Saturday, May 28, 2022

“Turning Off The Morning News” At OnStage Should Make You Squirm in Your Seats

While writing “Turning Off The Morning News” playwright Christopher Durang (“Beyond Therapy”, “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You”), explains, in a series of notes at the end of his script: “I wanted the play the be unusual, comic, upsetting, serious, and I wanted to make the ending somewhat hopeful.” Let’s just say he achieved all of the above and then some. 

Some years before “Turning Off The Morning News” in 2018 Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” was the talk of the theatre, picking up a Tony, a Drama Desk Award, and New York Drama Crirics’ Circle Award. It was one of the most produced plays during the 2014- 15 season having played here in San Diego at the Old Globe in 2014. Will the same happen with “Turning Off The Morning News? ” That remains to be seen.

As it happens executive director of OnStage, James Darvas toiled over whether or not to produce this play; it was so far off the tracks, and too much had happened in our world between the time he read the play and decided to produce it that it might be too absurd in the face of reality to resonate anything but sick!

In the time span of three weeks, one school shooting of 19 children in Uvalde, TX, and another mass murder occurred in Buffalo, New York aimed at mostly African Americans shocked this country. Darvas said that projection manager, Salomón Maya ‘had to update his work three times in the last three weeks to keep the content as current as possible.

Salomon Maya

Durang’s cast of characters staged adeptly by director Adam Parker include Jimmy (Salomon Maya) a middle aged depressed suburbanite who has thoughts of committing mass murder at the mall and then turning the gun on himself. Or maybe he’ll write a book. This is a reoccurring theme for Jimmy. If he’s not threatening to kill in the Mall, then he threatens to kill his wife and son and then turn the gun on himself. 

His wife Polly (Carla Navarro), thinks everyone is wonderful and knows what her husband is about, but her thoughts are more concernd for her precious potted plant than her husband’s mental health. Jimmy has not spoken to his wife in three weeks. Probably because he can’t get a word in edgewise. She talks too much because she finds life overwhelming. 

They have a son Timmy (Jaden Guerrero) who shares a note with the audience, to HELP ME! He’s shy, and not very popular at school. Polly decides to home school him by giving him an assignment to review ‘The View ‘on TV

Yes, mental health does rear its head and thank goodness for that. In fact, mental health issues are at the core of this play. 

Jaden Guerrero and Carla Navarro

Across the street neighbors Clifford and Salena (Eddie Lukovic and Ray-Anna Young) are sharing a house, as friends. He’s white and she, African American, And yes, race figures into the mix as well. Clifford practices some sort of meditation to relax from the outside world. He listens to Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney while he meditates.

Clifford’s wife and child were killed by a drunken driver and Selena is recently divorced. They can’t help notice the strangeness of their across the street neighbors. The first clue they get about ‘something rotten’ across the street, is seeing Jimmy leave the house wearing a pig mask and a large trash bag and a gun strapped over his shoulder.  

Rounding out the cast is Rosalind (Heather Warren, a bit off the wall). Rosalind wears a pillowcase over her head to prevent the sun from causing any damage to her face. She has already had twenty four basal cells removed from her face.

Heather Warren and Carla Navarro

Bazar? Scathing? Satirical? Cutting? Cartoonish? Painful? Toxic? Shocking? Unnerving? Caustic? Yes! But funny? Not so much. Unfortunately, the characters in this recent play are acting out what, in reality, is happening on the streets, in churches, grocery stores and synagogues. The gun culture is taking over any sound thinking. One of the most bazar interpretations of the Second Amendment this country covets is the right to bear arms. 

Durang just has his own way of getting to the point. Even the clips of the morning news at the opening of the play are interrupted several times because these crimes are happening so fast the news can barely keep up.  There is also a laugh track in case the audience doesn't find it funny.

Scenic Designer Kristen Flores almost bare bones set can be rearranged easily but making sure the ‘plant’ has its own space. Brad Dubious costumes fit the characters well. Dylan Carter designed the lighting and Estefanía Ricalde sound design was a bit too loud for yours truly. 

OnStage has taken on a big challenge with Durang’s recent play. To come see it or not is the question. While bazar, it does deal with the casualties of a broken political system in denial of its treatment of gun laws, mental health issues that no one seems to address. We also have short memories, so yesterdays news is just that. We are all consumed with the news of the moment.  

The one thing Durang did promise and we got was some glimmer of hope in the final scenes. At least he tried. 

OnStage Playhouse is to be commended for tackling these sensitive topics, which seems to have been lost in the commotion of the morning news. 

See you at the theatre.  

