across Australia where we spent three days in the small cabin that was made into sleeping quarters at the end if the day. We actually became friends and exchanged visits.

And of course there was the trip across the country, from San Diego to Boston on the then Sky Chief (runner up to Amtrack) by train with my husband way back when. That trip took, I can’t even remember how many days but we did it both ways.  I love train travel. I’m a fan

Training it to Washington, DC, or New York or Florida was common- place in my younger days, as were the trips to LA to see friends and or theatre. I could almost identify with the activity or lack thereof of the six characters headed north on this day.
Camila Cano-Flavia, Rhys Coiro, Mia Barron and Nate Mann
Under  Rafaeli’s astute direction, those we met on the Coast Starlight, with the exception of T.J. and Jane (Camila Canó-Flavio) boarded at different stops. These two climbed aboard at Union Station in Los Angeles where we learn they noticed each other but never spoke. With almost nothing in common to get to know each other or not as the train ran north to Seattle, four more characters complete the trip together.  

 It’s made clear at the start that there was chemistry between Jane and T.J., but no conversation and late regrets. She was a sketch artist traveling north to see and possibly break with her boyfriend and he was a medic in the military, running away from his past with the idea of deserting his post at Camp Pendleton rather than being sent back to Afghanistan.

By the time we learn of his dilemma, he had fourteen hours to decide. It was the biggest decision of a lifetime, one that would forever alter his life and, and in some way have an effect on those around him that night. At the outset verbal exchanges might have happened or not but they let us in on what their thoughts were.

Noah (Rhys Coiro) got on at San Louis Obispo headed to Klamath Falls to stay with his ailing mother. Scruffy looking “He looked like somebody who’d had a rough time of it for a while”…. Jane observed. “I figured from his bag that he’d been a soldier.” (T.J.) “You go on the run, you’re a traitor.” (Noah)

Liz (Mia Barron), a lightning rod gets on in Salinas, cell phone on ear and ranting about being thrown out of a retreat (Esalen Institute): “They start off by talking by talking about techniques for improving our sex lives, which meant I had to imagine them having sex, and that was like imagining two stalks of celery having sex.” That excursion would be the end of her narriage.

Barron is simply a hoot as her ranting’s are loud enough and steamy with language to send enough energy to pull the emergency chord. Oblivious to all around her, she manages to attract everyone’s attention before she’s done. ‘Does she know we all can hear her?” (Jane). She was talking so loud, it drowned out everything I was thinking.”(T.J.)
Cast of The Coast Starlight
Traveling salesman Ed (Rob Yang), exhausted and downtrodden, is the next to board. They were now passing San Jose (first capitol of California chime Noah) and talk of the song became part of the conversation along with Ed’s half inebriated confessions of motels he has slept in to earn his living selling. “For the past three years I’ve been working as the California representative for a company called Investors Publicity. It’s barely a real company”

Last but not least to join is Anna (Stephanie Weeks) who is headed back to Olympia just having been to San Francisco (Mission District) to identify her brother’s body. Of the six, I found her story more like of add on that if left off might not have changed the outcome or dynamic of the interactions of the rest.

Of the six, the shared stories and exchange of experiences shared by Noah and T.J. are the most insightful, truthful and meaningful. Noah, down on his luck and living on someone else’s boat (sort of boat sitting) has some pretty straight talk to T.J. who, young and vulnerable with no immediate family to advise finally must make his decision; to go back and finish his duties, or go AWOL.

We all have stories, some more compelling than others. Strangers on a train, traveling for some 35 hours together gives credence to the fact that after a while, communications and curiosity will break down the sound barrier and eventually, we will share, meditate and wonder silently, if I had only spoken my thinking, how much more interesting these hours might have been.

With a more than competent, gifted and straightforward ensemble Bunin’s “The Coast Starlight” offers some interesting ideas and impressions (there is almost no action save the moving of the seats on the train designed by Arnulfo Maldonado) in the art of communication without ever having a dialogue.
Rhys Coiro, Rob Yang, Camila Cano-Flavia, Nate Mann, Stephanie Weeks and Mia Barron
Lap Chi Chu designed the effective lighting and Denitsa Bliznakova the contemporary costumes and while I expected to hear something resembling train sounds in the background and passing scenery on the screen behind, none was there.  I’ll have to revert back to Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind”.

It’s new; it’s different and has great storytelling. If you are in the mood for a meditative sans action this is a great place to start.


