Thursday, March 11, 2010
For your weekend: a handful of comedies on San Diego stages, two new restaurants, and St. Patrick Day celebrations that start early. We'll learn more from our trusted scouts, Erin Chambers Smith and Jim Hebert.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. We've got the weekend in our sights. And it's a special weekend, kind of the unofficial end of winter, as we spring forward into Daylight Saving Time early Sunday morning. But there's a lot more to do in San Diego than turn the clocks forward. We'll be talking about theatre, great restaurants and a little wearin’ of the green around town in honor of St. Patrick's Day. I’d like to welcome my guests for this Weekend Preview. Erin Chambers Smith is the senior editor of the Balboa Park Online Collaborative, former editor of San Diego City Search. Erin, welcome back.
ERIN CHAMBERS SMITH (Senior Editor, Balboa Park Online Collaborative): Good morning. Thanks for having me.
CAVANAUGH: Jim Hebert is the theatre critic at the San Diego Union-Tribune. And, Jim, good morning. Good to see you.
JIM HEBERT (Theatre Critic, San Diego Union-Tribune): Hi, you, too. Thanks for having me.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, so let’s start out with a little good food. Erin, there’s a new restaurant in Little Italy called Bencotto. What can you tell us about it?
SMITH: Great pronunciation there, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you.
SMITH: Yeah, this is brand, brand new Italian in Little Italy in a brand new building in Little Italy designed by the architect Jonathan Segal. So, really neat, modern building and a nice modern Italian restaurant that’s down in the lobby.
CAVANAUGH: And what kind of Italian food are we talking about?
SMITH: It’s very classic Italian food. They make fresh pasta in the restaurant every day. They have – I mean, I had gnocchi when I was there that was just light and fluffy and wonderful. But the setting is definitely modern; this isn’t a real rustic setting at all. It kind of – I have an aunt and uncle that live in, you know, a real swanky townhouse in Little Italy and the inside of this restaurant reminds me of their townhouse. So definitely sort of sleek and modern décor and sort of feeling inside, some concrete, some stone, leather chairs, that kind of thing.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, that’s nice.
CAVANAUGH: And what’s the price point?
SMITH: You know, that’s what I love about this restaurant. I know a lot of people, I’m sure, of your listeners know about Cucina Urbana, the restaurant that opened in Bankers Hill last year to great fanfare. It’s very crowded, very, you know, well received. And, you know, I heard someone say once that this Bencotto is going to give Cucina Urbana a run for its money.
SMITH: Because it’s a very similar price point, a little bit more modern. Cucina Urbana’s a little bit more rustic. This one’s a little bit more modern but same price point. I’ve been there a couple times already and I haven’t seen anything on the menu that’s over $20.00, and a lot of things are kind of in the teens. They have a great pasta selection where you can sort of pick your pasta whether it’s the gnocchi or the homemade tagliatelle and then you can pick your sauce to go with it, and it’s a pretty big bowl of pasta for $12.00.
CAVANAUGH: I was surprised to see it has a takeout menu.
SMITH: Yeah, there’s a takeout menu and they actually have a really nice lunch menu that’s printed every day. They call it the little mini-lunch menu and it literally is like a little mini piece of paper printed with lunch specials that are $8.00 every day.
SMITH: So it’s a nice price point.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah. So with this addition, is the Italian restaurant scene in Little Italy still looking like the place to go for Italian food in town?
SMITH: I think that this Bencotto is going to bring a lot of sort of authority of the Italian restaurant back into Little Italy because the last couple of years we’ve seen – the sushi place is gone that was in Little Italy, but a burger – replaced by a burger joint, a really modern burger joint.
SMITH: A new Mexican place opened up called El Camino not too long ago, so we were getting some other sort of cuisines into Little Italy, and then of course the Busalacchis have several restaurants still there along India Street which have kind of, you know, anchored the Italian restaurant scene…
CAVANAUGH: Yes, right.
SMITH: …there for a long time. So I think adding in this Bencotto, the owners are from Italy and, you know, I think it’s going to add a lot of sort of authority back to that restaurant.