Dates: Through June 19th

Organization: OnStage Playhouse 

Phone: 619.422.7787

Production Type: Black Comedy

Where: 291 Third Ave., Chula Vista

Ticket Prices: $22. To $25.00


Photo: Daren Scott

Monday, May 23, 2022

Cygnet’s “Mud Row” Excels Under Delicia Turner Sonnenberg’s Taught Direction.

 There was a time when families lived in the same house for generations. And, OH! If those walls could talk! 

In an area in West Chester, Pennsylvania in a place called Mud Row, “The Coloreds bein’ the mud of the world…livin’ in mud like conditions…would naturally be in Mud Row”. 

For three generations members the Geter family lived in that house and for better or worse, they had a roof over their heads, and memories they would like to erase. Each one would like to leave their shared history behind, but history has a way breaking down walls. 

In Dominique Morisseau’s “Mud Row” now in an excellent and taught production under Delicia Turner Sonnenberg’s deft direction, the story of five women shifts seamlessly back and forth from the 60’s to 1981.  

Back then, the civil rights movement was at its peak almost breaking point and Frances ( Joy Yvonne Jones) was right in the middle of it fighting for the right to be treated equally at the food counters and equal rights for all. Her sister Elsie or grandma Elsie (Andréa Agosto) cons her way into higher society circles by dating a’ fella’ “whose opening up a world for me”. Since life doesn’t always go as planned, her two grand- daughters, Regine and Toshi, are left with the spoils: the house on Mud Row.  

Joy Yvonne Jones and Andrea Agosto

Fast forward and Regine (Marti Gobel), who is accomplished, bright, and financially secure, just learned the deed to the Mud Row house is in her name and has always been since a child.  She and her husband Davin (Rondrell McCormick) pay a visit the house, which had been abandoned for the last five years. It’s dark, musty, appears to be empty, and oh, the plastic cover on the couch is still in place and a black and white TVsits in one corner. 

They are waiting for an appraiser. The developers are circling their neighborhood and Regine can’t wait to get rid of the property and with it her ghosts of the past.  She suspects squatters are living in the house. 

Toshi (Rachel Cognata) sees things in color. Now she is in her magenta mood, the color of anxiety. Toshi and her boyfriend Tyriek (Leo Ebanks) have moved from the streets to the Mud Row house. They have been squatting there for the last three months and realize someone has been in the house since they last left. Toshi is a recovering druggie.

Marti Gobel and Rachel Cocnata

For the last nine months she has been clean but when the sisters were growing up, Toshi made life hell for Regine. She stole money, credit cards and a favorite keepsake among other things. She and Tyriek are still stealing and scamming their way through life but will fight till the end to stay in the house. 

When Regine and Davin come back the next day and they confront Toshi and Tyriek all hell breaks out. The you know what hits the fan and its game on between Toshi and Regine and on some level, Davin and Tyriek.

Cast of Mud Row

Family business isn’t always pretty and the ensuing clashes between Toshi and Regine rush out like the waters of Niagara Falls almost consuming them both. What lies ahead for the sisters and their significant others will be up to discussion yet Morisseau does offer an answer.  

Playwright Morisseau beautifully fleshes out the characters, all excellent and completely authentic, to always wanting you to understand from whence she is coming. From the differing paths Frances and Elise take to the same paths Toshi and Regine take, one can’t help but compare the generations, past and present, and the influence the changing times from the ‘60’s to the 2018 it had/has on them in the house on Mud Row. 

Marti Gobel and Andrera Agosto

Scenic designer Brian Redfern’s multi layered set servers the purpose of the different generations of the house when relatively new to the present where it has fallen into disrepair. Caroline Andrew’s lighting design from sepias to shadows is excellent as well is the projections freezing moments in history, to Melanie Chen Cole’s sound from subtle background to squeaks in the floor boards and Regan A. McKay’s costumes all fit the bill both past and present. 

See you at the theatre.


Dates: Through June 19th

Organization: Cygnet Theatre

Phone: 619. 337.1525

Production Type: Drama

Where: 4040 Twiggs Street, Old Town, San Diego,92110

Ticket Prices: Starts at $30.00


Photo: Karli Cadell 

Friday, May 20, 2022

“Come From Away” Broadway San Diego’s Long Awaited Home Grown Musical Still Packs a Punch.

 We came, we cried, we laughed and we remembered. For those of us in the opening night audience of San Diego’s home grown musical “Come From Away” who were alive and in tune with the comings and goings in 2011, specifically September 11th 2011, you will recall the horrors of terrorist’s attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and The Pentagon Complex in Arlington, Va. using airplanes as their weapons. 

