Thursday, January 13, 2011
Fresh off a celebration of local theater, two critics tell us about the best in 2010 and what's happening on San Diego stages as the new year begins.
Fresh off a celebration of local theater, two critics tell us about the best in 2010 and what's happening on San Diego stages as the new year begins.
Pam Kragen is the arts and features editor at North County Times.
Jim Hebert is the theater critic at the San Diego Union-Tribune.
ALISON ST. JOHN: You're listening to These Days on KPBS here on KPBS, I'm Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. San Diego theatre is alive and well, and the evidence of the number of productions opening this month in theatres around the region. Some are opening this weekend, so it might be a chance to break out of the hectic pace of daily life, sit back and let yourself be entertain of so we'll talk a little bit about some of the best productions coming up with our guests in studio, Pam Kragen is arts and feature editor of the North County Times. Pam, thanks for joining us.
KRAGEN: Thank for having me.
ALISON ST. JOHN: And Jim Hebert who is the theater critic for the Union Tribune. Jim, good to see you.
HEBERT: You too, Alison. Thank you.
ALISON ST. JOHN: So let's start off with, actually something that just happened earlier this week, which was the San Diego's Critics Circle, and you're both a part of that, gave out their annual awards on Monday night. Tell us how it went, Pam.
KRAGEN: You know, it was a great evening. We had somewhere close to 450 people there, and people from every semiprofessional, professional theatre, and there was just a great energy and atmosphere, and everyone had a great time. We had live performances and we had surprises, and it was just a terrific evening.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Jim, I mean, was this a bigger event than in recent years? Is it growing this event?
HEBERT: It felt bigger to me. And I'm the relative newcomer to the group. And it's always amazed me how much enthusiasm there is. And just the broad spectrum of people who show up for the event. But it was a big crowd. It was hard to -- it was really impossible to get to see and talk to everybody. But it was very heartening to see the enthusiasm.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Pam mentioned a surprise musical performance of that was that?
HEBERT: Right, well, are unfortunately not a surprise to us, because, you know, we only need so many surprises when you're putting on an event like this.
ALISON ST. JOHN: You were actually the critics, right?
HEBERT: Yes. But yeah, there was a performance of you can't stop the beat, the number from hair spray. San Diego rep did a coproduction with the school of creative and performing arts of Hair spray last summer. And it was a really good show, and it was the local premiere of that show. So we had the students and some cast members come to the awards and do you can't stop the beat. And yeah, that was unannounced. So that was pretty fun.
ALISON ST. JOHN: So Ruined was the big winner. Remind us what this is about.
HEBERT: Yeah, Ruined is a Pulitzer Price winner by Lynn Nottage and it's about the plight of people, particularly a group of women in the democratic republic of the Congo. It's based on her experiences going there. I think about six years ago to just kind of get the stories of refugees and women who were displaced by the war there, and just the tragedy that they have gone through about torture and rape and just being desperate people. And so the play is set in a bar this. It's kind of a bar and a brothel, and it explores the difficulties and the kind of redemption that these women go through.
ALISON ST. JOHN: And why as a production do you think it did so well in your awards?
HEBERT: Well, it's for one thing just, as I think Pam would agree, an incredible play. It's just kind of a punch to the gut when you sea it. But it's also very uplifting in a really hard earned way. And so -- in the playhouse, this was obviously Ruined debuted in this New York, but this was one of the first west coast productions. And it's just a hard play to not, I think, get a lot of emotional impact out of.
ALISON ST. JOHN: So there were a lot of notable performances this year. Which performances won top prizes, Pam?
KRAGEN: Well, we had -- you know, my favorite performance of the year was by miles Anderson who performed in the madness of George III at the Old Globe. He won the lead performance in a play. And it was just an amazing performance considering he was hired two days before rehearsals were supposed to begin, because the original actor, Patrick Page dropped out to go be in this spider man musical on Broadway. And so he learned this role, it's huge role, he's in every scene, three hour play, on his feet, in rehearsal in a matter of weeks, and it was the best performance of the year, everyone agreed, just knocked everyone out. So he's apparently coming to the globe again this summer, so people will get a chance to see him again. And there was just a lot of great performances. Debra gill more Smith was great, I think in Sweeny Todd.
HEBERT: Yeah, fantastic.
KRAGEN: And joy ran dell, I really enjoyed in mix tape, lamp's players' mix tape.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Then you gave out a producer of the year award.
HEBERT: Right. That went out to Ion Theatre, which is -- I think they've been around 5 or 6 years. And they've been in several different homes, but they've sort of established a new base in Hillcrest with the former Compass Theatre. And they did just an amazing range of plays this year. From an adaptation to doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to Jack Goes Boating, which was also a Philip Seymour Hoffman Movie recently, and really doing it on a shoe string and cooing amazing things for, especially, considering the kinds of resources they had.