HEBERT: Can you bring some of that food next time? I’m really…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, it…
SMITH: The Bencotto sauce is the best sauce. It’s pink and it has lots of tiny bits of pancetta chopped up in it and it’s to die for, it’s so good.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, I know. That really – we can’t go on. Bencotto is located on Fir Street in Little Italy. Jim, the play “Ring Around the Moon” (sic) is playing in Vista right now, put on by Moonlight Stage Productions. And you say it’s full of great performances?
HEBERT: Right. So we go from Italian food to this French play. You know, and, honestly, the – this is the kind of play that I think if you tried to describe to somebody, especially somebody who’s not a regular theatre-goer it might sound like kind of a bore because it’s like a three-hour French kind of drawing room comedy with pretty formal language. But it does have an amazing cast, a huge cast, actually, 15 people, which is pretty unusual for especially a non-musical. Even the big companies in town usually don’t have a cast that big. And some – really, some of the best actors in town, and it’s really a lot of fun.
CAVANAUGH: Now even though it’s not a musical, you say that there’s a great tango in the show.
HEBERT: Right. Right, so there’s this kind of wacky dance scene between two of the actors, Fran Gercke and Jessica John, they’re playing these characters who are basically having an affair on the sly and so during this whole dance that they’re doing, they’re kind of plotting out how they’re going to keep their little secret. But the way it’s choreographed—the choreographer’s Colleen Kollar Smith, who works a lot at Lamb’s Players Theatre. And they do it in such a absurdly kind of mannered way. I mean, at one point Fran is sort of sitting down and doing these little sort of cha-cha movements and it’s – the dialogue is kind of thick and can be difficult at times so the fact they’re dancing and, you know, doing it and talking at the same time is kind of amazing to watch.
CAVANAUGH: That’s interesting.
HEBERT: It’s very funny.
CAVANAUGH: What is this play about?
HEBERT: Well, it’s essentially about two – a pair of identical twin brothers who are polar opposites in terms of personality. One of them is getting married and the other one just kind of almost out of spite decides he wants to sabotage the wedding so he comes up with this plot…
HEBERT: …to bring in a, you know, bring in a young woman posing as sort of a countess to lure the brother away from his fiancé. And it just develops from there.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, it sounds Shakespearian. It sounds like it’s a long play.
HEBERT: Right, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: Is it very long?
HEBERT: It definitely – No, it’s long. It definitely is, you know, about three hours long, three acts. But it has that Shakespearian feel to it. It’s very – it’s really cleverly plotted the way things play out. And it also, in terms of Shakespeare, has the twin thing that he used that – obviously in like “Twelfth Night”…
CAVANAUGH: Sure, yeah.
HEBERT: …there was the identical twin confusion. You know, that always leads to wacky mistaken, you know, identities and they definitely play up that aspect. And I should mention that the brothers are played by the same actor although – his name is Howard Bickle, a really good actor although he’s – there’s also a Horace Bickle credited in the program and that’s allegedly Howard’s, you know, Howard’s actual twin brother. I won’t say more about that but…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, that’s funny. Oh, that’s funny. And so it is very long but what keeps it moving?
HEBERT: You know, as we were saying, as we were talking about, it’s partly the performances. Jill Drexler is great in this and a number of other actors, you know, regular playgoers have seen around town. And just the, you know, the plotting is really well paced. It’s well directed by Jason Heil, brings a lot of the comedy out in it. It doesn’t feel like a three-hour play so…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, okay.
CAVANAUGH: Well, “Ring Round the Moon”—“Ring Round the Moon”—is currently playing at the Avo Playhouse on Main Street in Vista. Erin, you have to talk food again.
SMITH: Again, I know, rough job.
CAVANAUGH: There’s a new restaurant called “The Wellington.” It’s opened up in Mission Hills. Give us a – give us the rundown on this place.