See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Sept.15th
Organization: La Jolla Playhouse
Phone: 858-550-1010
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037
Ticket Prices: Start at $20.00
Venue: Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre
Photo: Jim Carmody

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Moxie Celebrates Fifteen Years With Coming of Age Teens In “Dance Nation”.

It seems only fitting that Moxie Theatre, still in her teen years feature as its fifteenth season opening production “Dance Nation”, a San Diego premiere by Clare Barron. It’s about a group of pre- teen-division dancers (played by adults) rehearsing for the national champion dance competition in Tampa Bay, Florida to take the NATIONALS!
Cast of "Dance Nation"
Before they get there they still have to win the Legacy Talent Competition in Philadelphia; Akron, Ohio for Star Power USA; and Lanoka, New Jersey, for the Boogie Down Grand Prix. It’s a mighty task considering all the other ‘stuff’ going on in the dancer’s minds and what lies ahead. Let’s just say leaving twelve behind and entering your tween/teen years is not for sissies.

Yours truly remembers feeling awkward and out of place among my peers. Most were still bone skinny and I was already feeling the pressures of being overweight and, if you can believe it, the tallest girl in my 6th grade class. I’m still overweight and the shortest or so of my compatriots; so to hell with those years.

Along with the complexities of the dance moves (credit choreographer Lisa M. Green) they have to learn for the competition, the in fighting between the dancers as to who will come out of rehearsals the most valued, and who will take the lead in the new piece, the play takes us on a side journey, one of growing up with new discoveries of both mind and body and how obsessive those thoughts can become.
Darren Scott as as Dance Teacher Pat surrounded by his dancers
Barron’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist, “Dance Nation” is oft amusing, oft challenging, oft uncomfortable and squirming in your seat - I’d rather be someplace else rather than watching these almost reaching puberty women (and one guy) struggle with the first oncome of a  menstrual cycle, to what it feels like to lose your virginity to wondering what the first real kiss would feel like.  

While pushing to be the best and somehow never making it, still being attached to mother, and having self doubts and acknowledging in you heart of hearts that you are better than you give yourself credit for are just the tips of the iceberg topics happening as the company struggles to become one cohesive group.

The new piece they will be rehearsing will be called ‘Gandhi’. Daren Scott’s Dance Teacher Pat is both sympathetic and often authoritarian and brittle. He has the troupe making hissing cat sounds with what look like werewolf teeth, while patting himself on the back by telling the troupe:  “Something special. Something these judges have never seen before. Something that’s gonna kick ‘um in the gut and tell them there’s a revolution coming out of Liverpool, Ohio.”
Andrea Agosto as Ashlee
To accomplish all this in a one act play, director Eve Thorn, with her overall special cast of nine, interrupts the practicing away from the dancing and allows the cast to think out loud with wonderful soliloquies; some more powerful than others. (Credit Nat Parde for the effective lighting)

As mentioned above the actors are adults playing twelve to thirteen year olds tweens. There is never a doubt that after hearing their stories of anxieties, mother separation issues, fantasies, sexual development on their path to adulthood, convinces they are just what they represent in a kind of memory play of what they were/might have been/ will turn out to be. 

Joy Yvonne Jones (“Voyeurs de Venus”) is Zuzu, tall, stately, graceful and delightful to watch, determined to be the best struggles to understand why her dancing couldn’t cure her mother’s cancer or even make her cry.   

Her best friend Amina (Wendy Maples) is teachers pet and is being groomed as the next lead in the new play. Jones is by far the most graceful and quite stunning in her every move but as we watch her, unless you have the confidence and will to push ahead, you stay at number two. Amina has IT and pushes past everyone else in her determination to get it. Maples plays it low keyed but decidedly unwavering.
Joy Yvonne Jones and Wendy Maples
Zuzu’s mom (Sarah Karpicus plays all the mom’s) is her teacher and not so gentle on her daughter, but Luke (Eddie Yaroch) says ‘I’m a genius dancer, but he’s lying because he’s in love with me.’ So Jone's thirteen -year old –mind continues with self-doubts and as one looking for approval, Jones plays it to the hilt.

Ashlee, ‘if I get a dog it’s gonna be a wolf dog’, (Andréa Agosto) has by far has the standout monologue, confirming that all she denied about herself in the past was rubbish and now she’s going forward with confidence admitting she’s ready to go out there, show the world how good and assured she really is. Agosto, who has been seen in several Moxie productions, gives a Brava performance.

