Wednesday, February 26, 2020

North Coast’s “The Outsider” Tickles, Taunts And Jabs In Political Satire.

Paul Slade Smith’s “The Outsider” currently making a West Coast premiere on North Coast Repertory Theatre’s stage in Solana Beach through March 22nd knocks a triple whammy (as in ‘sock it to me’); hit me over the head, in your face farce.

 It’s also a comedy and a tragedy and satire. You name it. As directed by artistic director David Ellenstein and with some of the best comedic actors San Diego has, along with very little subtlety, and warned by the ushers upon entering the house, “a visit to the loo before the show would be advised because non-stop laughing might lead to peeing your pants, it’s touted as being that funny”.
John Seibert as Ned Newley
Laugh we did, pee our pants, not so much, cry in our boots, almost and nod in agreement that what’s political satire today, could in fact lead to political tragedy tomorrow if the message weren’t so outrageously on target.

Smith wrote the play in 2015 when things weren’t as critical as they are now. The more we enter into the twilight zone of politics 2020 Smith’s political musings become the reality most would like to forget.

(L. To R)
Shana Wride, Christopher M. Williams, Louis Lotorto, John Seibert and Jacque Wilke
Ellenstein’s more than competent cast with the inimitable Jacque Wilke as Louise, who is hired as a temp to answer the phones  (“Just to let you know, phones are not my strongest area.”) is a breath of fresh air as the ever smiling optimistic receptionist who manages to eat all the waiting room candy and then ask it it’s OK? 

Bright lights like Wilke are a must in every production when ‘looking at the bright side’ is a necessity.

The brunt of the political ‘outsider’ in Smith’s play of the same name is the guy not quite ready to step into the shoes of the ‘insider’, a smooth talking governor, who was thrown out of office because of a sex scandal…don’t compare, it takes the fun out of it. No, he’s the polar opposite of the last guy to fall.
John Seibert as Ned and Loius Lorotto as Arthur Vance
Ned Newley (a quirky John Seibert) is/was lieutenant Gov. of his small New England State (Sounds like Vermont by way of references) but is suddenly propelled into the job of now being the head of the state.  He must make an appearance on TV announcing his new job. He is paralyzed at the thought of it and bumbles his way through a three-minute interview and swearing in ceremony that wouldn’t impress the least savvy of voter.  

When the reviews or polls come in by pollster extraordinaire, Paige, (a sharp and comically nimble Shana Wride) on his approval ratings as to his first ever TV appearance, he fails mumbling, stammering and trembling. But good news is in the way in the person of Arthur Vance (Louis Lotorto) a big shot  ‘on CNN every election night.’ He wants to be Ned’s political consultant/ advisor. Lotorto, last seen as Emperor Joseph II in the Rep's "Amadeus", pust in a convincing performance the man in the know of politics.

Dave Riley (an appealing and savvy comic in his own right Christopher M. Williams) who was the sole person on Ned’s staff as Lt. Governor, soon to be Governor, that is until there is a special election making it official, has his doubts about Vance and reluctantly goes with the flow. He invites TV reporter Rachel (an appealing Natalie Storrs) to question Ned but that too goes badly. 
John Seibert, Jacque Wilke, Natalie Storrs and Max Macke (in background) 
Timing, the say, is everything and on that score two things are evident: the timing of the show being produced at this particular junction just as the primaries for 2020 are in the news and are alignment with the sun, moon and stars, so too is the excellent timing of the actors especially when they get into some of the most outrageously hysterical situations. This is where PMP comes in.
John Seibert, Jacque Wilke, Natalie Storrs and Max Macke
Vance tries to persuade the public and Ned’s staff of two that being the ‘outsider’ might just be the way to go to win elections. He dumb’s Ned down to look like a country bumpkin clothes and all, (Elisa Benzoni) and promotes him as a man of and for the people. All this happens on Marty Burnett’s ‘official’ looking and handsome government office looking single set.