SMITH: Okay, so this is a new upscale steak and martini lounge and it’s in Mission Hills. It’s owned by the same gentleman that owns the Red Door Café, which replaced the old Parallel 33 right there on Washington at Falcon. So The Wellington is in the space directly next door to the Red Door and it used to be the Blue Lotus. Big new sign there along Washington, easy to see. They call it a supper club on their website. It just feels like sort of an upscale steak and martini lounge. It’s really tiny. I think there’s only six tables on the inside of it. And I love small restaurants so if you’re kind of into that and you like to just sort of be tucked away in a tiny little restaurant, it’s really dark, no windows, it’s neat.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I’m guessing that The Wellington comes from Beef Wellington…
CAVANAUGH: …and I’m guessing also that that’s on the menu.
SMITH: Yep, Beef Wellington’s on the menu. It’s, you know, the traditional sort of filet, really big, long filet of beef wrapped in puff pastry and cooked with lots of salt. That’s really good and it’s definitely on the menu.
CAVANAUGH: And is it just steak on the menu?
SMITH: Mostly steak, and this is a very old school sort of presentation of a steakhouse where you pick your cut of meat, whether you want a New York, you know, steak or a rib eye, you sort of pick your cut and then they have the different sauces that you pick to go with it and then the different sizes – or sides that you pick to go with it. So they have a béarnaise sauce, they have a wild mushroom sauce, and you kind of – it’s kind of ala carte in that sense. But they do have a couple seafood options on the menu but it’s – you gotta like your beef to enjoy this place.
CAVANAUGH: You gotta like your beef.
CAVANAUGH: Now what about the martini side of this supper club?
SMITH: Yeah, they have a lot of martinis on their menu. They have a pretty neat bartender. The bar – I mean, since the restaurant only has six tables; the bar only has about two chairs. It really is tiny. But they’ve a really neat bartender there and he makes classic martinis, you know, in a chilled glass, a Manhattan, those kind of martinis. When I was there, I had one with Gray Goose vodka and cucumbers in it, so it was a little lighter, you know, almost summery sort of tasting, but a good bartender that’ll kind of make you whatever you like.
CAVANAUGH: That’s interesting. It sounds like they sort of – like designer martinis. That’s becoming a trend around town.
CAVANAUGH: Now is this place, because it’s so small and – is it a little bit more expensive?
SMITH: It’s definitely more expensive partly because it’s steaks and they have really good sort of organic and grass fed and, you know, really good beef available. So that’s expensive in and of itself but also because it’s that ala carte style menu you’re going to pay, you know, $35.00 for your really good cut of steak and then you’re going to pay, you know, $5 or $6 for your sides on top of that and then the martinis are all about $10, $11, 12 bucks.
SMITH: And when I was there, I was kind of bummed out, I met my husband there one night and said, oh, let’s go try. I bet they’ll have a happy hour. So we snuck in after work one night and there was no happy hour. But since then, I’ve checked on the website and it – they did put a happy hour up on the website, so it looks like they do have one from five to six, so I always recommend that to people as a way to sort of try out a new restaurant at a little bit lower price point before you totally invest in a big $300 dinner.
CAVANAUGH: Very good idea. The Wellington Steak & Martini Lounge is on Washington Street in Mission Hills. We move on to Ion Theatre’s “American Duet,” and, Jim, Ion Theatre has this new production and a new space and, from what I understand, it’s a long time coming for them to have a permanent home. Give us a little history on how this theatre company has been trying to find a home.
HEBERT: Yeah, they’ve got a lot going on all at once now because it’s – they’re – it’s actually two plays that they’re doing. “Under the Banner” and “American Duet,” and two plays that are related, both related somewhat to the Iraq war. But Ion had a permanent space a couple years ago and then they left because they found out the landlord was a big supporter of Prop 8, the anti-gay marriage…
HEBERT: …initiative. And they didn’t want to feel as though they were supporting that so they left that home, which they’d put a lot of effort into and they were, you know, itinerant for a year until they moved into the former Compass Theatre, actually moving into it right now. They’re, you know, getting the place and getting it set up. But that’s going to be their new permanent home, at least, you know, at least for the time being.
CAVANAUGH: And how does the old Compass Theatre site actually work for what Ion does?