"Come From Away" premiered at The La Jolla Playhouse in 2015 and went on to Broadway where Director Chris Ashley won a Tony for Best Director of a Musical and the show itself, picked up four Olivers, five Outer Critics Circle Awards and three Drama Desk Awards.

The story a true one with Book, Music and Lyrics by Canadian husband and wife team Irene Sankoff and David Hein, is a story about healing as well friendship, and the true meaning of ‘Love Thy Neighbor’.

I remember being in Las Vegas at the time and the eeriest thing that came over me was the fact that there were no aircraft in the skies above. The FAA stopped all air traffic for several days. My friends and I were there for at least one extra day until we could get a rental car to drive home. (We were running out of money).38 international planes were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland because on that day all 225 aircraft coming into this country were rerouted to various airports in Canada.

All in all, according to some reports, the number of flights that landed in and around Canadian cities totaled 225 and 250 and the number of passengers between 30,000 and 45,000.

This operation of diversion was called ‘Operation Yellow Ribbon’. Of the 38 that descended on Gander, a small town with a population of about ten thousand, sixty-seven hundred passengers from about 100 different countries deplaned, nearly doubling the town’s population. 

Undaunted by the overwhelming task of housing, feeding and offering solace, medicine, baby food, formula, blankets bedding and toiletries to the passengers, the good folks of Gander welcomed them, took them in, housed them, prepared meals, offered clean and warm clothes, listened to their stories, made makeshift hospitals for their animals and in effect, treated them as family. 

One might ask, how does one tell this story on stage without sounding preachy, or maudlin? 

Let’s start with the terrific orchestra (Ian Eisendrath) off to the side, and on stage playing Celtic, Irish, folk and original tunes using some of the most unusually sounding and looking instruments I never knew existed: Irish Bouzouki, Uilleann Pipes, Ney, Boshran, Djembe, Cajon and Udu.  Kiana June Weber played a mean fiddle; she took the house down at the curtain call. No one wanted her to leave the stage. 

Kelly Devine’s choreography is as simple as stomping feet and clapping, banging on tables in harmony to rousting tabletop dances to changing seating positions on the plane. 

So, begins a life altering experience that unfolds seamlessly before our eyes. “You Are Here” and “Welcome to Newfoundland”: 

Twelve actors take on the roles of both passenger or ‘plane people’ and locals and with a change of lighting (Howell Binkley), a hat, a sweater (Toni-Leslie James) and a re-formation of chairs we are either on the plane or in and around places in Gander. Ashley’s expertise direction, packs the 100 minute production into a powerful one-two punch that is still worth raving about.

Every single one of the twelve multitalented actors in the touring show, sing dance, and can turn on accents from a multitude of countries: Canada, Europe, American (from various parts of the country) African and the list goes on. 

Based on interviews at the 10th anniversary reunion both ‘plane people’ and townsfolk spoke with Sankoff and Hein about forty minutes at a stretch and excerpts from those interviews became the backbone for the story. Getting the talk, accents and rhythm down to a science gives it the look and sense of all involved the necessary homegrown feel for authenticity’ hence, “Come From Away”. 

The Captain on record in “Come From Away is Beverly (Marika Aubrey) whose story of being the first Captain of American Airlines, mother and wife as well as first female pilot for American Airlines shows itself as her concerns for her passengers out -weigh her personal concern for the other pilots out there. Taking center stage more often than not and in her own narrative she explains it all in  “Me And The Sky”. It is one of the more than fifteen original musical numbers that serve as a backup to the story. 

Standouts all, Nick (Chamblee Ferguson) is an oil engineer from England. He and Diane (Christine Toy Johnson) become sort of a thing. Bob (James Earl Jones, yes related to the James Earl Jones of theatre and Hollywood fame) a gay couple Kevin T. (Jeremy Woodward) and Kevin.J(Nick Duckart). Duckart also plays the Egyptian Chef who is the least trusted of the passengers because of his Middle Eastern background and Lana (Danielle K. Thomas) black mother of a firefighter back in N.Y., and her friend, contemporary and confidant Beulah Cooper (Julie Johnson) who walks in her steps every day; her son is also a firefighter. “I Am Here” and “Stop The World”.

Set simply (Beowulf Boritt) on a wooden planked stage with horizontal slats forming the background (they open and close) an array of boxes that housed some of the animals, about six or seven life like looking trees stand firm, the same number of mix and match tables and chairs that are moved about to form everything from airplane seats to a cafeteria setting to a mountain cliff.