Truth will have it, as Ned’s fall and rise in the numbers game, the big surprise is that he’s smarter and sharper than anyone in the room on a one on one as with the TV soundman A.C. Petersen (a tongue tied one note spot on Max Macke) the ‘everyman’ Ned’s consultant’s are counting on.
Christopher M. Williams as Dave and John Seibert is Ned
Smith’s “Outsider” is a romp into the world of political extremes as seen through different lenses as the population shifts from one end of the spectrum to the other. Fortunately Director Ellenstein keeps the pace at elevated speed as we watch the transition of Ned from someone behind the scenes to just what the state needed in the person as, yes, everyman.

With a cast equal to the task everyone on board has their moments but no one will forget Ms. Wilke, whose performance is consistently at a at the top of her game.


See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through March 22nd
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 858-481-1055
Production Type: Comedy/Satire
Where: 987 Lomas Santa Santa Fe Dr., Suite D, Solana beach, CA
Ticket Prices: Start at $46.00
Photo Credit: Aaron Rumley

Thursday, February 20, 2020

“A Kind Of Weather” Makes World Premiere At Diversionary Current Fare.

Playwright Sylvan Oswald identifies as a transmasculine interdisciplinary artist. That’s a mouthful for those of us just getting used to the words ‘trans’ or ‘transitioning’ or ‘transgender’, gender nonconformity, transsexual, gender reassignment, queer gender or labeling ones self as we/they or us. In the words of other mortals, “Get used to it!~ 
August Forman and AndrewOswald in "A  Kind Of Weather" At Diversionary.
Just recently at the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Awards Ceremony, gender -neutral “Best” awards were ‘transitioned’ into categories that used to be gender identified.

No longer applicable thanks to artists like Jeremy Wilson, who won Outstanding Lead Performer in a Play as Hedwig in Diversionary’s “Hedwig And The Angry Inch”, or Pig Pen’s/ Old Globe’s Bianca Norwood’s portrayal of Despereaux at the Old Globe’s “The Tale Of Despereaux”, gender -neutral is here to stay.

In program notes Executive Director Matt Morrow writes: “While A Kind Of Weather” is not a ‘trans 101’ or trans coming out story, it does explore how gender fundamentally influences our lives, and how we as humans are always in a state of transitioning.”

Kid, an impressive August Forman, now making an outstanding debut in Sylvan Oswald’s world premiere production “A Kind Of Weather” at Diversionary Theatre through March 8th, gets an unexpected visit from his father Grey (Andrew Oswald -no relation to the playwright) whom he has not seen or been in communication with for some time.

August Forman as Kid in "A Kind of Weather" 
Why Grey shows up on Kid’s doorstep at his one bedroom apartment in Flatbush, N.Y. is anyone’s guess. Surely it’s an uncomfortable situation especially when he learns the stay is not just an overnight one. Nope. Suitcases indicate more than a one night stand.

The last time Grey saw Kid he was a she and now he is a transgender man on the verge of writing his memoirs about his transition. Unless I missed something, I’m still unsure of the Why of Grey’s visit unless it’s as simple as he’s lonesome and had no where else to go.

We learn Grey left his medical profession/practice and had an affair while married to Kid’s mother. The mother left the family home to spend time on Jamaica in a shabby motel room where both parents enjoyed good times. Shortly after she arrived on the island, she died. Period. Its no wonder Grey looked as confused as I felt. 
Marci Anne Wuebben and Andrew Oswald
Janice (Marci Anne Wuebben) was Grey’s par amour.  In flashback, she shows up during happier times when the couple was playful, in love and loving life. Why she left Grey after their affair is never fully explored.   

Oft times Grey is aware he’s in Flatbush, other times he thinks he’s in Jamaica, the island that is, not the Jamaica in the borough of Queens. There is no question he’s confused, sad and lonely. On the other hand, Kid seems pretty well adjusted for someone going through some tough life altering changes and all he wants is be left alone.