ALISON ST. JOHN: I noticed that Seema Sueko of the Mo'olelo company, who we hear sometimes on KPBS in one book one --
HEBERT: It rolls right off your tongue. That's in the easy to say.
ALISON ST. JOHN: She won an award too, right? Her theatre company?
KRAGEN: Right. That was the Des McAnuff new visions award. It's something we created about three years ago, to honor Des McAnuff, who is the former artistic director of the Lloyd Playhouse, and he was always known for innovation and creativity. That was his hall mark. And so when he left San Diego, we created an award in his name. And we've only given it to two people, and Seema is the second person. And you know she's done a lot about Mo`Olelo she's really smart. She's a very smart marketer. She does a lot of community out reach of she tries to find issues that are going on in the community and plays that can be relevant to that. And I think we wanted to honor her for that.
ALISON ST. JOHN: So it sounds like, anyway, the San Diego theatre scene is very healthy. We could talk more about that. But let's talk more about what's going on this weekend. So by the way, you can see the list of winners from the San Diego theatre critics' awards on Culturelust blog, Angela Coron's Culturelust blog on KPBS.org. So now coming up, starting this Saturday, at the north coast rep, there's a pray, two pianos, four hands. What's this play about?
HEBERT: It's written by Ted Dijkstra and Richard Greenblatt. It's been around for quite a while. It's a show -- they're both musicians and composers, and they -- it's based partly on their lives in the performance world, and the kind of troubles they've come up against, and it's sort of a fictionalized version of their working lives.
ALISON ST. JOHN: It's sort of semi autobiographical right?
HEBERT: Yeah, exactly.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Tell us about the playwrights.
HEBERT: As I say, they're both musicians, and I think the inspiration for this play is at some time they realized they had childhood dreams of becoming, you know, the next great pianists. And then they realized at some time as young adults that while they were really, really good, they maybe weren't going to be playing Carnegie hall. And being huge stars in their field. Of so the play became about what you -- how you make peace with that and how you -- not just in music, but in any field, how you still enjoy what you do and do your best at it, and realize that your best is good enough. And reconcile that with these dreams you once had. Of.
ALISON ST. JOHN: So you're not gonna become a world famous star, even although you may be highly talented.
HEBERT: Right. And they talk about it in terms of if you're the high school quarter back who doesn't get drafted to play for the Chargers or anything, any kind of pursuit like that, that it's about still appreciating and inn joying what you do.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Accepting what is. Yeah. That's a message for all of us. So since this is a story about learning the piano, do they play some famous piano pieces?
HEBERT: Yeah, they do. They play from what I understand issue quite a range. They play some Bach and Beethoven, and Hoagy Carmichael, and I think they actually play Benny and the jets. [CHECK].
ALISON ST. JOHN: And this production, I gather has been all over the place. And I was noticing it played in Edinburg, my old home town, back in October. So it's been around of it's been played to millions of people.
HEBERT: Its had.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Can you tell us about this local production in.
HEBERT: Yeah, it's fully the local premiere of this show. And the interesting thing about north coast rep this season, every play they're doing is a local premiere. David Ellen Stein brought in all these plays that San Diegans have never seen before. And so it's pretty amazing, when you see a play like this that's been everywhere, but it hasn't actually been seen by audiences here. So I think it'll be nice to get a look at it.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Yeah. So that's two pianos, four hands. It finished previews tomorrow night, and it will be open on Saturday night at the North Coast Rep, and it'll be running through February the 6th. So now, let's move on to a production at moxie, toughest girl alive. It's also opening Saturday night. Pam, what's the story of this? Candice Cane, right?
KRAGEN: Candy Cane[PHONETIC].
ALISON ST. JOHN: Candis Cayne. Sorry.
KRAGEN: And she's a local singer, she's been performing in Southern California for 30 years, I think. She's been around forever. She lives in Oceanside. And she's just a fixture on the local scene. She's collaborated with everybody. She's a blues singer, honky-tonk, she used to be punk and pop and everything. She's done everything. And she's quite a character. And this story is it the story of her life, and it's based on an album of songs that she put together a couple of years ago, and I think the subtitle of the show is 12 words long, or 15 words long, and it's about her lawyer which has included everything from being an adult film star to an unwed teen mom, to struggling with pancreatic cancer and surviving it.
HEBERT: She's a person who seems to know everybody in town. And actually in my old neighborhood, we went it a neighbor's tupperware party one time, and she was hosting it. So talk about the different roles she's done. She's really a renaissance woman.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Yeah, and actually our listeners can hear her. She'll be on These Days next Thursday, she's gonna be performing live in our studio.
