What's new, pussycat?
Published December 2007
By Carol Davis
Sweet 15 (Quinceañera)
By Rick Najera
Directed by Sam Woodhouse
San Diego REP
Lyceum Theatre Main Stage
Through Dec. 16
Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen
By Kathryn Walat
Directed by Jennifer Eve Thorn
Lyceum Theatre Space
Through Dec. 16
It's A Wonderful Life: A live Radio Play
Adapted for the stage by Joe Landry
Directed by Sean Murray
6663 El Cajon Blvd., Suite N
Through Dec. 30
Based upon the Universal Pictures film written and directed by John Waters
Book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Songs by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger
Choreography by Rob Ashford
Directed by Mark Brokaw
La Jolla Playhouse
Mandell Weiss Theatre
Through Dec. 16
Off The Ground
By Amy Chini and Tom Zohar
Directed by Joshua Everett Johnson
New Village Arts Theatre
2787 "B" State Street
Through Dec. 23
This is usually the time of year I slow down, stop running to the theater every weekend, contemplate the year past and just chill waiting for the next round of openings in January. But there is too much new happening now and most of it has to do with multiple openings, new shows, world premiere productions, the Craig Noel Awards for Theatre Excellence in January (more on that later) and another Broadway-bound show hot off the stages of the La Jolla Playhouse.
Overall, the past two weeks have been hectic but fun and that's what makes it all worthwhile.
In no particular order, The San Diego Repertory Theatre is presenting a world premiere of Rick Najera's "Sweet 15 (Quinceañera)," being produced on the Main Stage of the Lyceum in Horton Plaza. Across the lobby in the Lyceum Space, Moxie is presenting the West Coast premiere of "Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen" by Kathryn Walat. Both run through the Dec. 16. In East SAn Diego, Cygnet Theatre Company is mounting "It's A Wonderful Life: A live Radio Play" adapted for stage by Joe Landry, and it will run through Dec. 30. Heading north, the La Jolla Playhouse is presenting the Broadway-bound "Cry Baby," the world premiere musical adaptation of the John Waters cult film of the same name (and which runs through Dec. 16). Up in North County, Carlsbad to be exact, another world premiere is being mounted at the New Village Arts Theatre. Amy Chini and Tom Zohar's "Off The Ground" will be there until Dec. 23.
"Quinceañera" is Najera's fourth play at The Rep, and the one that feels not so ready for prime time. It strains too much to be funny and the credibility factor is a stretch. It's about Eddy Valderama (Najera), a rags to riches story come true, who returns home to his San Diego (more specifically National City) roots after ditching his family more than ten years ago with wads of dough in his pockets. Eddy wants to throw his now twenty-five-year-old college graduate daughter, Sonora (Nina Brissey), the party or quinceañera that he never had the chance to make for her when she was fifteen.
For those of you how have had, participated in or made Sweet 16 or Bar Mitzvah parties, you know that these celebrations are significant in the coming-of-age process for many teenagers. In Hispanic tradition, a woman comes of age at fifteen. In Eddy's mind, Sonora is still his little girl. Throwing caution to the wind, never consulting any of his family members and assuming that his "little girl" would relish the fact that she was now able to have the party of her lifetime, Eddy goes ahead with gusto, planning the quinceañera he would like for his daughter to have.
If life were that simple, we wouldn't have anything to write home about. And Eddy's life is about to become more complicated than it was when he had to take it on the lamb to Mexico ten years previously for a "deal gone bad." His wife, Eva (Yvonne Delarossa), would rather see him dead than see him at all. His sexy, money-grubbing, take-no-prisoners mother-in-law, Chata (Alma Martinez), has no love lost on him, but would make a deal with the devil if it involved money in her pocket and Eddy had money so his plan advances, but not without it's little side shows.
Needless to say there are more twists and turns in this play than there were balloons floating above the theater during the on-stage party. Fernando Vega, who plays Fernando Cahuenga, the washed-up hung-out-to-dry "celebrity" hired to entertain (he also plays Sonora's fiancée), is a kick. Carlo D'Amore steals the show as over-the-top gay party planner Jorge Rodriguez (as well as two or three other parts). Jose Yenque plays several parts as the bad guys, although he's not nearly as much fun to watch as the others. And there have to be the bad guys to make the good guys look better, but it's going to take a lot more than a sinister look, a reunited family, local jokes and a false chase to improve this show.
That said, there were some poignant moments where the bonds between parents and children, no matter how garish the parents want to be, can never be erased.