Kid is also a writer and on a book deadline. He is in the throws of a romantic affair with his book editor Rose (Andréa Agosto) and in between his life he’s trying to deal with his father’s acceptance of now having a son, depression, loss of wife, lover and especially his daughter; a quadruple whammy.
Cast of "A Kind Of Weather"
In the wings, Ricky (Solomón Maya) Rose’s boss, has concerns that Rose’s relationship with Kid will get in the way of her being a fair broker. Why his character is important to the story still  baffles me.

“A Kind Of Weather” as directed by Bea Basso, is time jumping and fluid as the prevailing winds. As a nonlinear piece the transitions from past to present to Flatbush to Jamaica can happen in the space of moments. Helping to follow with the transitions come when Forman and Oswald break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience and to one another sharing family secrets and light banter.
Andrea Agosto and August Forman
As usual Diversionary is at the top of its game with an excellent cast. Andrew Oswald just having received ‘Outstanding Lead Performance Award’ from the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle for his role “Hour Of Great Mercy” at Diversionary continues on his roll as Grey, the displaced father in the middle of a life crisis. You can feel his pain, vexation and bewilderment that is a part of his mental being as he tries to navigate through life, as he knows it now.

Both men play well off one another and the exchanges they make are about as you would expect between parents and their offspring with one big exception, the tone between father and daughter is much different than between father and son. It shows once again that gender plays a significant role in how and what we relate to our children.

Andréa Agosto, Kid’s book editor, in this relationship with Kid shows signs of discomfort with her romantic involvement but remains confident in the book deal. She conveys that sentiment beautifully.

Marci Anne Wuebben is the breath of fresh air in the room that erases the underlying currents of despair when she and Grey relive their happier days, dancing and singing, drinking and being just young and frivolous again.

This ninety -minute no intermission play plays out on Yi-Chien Lee’s impressive wood slatted stage with all the intricacies leading to and from different locations.

Elisa Benzoni (another award recipient for costume design), designed the contemporary clothes matching each personality.
Andrea Agosto and August Forman
Lighting Designer Joel Britt’s lighting creates the changing moods and MaeAnn Ross’ sound complement the overall production.    

“A Kind Of Weather” is the first in a three play series on gender that Diversionary has on the docket. 

More to follow.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through March 8th
Organization: Diversionary Theatre
Phone: 619-220-0097
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where: 4545 Park Blvd. San Diego, CA 92116
Ticket Prices: Start at $15.00
Photo Credit: Simpatika

Monday, February 17, 2020

Old Globe’s “Hurricane Diane” or Look What The Winds Blew In.

You don’t have to wear a Parka to see Madeleine George’s “Hurricane Diane” at the Old Globe through March 8th.  No! The fierceness of this storm comes in the production’s direction by James Vasquez and the four women and one goddess ensemble drinking their way to a more sustainable world. It’s a perfect storm that moves this tragi-comedy along from a category one storm to a category ten.   
Rami Margron is Diane
A fast moving blizzard blows Diane or to be more precise the Greek god Dionysus (also known as Bacchus-Rami Margron) into Red Bank New Jersey’s suburban cul-de-sac where Carol (Lisa Wisan), Beth (Jennifer Paredes), Renee (Opal Alladin) and Pam (Jenn Harris), reside.

After a rather long introduction as to who and what Diane is/ was all about, we find the Real Housewives of New Jersey’s world is in topsy- turvey mode in what might be called a overwhelming force of nature the women don’t see coming.

If truth be told Diane the now gardener/ landscaper/ gender neutral butch, god of agriculture (or more like a forest ranger according to Carol), wine, and song is hell bent on fixing the ecosystem in their neighborhood. Along the way she gives them all a personal makeover they will never forget as she seduces and reduces all but one of them into groveling, lesbian worshipers.   

Pulitzer Prize winner finalist Madeleine George’s poke in the eye warning of the earth’s devastation if we don’t do something radical, looks, sounds and feels like a comedy waiting to break out of it’s coma, when in reality devastation and tragedy are brewing on the horizon.
Jenn Harris, Opal Alladin, Rami Margron, Jennifer Paredes
George puts her ‘girls,’ as she calls them, in some pretty hilarious and breakout situations outlining the steps needed to begin making changes in the ecosystem starting with their own yard makeovers.