KRAGEN: That's great.
ALISON ST. JOHN: So tune in and listen. But Pam, tell us more about the director, Javier Velasco.
KRAGEN: He was actually one of our award winners at the critics' circle awards on monday for his choreography in Hairspray. He has been -- he is the associate director, I believe of San Diego ballet. But he's also been working with theatre companies in San Diego for decades. Choreographing dance numbers. And he was apparently looking to choreograph a piece of -- a dance piece to some tough girl kind of music. So he typed in it tough girl in quotes on Google and up came candy cane's autobiographical album that she put together a few years ago. And he thought, wow, I don't know her music but I've heard of her, and she's local, and he has a great story. So he contacted her and said, I would like to turn this into a theatrical piece. And she was thrilled and excited. And so they have been working together on it now for about -- do you know how long? Maybe about a year?
HEBERT: That sounds about right.
ALISON ST. JOHN: A fortuitous connection then. So does the music, is it her music or is it original sound track.
KRAGEN: It is her original music from her album and some other pieces she's written for the show. And she is in the show. She performs on stage with her band, and she serves as sort of the narrator of the piece.
ALISON ST. JOHN: So it is a play for mature audiences, right?
KRAGEN: Right, she was an adult film star, and she's known for being very outspoken about her views on all kinds of issues of so it's kind of a no holds barred, I believe they're calling it daring in their press release. So it's not for kids.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Daring. So that's Toughest Girl Alive by Candis Cayne opening Saturday at Moxie, running through February the 6th. Now, Jim, there's play play opening at The New Village Arts this weekend called Waving Goodbye. Tell us about this one.
HEBERT: Yes, waving goodbye is a play about partly about the creation of art and it sort of uses art as a metaphor for kind of forging relationships and it actually centers on a 17-year-old photographer, this teenager whose father dies. He's a mountain climber, and he actually dies on mount Everest, so she has to move back in with her mom, who she hasn't known for years and years, and her mom is a sculptor. And they have a pretty difficult relationship. And it's kind of about how they -- how they come back together and work things out.
ALISON ST. JOHN: And this is the first play that the playwrights actually ever wrote, right?
HEBERT: I believe so. Yeah.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Tell us about the playwright.
HEBERT: Well, Jamie Pacino is a pretty young playwright, up and coming playwright, who's had work produced at Steppenwolf theatre in Chicago, which is a very prominent company. She's also a screen writer, so she does a lot of things and she wrote this piece as, you know, it's in some ways has kind of an abstraction to it. I was talking to the designer at New Village Arts who was saying that, you know, she suggests things in the play that happened, like, a sky light falls down, but she leaves it very open to how to interpret it. I think there's a lot of kind of a stylized feel to this play. A lot of -- it's almost impressionistic from what I gather, talking to them.
ALISON ST. JOHN: But it is, it's obviously emotionally pretty complex and a channelling piece.
HEBERT: Right, right. Right, and challenging in terms of the set of Christian Kerner who's the cofounder and executive artistic director of New Village Arts says this is the biggest set they've ever build, and it actually involves creating -- turning set into an art installation over the course of the play, which is a pretty ambitious thing to do.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Oh, wow.
HEBERT: So I think that should be interesting to see. The pieces gradually come together and at the very end, you see this finished work of art, which is the play's environment itself.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Neat. Okay. So now, this is eye pay what you can preview through Friday night. What does that mean? Is there an appropriate amount to contribute?
HEBERT: I think, you know, honestly whatever you can and would like to contribute. I did a story a while back on the pay what you can concept because there was actually a sushi performance, the kind of ground breaking avantgarde company here actually did a whole season of pay what you can, just as an experiment.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Yeah.
HEBERT: And the idea is, you pay what you feel the piece warrants or what you want --
ALISON ST. JOHN: Do you pay before or afterwards? 'Cause --
HEBERT: Yeah, that's a very good question. I think you do, no, I think you have to put up your money first. It's like Las Vegas.
ALISON ST. JOHN: All right. So that's waving goodbye. And you can go and pay what you can in reviews through Friday, then it's gonna open Saturday night. It's running through February 6th. And it's at the New Village Arts theatre, which is in Carlsbad. So now coming back down to Balboa park, there's a drama called next to normal. And it's quite acclaimed of it's won quite a few awards on Broadway. Pam, tell us a bit about the impact this play's had.
KRAGEN: Well, next to normal won the Pulitzer prize for drama. And I think it's only the third musical that's ever won that award. And it also won the Tony award for best score. It's a rock musical. And actually -- the Broadway production's been running for a couple years, it's closing this Sunday, but it's run for more than 700 performances. It's a huge success. And I think that it's one of those rare musicals that tells a story of people that don't usually get their stories told, and this would be a middle aged -- middle aged people, a middle aged mom and a wife who's going through struggles in her life. And it's just -- it's fresh and it's different, and it's surprising, and I think it's exciting that it's coming here.