HEBERT: I – From what they’ve told me, it sounds as though it could be a really good, flexible space for them. It’s, I think, a good size for what they do because it’s certainly not mass appeal work that they put out. They’re a very adventurous company. They really push the boundaries in terms of the content of the plays, and these plays, obviously, are pretty political. So they’re completely revamping the whole arrangement. They put in a new stage and new seats and everything else so it sounds as though it could be a good fit for them.
CAVANAUGH: So tell us a little bit about the first production or productions that are going on in this new space for Ion. It’s a pair of plays?
HEBERT: Right. Yeah, just quickly, the – there’s a play called “Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue” and it essentially tells the story of three generations of military people in one family and the most recent one is an Iraq war veteran. And it’s kind of a – you know, the title mentions fugue and it’s a kind of a dreamlike play and it’s by the same writer who wrote the book for the musical “In The Heights,” which was a big hit recently, actually coming to town this summer.
HEBERT: And then the other play is called “Back of the Throat,” and it centers on the interrogation of a Muslim-American man who’s basically taken from his home and brought in for questioning. And I guess both plays are – they’re new to San Diego but they’re – they both share a little bit of a unconventional narrative style. They’re kind of – they kind of have this dreamlike feel to them in some ways, and some surprises to them.
CAVANAUGH: And, as you say, both very political.
HEBERT: Yeah, and there really have not been that many plays about Iraq since the war began. So it’s, you know, kind of interesting to see theatre delve into this.
CAVANAUGH: Ion Theatre’s “American Duet” begins March 18th and runs through April 10th. D.G. Wills’ 31st annual St. Patrick’s Day Open Reading, Erin. What can you tell us about it?
SMITH: Oh, this is such a fun thing for St. Patrick’s Day, which is coming up. I can’t believe we’re already to spring and St. Patrick’s Day.
SMITH: But this is a great old storied bookstore in La Jolla and they invite members of the public, you know, avid readers and literary fans to come and read your favorite selections of Irish poets on St. Patrick’s Day. So James Joyce and Yeats and Samuel Beckett and, you know, whoever you like that’s sort of an Irish poet, they have different stages set up and they draw huge crowds. It’s just a really, really neat St. Patrick’s Day event in La Jolla.
CAVANAUGH: So basically this – does it have a sort of open mike feeling?
CAVANAUGH: People can just go up and read their favorite poems?
SMITH: Your favorite poem, yep.
SMITH: Isn’t that so neat? I love it.
CAVANAUGH: That is great. Now remind listeners the role that D.G. Wills has played in the literary scene here in San Diego.
SMITH: It really is a storied bookstore. It’s in its second location now. It opened in a different area of La Jolla. It’s right there in the village on Girard Street, right next to the Pannikin. It’s been around for over 30 years, and it really is sort of a cultural center in La Jolla. The La Jolla Cultural Society meets there. It’s definitely a literary center, and they’re famous for hosting readings of, you know, famous authors and speakers. Norman Mailer has spoken there. Allen Ginsberg did a reading. Oliver Stone, the director, came and did a reading. And actually, in doing a little bit of research for coming on your show today, I found a really great YouTube channel actually where the D.G. Wills – they videotaped these readings over the years. You know, they have a whole huge…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, wow.
SMITH: …backlog of the…
SMITH: …of videotaped readings of Norman Mailer and Oliver Stone reading at the bookstore and they’ve put them up on YouTube. So I’m sure your great producers will put a link on KPBS.org to that, so…
CAVANAUGH: I’m sure they will.
SMITH: Yeah, so you – It’s really neat to go back and see, you know. I mean, it’s one of those bookstores that’s, you know, wood rafters and floor to ceiling books and it’s just nooks and crannies and a little bit dusty…
CAVANAUGH: Right, right.
SMITH: …and just a great old place.
CAVANAUGH: This is old school. And…
SMITH: Oh, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: …and what I understand is they often have so many people that they actually put chairs outside the building and around the building.
SMITH: They do, especially when they draw a big name like Norman Mailer or for something like the St. Patrick’s Day event, they really do draw big crowds so sort of be prepared for that.
CAVANAUGH: Now, as you say, on Saint – in honor of St. Patrick’s Day there are multiple stages…
CAVANAUGH: …and what I understand is the last stage is a little bit more adult oriented?