The night I attended, the audience was all-over-the-place-hysterical. Yours truly noted the local references, took the language barriers into consideration and still came up anxious to exit the theater ASAP.
Director Sam Woodhouse knows his audiences well and plays right into their likes. Ron Ranson's set is tacky acceptable and Paloma H. Young's costumes, with the exception of those for Alma Martinez which were over the top, are average.
If you missed your coming out party, you might want to head downtown and join Sonora in her celebration.
Do you do math? Well, neither do I. But if you are Victoria Martin, and you are on the Longwood High School math team and you're the only girl on the all-boys team and you just happen to be the third-most popular sophomore at Longwood, you might face a few challenges. Moxie Theatre's "Victoria Martin" by Kathryn Walat is one of those little sleepers, kind of like the musical "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" where high school kids run the show and you either wish you were back in school or thanking your lucky stars you already graduated. Count me in as the later group. High school for yours truly didn't look like Vickie's, but neither did my clothes.
With Jennifer Eve Thorn's deft direction, and an ensemble of wonderfully talented young people, as diverse and as alike as most 15-, 16- 17- and 18-year-olds are, you might not want to miss this appealing little piece of theater.
Nicole Monet is the perky and all-star Vickie Martin, uber-popular gal who hates to do her homework. So instead of going to detention during second period to make it up, she is assigned to the once all-male, all-nerd math team. One, because it was mandated that it had to be coed and she was good in math, but don't tell the guys, yet. And two, because their star moved away, leaving just that opening. But more than math and the state championships are at stake at Longwood High. High school is the place where popularity is more important than term papers and coming of age happens whether we want it to or not. So, nerds: Here comes Victoria Martin.
All of Vickie's team members, Franklin (Joseph Dionisio), Max (Jesse Allen Moore), Peter (Tim Parker) and Jimmy (Luke Marinkovich) have their issues and, it seems, Vickie has a way of bringing out the best or worse in all of them. She's a girl, right? Jimmy, the freshman, has by far the funniest and best role of the boys. He's as cute as a button and has the hots for Vickie even though her boyfriend is the school's basketball star. Marinkovich has star qualities of his own. Just his mere presentation is both awkward and convincing. And that smile is worth a million.
Peter has already been accepted by MIT. He's the senior and is rather nonchalant. Parker is both handsome and appealing as Peter, but his attitude needs a big adjustment. He and Vickie have some intense math-solving discussions, if you will, that change the course of their school year. Both Max and Franklin have a more complicated relationship. Sexuality issues are revealed in this dynamic duo whose weekend get-togethers are studying for their SATs. By plays end, all the mathematical equations (think pi if you can), sexual attractions and acceptance are worked out and everything is totally rad. Do they win the state championship? Well, you have to see to find out.
"Victoria Martin" is the kind of play you want to see when you just want to be entertained. And you will be. The Moxie's gals have done it again they are spoiling us with their usual flair of "just the right stuff."
Last year, Cygnet Theatre on El Cajon Boulevard mounted "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play." I missed it then. This year gave me another chance to see it and, if you are a fan of the Capra film of the same name, you will want to see it as well.
Joe Landry's adaptation of the movie seems to follow the script as well as I can remember. The difference is that we, the audience, are watching a live radio broadcast of the play with sound affects, applause signs and all the accoutrement (Sean Murray) needed. If you closed your eyes and pretended, the story would come alive.
With almost the same cast in tow, and under artistic director Sean Murray's watchful eye, the Lux Playhouse located in the Manhattan Studio WCYG Radio begins with the announcer, Jonathan Dunn-Rankin (who in real life was on TV here in San Diego moons ago) warming the audience up with some necessary jabber and a few singing commercials helped along by the Lux Girls, Melissa Fernandes, Veronica Murphy and Brenda Dodge.
Tom Andrew is George Bailey, the hero of our story who sacrifices his dreams to travel and, more or less to conquer the world, by going into his family's savings and loan business in the now-familiar town of Bedford Falls (an all-American city) so his brother could go to college. That's just the way they did things a mere sixty or so years go. George struggles to keep the business running so Mr. Potter, the town's miser, won't gouge the small folks in Bedford Falls.