ALISON ST. JOHN: It stars Alice Ripley, and she's had a history in San Diego.
KRAGEN: Right, she grew up in the midwest. But when she graduated from college, she moved back to San Diego in the late '80s. And she worked around at the globe, and the San Diego rep, and she worked at the La Jolla playhouse. I know Jack O'Brien at the Old Globe directed her, and Des McAnuff directed her in a show called silent Edward. And she went to New York, and he called her and said, come back to La Jolla. I've got this musical I'm working on, and it was the Who's Tommy, and then rode with the show back to New York and she's never come back for a show. So this'll be, I believe this is her return to San Diego as the star. She won a Tony award for this role.
ALISON ST. JOHN: So this is actually a musical. It's a bit counter intuitive to have a musical about mental illness, I guess. That's the music like?
KRAGEN: It's rock, it's pop rock, I would say. It's lively and it's listenable, it's toe tapping kind of music. Of definitely enjoyable music to listen to, but it's definitely rock. It reminds me a lot of spring awakening or -- yeah, I would say spring awakening or rent. Of it's very similar in this style.
ALISON ST. JOHN: And in fact, the director directed rent as well, right?
KRAGEN: Correct. Michael Greif, yes, who was also La Jolla Playhouse artistic director for a while. It has that same urgency as rent does. It has that same sort of concert feel. It's got a very stark stage, sort of a metal framework stage just like Rent, and the characters sing to the audience with a real sense of energy and emotion. So they're very similar.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Sounds very promising. So next to normal, that opens at the Balboa theatre. Sorry, I said Balboa park. I meant the Balboa Theatre, next Tuesday, January 18th, and it'll run through February 23rd. Now we have a Tragedy of the Commons which is at the Signet opening this month. This is written by a local playwright, right? Jim?
HEBERT: Right, Steven Metcalfe which actually, interesting enough, he wrote White Linen, which Alice Ripley was in back at The Old Globe back in, I think 1988 or thereabouts. But he lives in La Jolla, and he was working -- he had quite a few plays produced in San Diego a couple decades ago. Then he kind of dropped out of sight. One reason was that he wrote -- he did the uncredited rewrite for the movie, Pretty Woman, which became a big hit. And after that, he was very in demand by Hollywood, and did that for years and years. And eventually decided to come back to playwrighting,. As he put it, I was over at signet the other thing and talking with him and Shawn Murray, the artistic director. And Steven met calf was saying he got tired of working other people's ideas and wanted to get back to working on his.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Ah, ha. So how did the signet come to get this world premier from him?
HEBERT: I believe -- so Francis Gercke is it the associate artistic director, and he, I think, had some kind of professional tie with Steven met calf and brought him aboard. And signet as Shawn Murray put it, had been wanting to do a world premiere for a long time. Because this is their first world premier. The company's been around since I think 2004. 2003 or 2004, and they -- it's the first time they'll be doing a brand new work. And that's a huge undertaking it's very adventurous for them.
ALISON ST. JOHN: And it's a very California play, right? With real estate, organization views and that kind of thing?
HEBERT: Yeah, it is in some ways. But I think it kind of goes broader than that, it begins with the idea of a guy who's angry because the view of, you know, his view is going to be blocked by, like, a -- I think a big mansion being built. The and it sort of turns into this crusade for him. But there's actually a lot about the play that I -- you know, I probably shouldn't mention because there are some twists that are gonna be surprise to the audience, and it welcomes really about how much you're willing to sacrifice to stand up for what you believe in.
ALISON ST. JOHN: I think this world tragedy of the commons is kind of a scientific concept right?
HEBERT: It is, yeah, kind of a philosophical concept. I think it's -- it was coined in, I think, 1963, and it has to do with the idea how people's self interest will tend to override the common interest. And eventually makes it worse for everybody.
ALISON ST. JOHN: Okay, well, it sounds like it's an interesting theme. And it's a world premiere, tragedy of commons of it's opening at the signet theatre. Goes into previews on January -- it opens on January 29th, and runs through January 20th. So that's a lot of good options, that's -- but we hope that everyone will go out and patronize the theatre around San Diego. Healthy theater community. We'd like to thank you both very much for coming in. Pam, arts and editors at the North County Times. Thanks for coming in.
KRAGEN: Thank you.
ALISON ST. JOHN: And Jim Hebert, the theatre critic the at the UT.
KRAGEN: Thanks Alison.
ALISON ST. JOHN: And thank you for listening to These Days, here on KPBS. Have a great weekend.