SMITH: Well, yeah, because, I mean, some of the poets – some of the poems, you know, those Irish poets, they’re not exactly family friendly. I’ve brought one that I can read here. It’s really short. And this is Yeats, I believe, and it’s called “A Drinking Song.” And it goes ‘Wine comes in at the mouth and love comes in at the eye. That’s all we shall know for truth before we grow old and die. I lift the glass to my mouth, I look at you and I sigh.’
SMITH: So, you know, some – I mean, that’s family friendly, I guess…
SMITH: …but, you know, you have certain selections that get there…
CAVANAUGH: But when you start getting into the limericks, I think you have a problem.
SMITH: There you go. Well, and your next question, I’m sure, you know, about refreshments…
CAVANAUGH: Yes, yes.
SMITH: …there will be plenty of Guinness on hand, and Harp as well. So you can’t really have a St. Patrick’s Day celebration – even if it is very literary and highbrow, you gotta have Guinness, which they will have flowing there. And it is next door to the Pannikin, though, if you’d rather have sort of a coffee and that.
CAVANAUGH: Well, let me tell everyone, the 31st Annual St. Patrick’s Day Open Reading of Irish Poetry and Prose takes place on Wednesday, it’s March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. It begins at 7:00 p.m. and it goes on until it ends at D.G. Wills bookstore in La Jolla. Jim, the play “Boeing-Boeing,” based on a 1960s farce—movie farce, really—is staging at the Old Globe. It sounds like it’s pretty fun. Tell us about it.
HEBERT: Yeah. Well, I feel as though I should answer you in verse but, you know, I got nothing. Yeah, so yet another French play, actually. “Boeing-Boeing” was originally a – it was written in French by Marc Camoletti and then it became a movie in the mid-sixties with Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis.
CAVANAUGH: And it’s actually not a bad film.
CAVANAUGH: I remember seeing that. It’s quite funny.
HEBERT: Right, and, you know, it’s kind of gleefully chauvinistic in some ways…
CAVANAUGH: Yes, right.
HEBERT: …and it was – when the play was revived, they kind of played off that. You know, it’s a very tongue-in-cheek, you know, look – relook at this play. It was brought back to Broadway in 2008 and it was a pretty big hit and it won a couple of Tonys. And so this – it was actually going to go on national tour and somehow that fell through so The Globe ended up landing the rights to do the first production outside New York, so this’ll be the first time that this show will be seen, this musical will be seen, you know, in essentially the Broadway version. It’s a little bit updated but…
CAVANAUGH: That’s fascinating. So many musicals start out at The Old Globe…
CAVANAUGH: …and go on and now this one has gone the other way.
HEBERT: Right. Yeah, that’s happened around town a couple of times in the past couple of years where – because I don’t know if this will go out on tour after it hits The Globe but, yeah, it’s kind of a reverse little thing going on there.
CAVANAUGH: So “Boeing-Boeing” opens at The Old Globe Theatre March 13th and runs through April 18th. Now we’re – our time is short but we must get in the Irish Festival and Parade in Balboa Park. Erin, it takes place on Saturday…
CAVANAUGH: …the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I’m guessing lots of green, lots of bagpipes, lots of plaid.
SMITH: Yes. There will be thousands and thousands of people, three different bagpipe contingents, five marching bands. The oldest living Congressional Medal of Honor winner is going to be the grand marshal this year. There’s a big focus on veterans and supporting our troops at this year’s parade but lots of family friendly fun and marching and, you know, all – shenanigans. There’s going to be a beer garden at Balboa Park at the end where you can come in and do the Guinness and the Harp thing. There’s Irish dancing. There’s llama rides for kids and face painting. This is one of those, you know, really big park-wide and really kind of a city-wide St. Patrick’s Day celebration on Saturday.
CAVANAUGH: I’m not even going to ask about how the llamas come in for St. Patrick’s Day.
CAVANAUGH: They’re just going to be there. What specifically will be happening at the International Cottages where the House of Ireland is located?