Wisan’s Carol is determined to keep her neatly manicured yard but wants accent colors and a wrought iron bench much to Diane’s chagrin. And please do not mention ‘curb appeal’ to Diane.

Beth wants a fairy garden. She’s been living the nightmare since her husband left and her lawn hasn’t been coifed in twelve weeks. She has bigger problems. She hurt herself while meditating. It's good to see Paredes back on the hometown stage. 

Jenn Harris as Pam and Rami Margron is Diane
Pam is the unstoppable pure- blooded Italian (on both sides) who insists Diane stop into the only real Italian restaurant in town to taste their authentic Italian cooking. She wants her yard to look like the ‘Mediterranean palazzo’ on the mural outside on the wall of the restaurant. Dressed in varying degrees leopard prints, Harris is a hoot and a howl as she rams one -liners down our throats a mile a minute. I have to admit I had some pretty laugh out loud moments just listening to her jabber.

Alladin's Renee is the only woman of color to hold the job as editor of HGTV.  As a younger woman she lived on a permaculture commune. She thinks she sold her soul to keep her job, and so it goes. 
Jennifer Paredes, Rami Margron, Opal Alladin and Jenn Harris
If you don’t see, feel or fear the next chapter of the devastation from climate change, heed the words of Diane:  “If I don’t step in now, the glaciers are gonna melt and the permafrost is gonna thaw and fast forward a hundred years and there won’t be a single person left on the planet to worship me.”

Diane is in the neighborhood to begin her revolutionary work saving the earth and her first big makeover will be to dig up the lawns and put sustainable fruits and veggies in its place. Rami Margron is a perfect representation of the strong willed person (they/them) wanting to take charge. Unfortunately changes will have to take in another neighborhood. These N.J. housewives are simply not interested in any change any time soon.

A steady diet of wine is served up every time the ‘girls get together in Carol’s kitchen (which was often) designed by Jo Winiarski.  The bright kitchen with stove, refrigerator, shiny counter tops and cabinets make it look livable. Back to the cupboards, they are well stocked with more Chardonnay, Zinfandel and liquor than is in my local liquor store. The single set serves as the one-all kitchen.
Rami Margron and Opal Alladin
Outside branches covered with leaves from a variety of trees are strewn around the stage and grow in depth as the storm increases. The winds whistle (Drew Long), lightning flashes and thunder rocks the stage in an almost realistic feeling of carnage. 

Costume designer Shirley Pierson dressed the ‘girls’ in Eileen Fisher neutrals (Renee), Lands End Starfish casuals (Carol), Tiger print wrap dresses and jewelry (Pam) and Beth, grungy.

Cat Tate Starmer’s lighting reflects the changing tones of the conversation and degrees of storm raging outside. Golden Hand is credited for the original music and music direction.

In the mid 50’s Hurricane Carol swept through Connecticut, Rhode Island and my hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts.  It would become ‘the most powerful storm to strike Southern New England since the Great New England Hurricane of 1938’.

All references to “This is what Hurricane Carol” left in her wake was no easy fete to live down. I was in my mid teens and we all scattered to safety the best we could as the waves pounded the coastal shores unmercifully, water filled the underground pipe lined and lifted storm drains floating in mid air, and cellars (yes cellars) flooded.  According to reports, …this hurricane was so ferocious the name ‘Carol’ was retired for a decade. WHEW!

It seems the world is too much with us these days and now we come to expect climate change as a matter of fact. Those not paying attention aught to be ashamed. Check out the damage throughout the world; fires, floods, landslides, devastation from strip mining, drilling for oil, volcanoes erupting and ask yourselves if this is the world you want for future generations.
Liz Wisan and Rami Margron
Ask those living in Mississippi now what it feels like to be living the nightmare of another hurricane. Or how the high water levels in Venice is effecting that city…or, or, or.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through March 8th
Organization: The Old Globe
Phone: 619-234-5623
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92103
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
Photo Credit: Jim Cox