Farah Dinga’s Connie is shy but competitive and yearns for the lead as Gandhi. What she gets is not exactly what she prayed for. Sandra Ruiz’s Sofia is consumed with her sexuality and body parts and Yaroch’s Luke is the only guy in the group and somewhat of a mama’s boy. He is considered one of the girls as far as the rest are concerned but does a back turn when asked if he was circumcised.  Yes, the questions go off in many directions.

Li-Anne Rowswell plays Maeve with a trusting naiveté and childlike attitude and a passion for saving wolves. Wendy Maples Amina, and Joy Yvonne Jones’ Zuzu have their moments as ‘best’ friends, but the competition strains that friendship.

Scott’s Dance Teacher Pat is one of those personality roles that one compliments the other. Neither is far from the truth, Outside, the male dominated character in the play whose only interest is in perfecting the dancers, Scott delivers in spades. 

Writing about pre-teens in this day in age is quite different than it would have been in my day. One of the earliest plays I saw while on a visit to New York was Lillian Hellman's 1934 "The Children's Hour". The young girls in that play were a nasty lot, but everything in the plot was through implication. I can’t ever recall the language here (“pussy”) that would ever pass muster in my circle of friends without turning bright red. But then again I can’t imagine a president Roosevelt, Truman or Eisenhower using that language either.
(l to r) Eddie Yaroch, Joy Yvonne Jones, Daren Scott, Sarah Karpicus Violet, Farah Dinga, (center) Andrea  Agosto, Li-Anne Rowswell and Sandra Ruiz
Taking the piece as a whole and detailing each girl’s inner most desires and thoughts is a true test of knowing from whence the playwright comes. It’s an interesting study; one that will be at the forefront of my 11 year old grandson’s development as he enters his teens.
"Dance Nation"
Having three girls in the household with two years separating them always baffled my late husband as most of the drama in the play was played out in our household throughout their tween, teen and entering adulthood years.  

Credit Reiko Ries set design with the mirrored background moveable panels, Kate Bishop costumes (you had to love those sailor suits in the beginning), and Lily Voon, the sound design.

Once again Moxie Theatre has tipped the scales in bringing diverse and exciting theatre to our little playground in Rolando. It’s a trip worth taking. If you take an offspring it’s well advised to take someone a bit older than those in the troupe of dancers.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Sept. 15th
Organization: Moxie Theatre
Phone: 858-598-7620
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 6663 El Cajon Blvd. Suite N San Diego, Ca. 92115
Ticket Prices: Start at $20.00
Photo: Daren Scott

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Young Lovers Strive For Meaning in A Sandbox Under The Stars.

In Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” just seen on the Festival Stage last, Jacques speaks his oft -repeated poem “All the world’s a stage…” Moving forward, in the Globe’s current out-door showing, through Sept. 15th, the tragic love story between two young lovers, “Romeo and Juliet”, the stage is one giant sandbox designed by Takeshi Kata.
Cast at the ball
Their families, the Montague’s and the Capulet’s, carry out their hate fest for each other as they trek and run back and forth in the sand, sans sandals, in and around the sandbox edges; stage a masque ball, and carry out the rivalry between the two households as their revenge and angst continues well into the lives of the innocent lovers who pay in spades for their parents petty squabbles.

Friends, household occupants and relatives of each party, Juliet’s nurse (Candy Buckley, coming on as a comical character (“Bewitched” unlike in other performances), Friar Lawrence and Friar John (Jesse J. Peres and Jersten Seraile) and Capulet servant, (Hallie Peterson is a hoot as she rushes to deliver/read messages she can’t read) are there at the bidding of both households in a fast paced production, especially in the first act, that almost loses sight of what’s to come.
Aaron Clifton Moten and Ben Chase
Mercutio, (an over the top and high-spirited Ben Chase) Romeo’s close friend and Tybalt Juliet’s belligerent cousin (Yadira Correa) stage their famous duel (“curses on both houses”) with swords, knives, daggers and lances fished out from strategic places in the sand, as the all too oblivious young lover’s play cat and mouse avoiding any adult supervision.

In that same sandbox the lovers, in an overly choreographed love scene, consummate their marriage, speak of love, hate, anger with passion and sincerity, yet more tragically, die in each others arms as the adults who might have acted like adults, look on in horror at what they had done to their children.