SMITH: So that’s that little section in Balboa Park that…
SMITH: …has, you know, different houses from around the world and the House of Ireland will be participating on Saturday in the whole – the big Irish parade festivities. They’ll have music and dancing, and then Sunday the lawn programs have started up again and they – these run from the spring through the fall every Sunday and a different house kind of hosts the International Cottages Lawn Program. So Sunday, the House of Ireland is opening up again and they have Irish tea and soda bread and, you know, they have the young kids that do the Irish dancing and they put the stage out right in the middle of all the international cottages. So, really, all weekend long in Balboa Park there’s going to be lots of green and Irish things.
CAVANAUGH: Do you have any tips on where the best place is to view the parade from?
SMITH: The parade – over on the Bankers Hill side of the park, so it’s going to start at Laurel and Sixth and it kind of makes a square there. And if you want to see the judging stages, I guess they’re going to be judging different costumes and different floats, those are between Spruce and Thorn on Fifth and Sixth. So all kind of in that Bankers Hill area, kind of between Upas and Laurel on Fifth and Sixth Avenues.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, that’s great.
CAVANAUGH: And we do have a few minutes to talk about our last subject and that is MOXIE’s “Fighting Words.” MOXIE Theatre’s launching a Play Reading Festival called “Fighting Words.” And so what exactly is a Play Reading Festival, if you can tell us that, Jim.
HEBERT: Right. Actually, if you don’t mind, if I can just mention, I think I’ve said that “Boeing-Boeing” was a musical and that is not the case.
CAVANAUGH: Ah. Uh-huh.
HEBERT: So, just so used to, you know, The Globe doing these…
CAVANAUGH: Yes, absolutely. Yeah.
HEBERT: …musicals, but anyway, straight farce.
CAVANAUGH: Straight farce play.
HEBERT: Yes, yes. Yeah, so the MOXIE is doing “Fighting Words.” And they’re staged readings of these five works and some of them have actually been seen around town or at least the authors have been through town. “Re-Drowning Ophelia” was part of the Playwrights Project Festival that just closed about a week ago.
HEBERT: And a really pretty amazing play by – the playwright was 18 at the time she wrote it, and she was one of the winners of the contest for the Playwrights Project. So there’s that, there’s Zsa Zsa Gershick who had a play called “Bluebonnet Court” that was really good that MOXIE and Diversionary did a couple years ago. And then Jacqueline Goldfinger, who now has “Little Women,” an adaptation of “Little Women” at North Coast Rep is doing – they’re doing a play of hers called “The Terrible Girls,” a previously written play. So, yeah, there’s a lot going on there.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, I wonder, are there themes or connections that – Why is this festival called “Fighting Words” or…?
HEBERT: Well, their idea was to do plays by strong-voiced female playwrights and also plays that had strong female characters. And that’s kind of MOXIE’s bread and butter. They were founded as a women-centered company. And so it really – it’s really kind of a distillation of what they do.
CAVANAUGH: And do we know who’ll be reading during the festival?
HEBERT: You know, I’m not sure on the cast at the moment.
HEBERT: But they have a pretty strong company, regular company of actors and so – And stage readings are – can be a funny animal. I mean, people think of them as just someone sitting in a chair reading out of a book but they’re actually, you know, they’re directed and they’re – they really are acted and I think it’s worth giving them a chance. It’s, you know, they can really be very entertaining…
HEBERT: …and very enlightening so…
CAVANAUGH: “Fighting Words” opens on March 19th at MOXIE Theatre on El Cajon Boulevard. I want to thank you both so much for speaking with me today. Erin Chambers Smith, thank you.
SMITH: Sure. Thanks.
CAVANAUGH: And Jim Hebert, thanks so much.
HEBERT: Thank you, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Giving us all an idea of what to do on this ‘spring forward’ weekend. Now These Days is produced by Angela Carone, Hank Crook, Pat Finn, Megan Burke, Sharon Heilbrunn, and senior producer is Natalie Walsh. Production Manager is Kurt Kohnen, with technical assistance from Tim Felten. Our production assistants are Jordan Wicht and Rachel Ferguson. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh, and I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the week. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.