George's life becomes rich with his own family as it grows to include a wife and three children. But it also takes a turn for the worse when his uncle loses an eight thousand dollar bank deposit needed to keep the business going. Unfortunately for George and Uncle Billy, Potter (Dunn-Rankin), the Scrooge-like character in this Christmas classic, finds the money and forecloses on their business. In typical Scrooge fashion, he tells George that he (George) is worth more dead than alive.
|It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
When George attempts suicide, the angel Clarence, who is in training to get his wings, thwarts him. After he is shown the impact his life has made on his community by Clarence had he never existed, George returns to the cheers and bravos of his hometown and family. Not only has he been saved by Clarence, but by his town as well. That's the very brief story. The movie is now on DVD for those of you interested in seeing the whole thing.
Andrew, a veteran stage actor, couldn't have been more convincing had this actually happened to him in real life. He becomes George Bailey. His voice intonations sound vaguely similar to those of Jimmy Stewart (who played Bailey in the classic movie). But more than sounding like Stewart, Andrew is so convincing that one almost forgets that this isn't actually happening in a studio, or theater.
Most of the cast play multiple parts and the piece moves along without a hitch. David Gallagher plays Clarence, the almost-angel who saves George. He almost sounds like Harry Travers in the movie. His voice is distinctive, again lending credibility to this production.
Trevor Hollingsworth is George's brother, Harry Bailey. Brenda Dodge is a convincing Mary Bailey. Melissa Fernandes and Veronica Murphy are equally good in their many roles. It's ninety minutes of watching and listening to the story unfold as if you were listening to it on the radio. It is as moving and just as effective as the movie. In the beginning, Dunn-Rankin announces that if you would rather, close your eyes and pretend you are listening to it on the radio. For yours truly, my curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to see it all and I was not disappointed.
Technical support came from Jeanne Reith who created the period costumes, George Ye the sound, Shane Simmons, musical direction, Eric Lotze, lighting and Foley sound design by Scott Paulson.
And yes, when the applause signs lit, I clapped and when George was reunited with his family, I did shed a tear.
Watch for the next big move of a hit musical from San Diego to Broadway to be John Waters' musical "Cry Baby", now at the La Jolla Playhouse. Based on the adaptation of Waters' cult classic film of the same name, this fast-paced musical farce is simply fun from the opening curtain to the finale when the company sings "Nothing Bad's Ever Gonna Happen Again." Laced with no less than twenty-two musical numbers (songs by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger) and superbly choreographed by Rob Ashford, "Cry Baby" (book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan) takes a look back when jeans were dungarees, the Elvis and James Dean look were in style and, yes, there were gangs and gang wars (think "West Side Story" or "Grease"). But this is not to be confused with any other musical. It stands strictly on its own.
Once again, we are in Baltimore ("Hairspray" is his, too). This time we are in the "Age of Ike," letter sweaters and jackets (I had one sitting in front of me) and crinoline skirts (Catherine Zuber). It's 1954 and I still had one more year of high school to finish. Ah yes, I remember it well! It might not have been Baltimore, then considered a Southern city, but in the Northeast, my roots, there was enough prejudice and class separation to fill a book.
The play opens with the Mamie-like character, Mrs. Vernon-Williams (Harriet Harris) holding an anti-polio picnic for all to get the new discovery, the polio vaccine. Just as an example of how bizarre the lyrics are, "Watch Your Ass" is the second dance number out of the chute as a re-enactment of everyone getting their polio shot. It is danced in silhouette.
"Cry Baby" is just fun as Waters goes on his merry way, bringing prejudice and narrow-mindedness to the fore again but in such a way that nothing is taken for granted and nothing is as it appears. When the girl from the right side of the tracks who is also Mrs. V-W's granddaughter, (Elizabeth Stanley is Allison) falls for the guy from the wrong side of the tracks (Peter Matthew Smith is Cry Baby, a name given to him as a boy because he never cries) all hell breaks loose within the divided community especially with likes of the snake-like good guy Baldwin (Christopher J. Hanke) who will do anything to win his girl (or so he thought) back.
There are dance numbers galore and they are as colorful and as entertaining as any I've seen in some time. With an ensemble of no less than a dozen, not counting the leads (the cast lists about thirty) and some of the ditziest lyrics ("Screw Loose" sung by Alli Mauzey as Leonora is an absolute show stopper as she sucks on her lollipop talking to her imaginary friend), which bring the house down, it's almost non-stop camp. There is more, but I wouldn't want to give it all away.
There was nothing about the show I did not like. From the clever and simplistic sets by Scott Pask to Howell Binkley's lighting design to Christopher Jahnke's orchestra and Lynne Shankel's musical direction and incidental music to Mark Brokaw's direction, the show went without a hitch.