“Come From Away” is one of the most enlightening and uplifting original plays I can honestly say blew my mind and left me teary eyed, and for the cynic in me, optimistic. 

Newfoundland is the only place outside the United States, where we share the steel from the World Trade Center. 

Laugh, cry, enjoy. You might be interested in watching this You Tube video.  Prayer from” Come From Away”

When: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., San Diego

Photographer: Matthew Murphy

Tickets: $30.50 and up


Tuesday, May 3, 2022

“Mother of the Maid” Made for Moxie’s Jennifer Eve Thorn’s Bravura Return to The Stage.

Jennifer Eve Thorn

When thinking of saints in history, the fifteenth century to be exact, one of the most read about and heard about would be Joan of Arc. Joan began having visions of seeing St. Catherine of Alexandria when she was thirteen. She claimed that Catherine was sent by God to her to lead the French Army in an attempt to conquer the English during the Hundred Years War. (Short version)

In Jane Anderson’s “Mother of the Maid” currently being staged at Moxie Theatre through May 22nd, Isabelle Arc is the center of this story, not Joan or Joanie as her mother called her. As told through Isabelle’s eyes, her teenaged daughter was somewhat belligerent, rebellious, bull headed, and oft times sullen yet still vulnerable. Sounds like some teenagers I have known.

Jennifer Eve Thorn and Mikaela Rae Macias

Joan (Mikaela Rae Macis is exceptional as Joan) was no ordinary teenager as Isabelle will tell you. Jennifer Eve Thorn who is brilliant in the role of Joan’s mother Isabelle gives a full throttle portrayal of a mother who loves unconditionally, steadfastly and at times nudgingly and grudgingly.

Thorn who aside from the fact that she is executive artistic director and one of the founding mothers of Moxie, and has been away from acting for six years, is a mother and has a teenager herself.  She is no stranger to the changing whiles of one just about heading into adulthood. 

As Isabelle, apart from being there for her daughter Joan, has the compassion and patience  to help her daughter through her most difficult of times in her life from talking about boys, with whom she had no interest but wants to dress like one, or marriage, confessing she would not make a good wife, to trying to relate her ‘visions’ to her no nonsense father Jacque, (Dave Rivas is a bit macho but that was their role in those days) who is totally put off by the whole thing, to sending for the Parish Priest, Father Gilbert to get his blessings, to entrusting her daughter to the safety of her brother Pierre (Zack King)

Mikaela Rae Macias

God fearing herself, Isabelle is convinced and nudged by Father Gilbert to take her daughter’s word that she is telling the truth.  Joan is already in good favor with the Dauphin soon to be crowned king (Charles VII) who has high praises for her and has given her unfettered access to him. During this time Joan asks and gets an army to lead into battle against the English.

 Not one to be left out of a conversation, and as the class structure goes, this peasant and faithful woman travels to the castle, which takes weeks, only to find herself soaked to the skin by the time she arrives. There she meets a Lady of the Court, Nicole, (Sarah Alida LeClair adding a bit of satirical humor to her role) where niceties and food and drinks are exchanged. Isabelle is finally allowed to see her Joan in the king’s chapel where Joan, looking saintly, greets her mother and blesses her. 

Sergio Diaz-Delgado and Sarah Alida LeClair

As history will tell, Joan was successful for a short while and her visions were coming true, but the tide turns in Act II when she is captured and turned over to the English where she was tried for heresy and sentenced to be burned at the stake. Sadly, not one of her supporters, Father Gilbert (Mark C.Petrich), Nicole or the king comes to her aid. 

Always the loving parent, Isabelle is with Joan in her cell as she prepares her frightened daughter, just nineteen, for her ultimate sacrifice.  Always the fighter and dedicated and loving mother, Isabelle fights to reverse Joan’s conviction of heresy and witchcraft. In 1456 Joan’s trail was nullified. Three years later Isabelle died and in ‘1920 Joan was officially canonized She was considered one of history’s greatest saints.

Mikaela Rae Macias and Jennifer Eve Thorn

Mother of the Maid” is as compelling and chilling to the bone  as the one seen on Moxie’s stage because of the deft direction of Desireé Clarke and the bravura acting of Thorn.  Not only are we believers, but because of the gentle prodding of these characters by Clarke, we want to be believers that what the playwright is saying is true. 

Adding to the overall beauty of this production are Courtney  Ohnstad’s  picture period costumes, Yi-Chien Lee’s sturdy set, Annelise Raquel Salazar’s lighting, Rachel MacDougall LeVine’s sound design and Amy Chini’s props. 