It’s all so Shakespeare, even if abbreviated, and yet so heartbreaking, especially after just coming from an emotional “West Side Story”, the takeoff on Romeo and Juliet set to Leonard Bernstein’s music.
Aaron Clifton Moten and Louisa Jacobson
Coincidentally Edelstein’s production has lots of music including references to “I Love Lucy”, and “West Side Story”, with original music of Mark Bennett and Justin Gray playing the piano off to the side of the stage, with a large candelabrum for effect.

This new and appealing production, one you will not want to miss, oft comical and charming, delightful and refreshing, sometimes distracting with too much sand flying about has panels of a panoramic scene in the background of a modern day Verona that changes from black and white to washed red complete the picture and playing space.

But for the younger audiences on opening night, Edelstein put the ‘C’ in Camp capturing the high level, bordering on feverish mood with a lot of shtick. There’s a party happening, drinks are flowing, a new bling necklace is waiting in the wings and after crashing in on the party,  Romeo has just sighted the girl of his dreams.

A tinker toy piano with a Liberace candelabra at the ball, in the middle of the sand box where Juliet plays and sings a takeoff on Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana”, is a hoot as the cast does the cha-cha-, of course in the sand.  This is classic shtick that Juliet does just to please her father, brings the house down. 

“Lola the showgirl… “her name was Lola, She was a showgirl…at the Copacabana ‘ the hottest spot north of Havana. They were young and they had each other. Who could ask for more?” set a laugh fest that lasted for a time
Jesse Perez, Louisa Peterson amd Aaron Clifton Moten

One little shtick that turned me off was Romeo looking more like  a troubadour, strumming his guitar and mocking Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”… “Well your faith was strong but needed proof, saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya…Hallelujah  just didn’t work for me even as Romeo was trying to shake off his once feelings for Rosalind. 

As director Edelstein notes, “The show is a celebration of youth and a cautionary tale about all the forces that buffet young people as they make their way through the world”.   

At the heart of this romantic tale of love and revenge is the sexy, attractive, charming and appealing (my words not Shakespeare’s) Aaron Clifton Morten’s Romeo.

Dressed in modern day white jeans and blue button down dress shirt, (Judith Dolan) and barefooted, his portrayal of one half of the star -crossed lovers and his instant attraction for Juliet at the ball sets in motion a tsunami that will wash over both families.
Louisa Jacobson
Lovely Louisa Jacobson’s Juliet is as quirky and impulsive as most teenagers seem to be as she ponders her star status as her age and station in life dictate that she marry.

Her slow merging from youthful play to lovelorn to some maturity, subtle as it was, takes shape as the star crossed lovers become one and she vacillates between love and hate when she learns Romeo has killed her cousin in that all to fateful duel.

Her father Lord Capulet (an of over the top and unnecessarily loud Cornell Womack) announces  that he has chosen a husband for his daughter, Juliet, a young and clueless Paris. (Mason Conrad) He is a nobleman and suitable suitor for the Capulet’s. Unbeknownst to her father she has already wed Romeo.

With much ado both Lord Capulet’s and Lady Capulet, (Sofia Jean Gomez) insist she readies for her wedding day sooner rather than later. All seems like fun and games for the young at heart especially the lingering moments at the balcony scene that could have gone on all night were it not for a call to Juliet from her nurse.

Children in their teens, both finding instant love in and for one another plan and plot of getting married on the sly and taking off to be away from the family feuding. With the help of a cockamamie plan by Friar Lawrence that set the stage for a more thoughtful and somber Act II, the lighting dimmed (Stephen Strawbridge) and the sound more muted (Sten Severson) with the realization that all would not be well in the dark caverns of Verona.

Death Scene
As was predicted, nothing ended as it should or everything ended as was laid out by a youthful Bard at a time when the sins of the ‘fathers were visited on the children and the children, in this case, as was in the case of Chava and Fyedka in “Fiddler On The Roof” and Tony and Maria in “West Side Story”, were led down the primrose path thinking the world was their oyster when in fact, it was nothing of the sort.

Opening and closing the show with two with two young children (Jaydn Washington and Veda Cienfuegos) with pails and shovels shown playing together without a care in the world might be symbolic to some, but seemed to be pushing the button too far. 
Cast of Romeo and Juliet
Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy will be remembered, children or not, and this particular production with an outstanding cast overall, will be talked about for this director’s out of the box (er sandbox) interpretation for many moons to come.   

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Sept. 15th
Organization: The Old Globe
Phone: 619-2345623
Production Type: Tragedy
Where: Old Glob Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Venue: Lowell Davies Festival Stage
Photo: Jim Cox