This is one you will want to catch before it leaves the city.
"Off The Ground" is New Village Arts' contribution to the holiday fare out and about in the community. It's not your usual "Christmas Carol"-type fare, but it appeals to a more universal type holiday get-together where nerves are worn on sleeves and stress is counted by the wine glass. In this family gathering, the worst-case scenarios are played out by members who will never be ready for the holidays and who are forced to get it together because their time for procrastination has long since passed.
In Tom Zohar and Amy Chini's new play, "Off the Ground," everything that can go wrong at the holidays does. But not to fret. Things get worked out and we the audience go home refreshed, satisfied but still thoughtful enough to remind us of our own family situations and what the past year has brought to us.
|Off the Ground
Dysfunctional is an overused word, but trust me, the family you are about to hear about is dysfunctional! Grandpa Dick (Charlie Riendeau), head of the family, and his recently divorced grandson, Joel (Francis Gercke) are living together in Dick's very messy home since Joel's divorce, about a year ago. It's company for both of them and seems to be mutually agreeable. Neither of the men has recovered from their loss; Dick from the death of his wife and Joel from his divorce. Both are living in a state of denied depression. Joel, a writer, has not written a word in over a year and Dick doesn't leave the house in his suburban Philly neighborhood.
They are expecting visits from Joel's sister, Susan, a real estate broker who lives in Connecticut (Wendy Waddell) and her husband, Luke (Terry Scheidt), an unemployed chef, and her (and Joel's) parents, Dick's daughter Virginia (Sandra Ellis Troy) and her husband, Jim (Jack Missett), who live in Ohio. They are all coming to celebrate Christmas and do a little family mending. They have not been in touch with one another for a year.
When the entire family converges at Dick's house, with yet another guest of Virginia's (Amanda Morrow is Donna, another divorcée brought in for a quick fix for Joel) both Mom (Virginia) and Susan are schlepping Christmas trees to put in this tiny living room. Once those are settled in opposite corners of the room, all the food about to be eaten is wheeled in, in coolers.
After all the formalities are over with, dinner is a success and dessert is on the way the strains of politeness begin to unravel. All the dirty laundry from the past years spews out into the now-cluttered living room of Dick and Joel, an odd couple if there ever was one. (Kristianne Kurner designed the sets.) But when Susan and Virginia surprise Joel with the deed to his grandmother's house, much to the shock of every other family member, World War III breaks out and it takes a bit of screaming, hysteria and soul-searching to bring this family back together again.
Joshua Everett Johnson directs with a flair for the funny and poignant, the caring and the indifferent, and with the idea that families aren't perfect, but sometimes that's all we have. Sometimes we have to see through the warts and the bruises and learn from past mistakes and move on. The message is loud and clear in this newest of holiday plays. With a seasoned cast, excellent ensemble and individual efforts, "Off The Ground" should take off and continue to be a favorite holiday offering.
Troy is her usual effervescent self as the optimistic yet interfering mother, while Missett plays her laid-back husband. Waddell is perfect as Joel's sister who seems to have her act together until we see the strains in her marriage showing through. They are trying to get pregnant and tempers and blame hangs in the air like the fallout from the fires just recently. So far they have tried everything and still, no baby.
Riendeau's Dick is just perfect as the family elder who has about as much to say in his family as his youngest great granddaughter, who is four. This is a part made for him and he wears it like a glove. With his wry sense of humor and sly smile already in place, this is his time to shine. And shine he does. From the opening scene when he's staring blankly into the TV to the tenderness and caring he shows his family, his true sense of pride, genteelness and optimism radiate.
Gercke's Joel is wonderful as the cautious, baffled, concerned and overwhelmed host. He has no focus and runs around scrambling to get the house in order before his guests arrive. Later, after the pecan pie hits the fan, and a long, solitary drive to nowhere, he settles into a more relaxed observer. He is calmer and ready to move on with his life by play's end. It has been one long night for Joel and when he finally unwinds and can enjoy Donna's company, we know he's going to be OK. It's "off the ground" for him!
Gercke, founding artistic director of NVA, is like a chameleon. His skill in changing moods and character is what makes him such an attractive actor. When all is said and done, it's a timely piece ready to make a showing for the holidays and the entire cast and crew make it a worthwhile drive north. Hats off to Amy and Tom and the entire company.
See you at the theater.