Can’t rave enough. You do not want to miss this. Moxie outdid itself and well deserves  audiences to pack the house to see “Mother of the Maid”. 

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 2 p.m. Sundays. Through May 22.

Where: Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd., Suite N, San Diego

Photo: Desireé Clarke

Tickets: $35-$37

Phone: (858) 598-7620


Proof of vaccine and ID required as are masks.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

They Danced All Night in Bob Fosse's "Dancin'"

If it’s dancing you want just hop down to the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park and get your tickets to the Broadway Bound “Bob Fosse’s Dancin’’. It’s stopping here on its way back to New York where, my guess is the audiences will go as gaga over it as they did on opening night here where a talented, no…super talented company of nimble, double jointed and precisely timed dancers with enough endurance to perform for at least two + hours of dancing from tap to modern ballet through May 29th.

According to Fosse, “I have no interest wasting my time or energy doing traditional musicals. I like fooling with new forms, seeing what rules I can break if I push a little harder in different directions. (1978). Of course, he did do many traditional musicals This was his thinking for “Dancin’ then. As we know he did go on to choreograph several big time winners.

Jacob Guzman and Mattie Love

This is not Fosse’s first rodeo. “Dancin’” first premiered on Broadway in 1978 and closed on June 27th in 1982 after 1744 performances. Additional choreography by Christopher Chadman was added. It’s strictly a musical show. There is no story even thought I kept looking for one. But what do I know, it won a Tony for Best direction of a Musical; a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Choreography (Bob Fosse). In all, Fosse picked up nine Tony’s for his choreography in “Chicago”, “Sweet Charity”, “Pippin”, “Liza with a Z” and “Cabaret” to name a few.

Jacob Guzman

The production at the Old Globe is the first ever revival of the 1978 show. It is directed with musical staging by Wayne Cilento. The reproduction of Fosse’s choreography is by Christine Colby Jacques.  According to Fosse ‘the entire company is made up of principal dancers’, all twenty or so of them.  

Manuel Herrera offers a prologue where he tells us in no uncertain terms that ‘there is no story’, no props, or themes, so just believe. From there we snap into “Crunchy Granola Suite”  from Neil Diamond as part of Fosse’s 1978 Broadway revue “Dancin’” by the company and then roll right into my all -time favorite “Mr. Bojangles (Yeman Brown, Jacob Guzman and Manuel Herrra) from “Recollections of An Old Dancer”. 

(from left) Kolton Krouse, Ida Saki, Khori Michelle Petinaud, Jacob Guzman, and Yani Marin

The music under the musical direction of Darryl Archibald is about eclectic as one can get including a long stint of jazz and a few from some of Fosse’s musical hits, “Big Spender”, (“Sweet Charity”) “Let Me Entertain You” (Gypsy”) and “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries”, (An old, 1931, favorite), an American segment in Act 2, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” and “Stars and Stripes Forever”. 

There is so much to see that describing it doesn’t do the show justice. It’s one of those seeing is believing sensations, do trust. There is no story line per say, as mentioned above but there are, in some of the dance numbers suggestions of  injustice of a history past and a future not yet ready to accept full responsibility. (Getting a bit political)

Jacob Guzman, Ron Todorowski, Karli Dinardo, and Peter Chursin

However, there is more to flying through the air in this flashy production than “All That Jazz” on the dance floor. Robert Brill’s industrialized floor to ceiling mega set is pretty overwhelming. The performers are up and down and swinging through bars and metal and  steps. Finn Ross’ video design is the best I’ve seen with projections (a 30 foot high wall) filling the entire stage and lit by David Grill in breathtaking colors. Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung’s costume design are some of the best, with Peter Hylenski’s sound, though loud, is effective. 

Jōvan Dansberry with the cast

While I hesitate to call the show overtly provocative, sexy and seductive (a nice way to say filled with sexual innuendos) it has lots of groin grinding, and suggestive moves. I’m no prude and I’m not suggesting that it should be rated but I wouldn’t recommend it for say, pre- teens.

(from left) Dylis Croman, Yani Marin, Ioana Alfonso, Ida Saki, Mattie Love, Karli Dinardo, and Khori Michelle Pertinaud

From jazz to tap to ballet to marches to a four part solo percussion starring Ron Todorowski, the Fosse show is a dancer’s paradise and a dreamer’s fantasy.


When: Through May 29. 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays

Where: Old Globe Theatre, 1313 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego

Tickets: $52 and up

Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Phone: (619) 234-5623


COVID protocol: Proof of vaccine is no longer required, masks strongly recommended indoors but not required.