Events: 'Cabaret,' 'Foxfire,' 'In The Next Room'
San Diego stages are busy these days with a smorgasbord of offerings. From the famed musical "Cabaret" to the Appalachian drama "Foxfire," there's something for everyone. We'll talk with theater critics Jim Hebert and Pam Kragen about the local theater scene.
Pam Kragen is the arts and features editor at North County Times.
Jim Hebert is the theater critic at the San Diego Union-Tribune.
This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I’m Maureen Cavanaugh and you are listening to These Days on KPBS. Wilkkomen, Bien Venue, welcome to this edition of the weekend preview. He may have guess that we will be talking about stage productions around town. I would like to welcome my guests, Pam Kragen is arts and features editor at the North County Times, good morning.
PAM KRAGEN: Good morning Maureen, thank you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Jim Hebert is theater editor at the San Diego Union Tribune .Jim, good morning.
JIM HEBERT: Maureen, good to see you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Good to see you as well. Well coming from Cabaret of course the well-known musical made famous on Broadway is now in production here at Cygnet Theatre in San Diego. Remind listeners if you want, Pam, what Cabaret is about.
PAM KRAGEN: Cabaret is a musical from 1966 by Kander and Ebb and it was based on a play from 1951 by John Venter called “I am a camera”. (Inaudible) based the play of the members of Christopher Isherwood who was a young gay American writer living in Berlin in the early 1930s. Just as the Nazis were rising to power. He was fascinated by the characters that he met in the seedy Cabarets in Berlin at the time and he was also horrified by the way the Jews were being treated and it grew increasingly worse to the point where he felt he had to leave.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And of course the movie with Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey also reprised his part in the movie from the original Broadway production. So Jim is there anything unique about the way the segment is approaching the musical?
JIM HEBERT: Yes there are a few things, the most prominent is that the director Sean Murray has cast a female in the role of the MC which has been done now and then in the past but the role is usually played by a male. It is people probably remember Joel Grey. In the film, so it's kind of a subversive way to go about it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's a nice way of putting it. How does it work?
JIM HEBERT: It works really well. Karson St. John is the actor who plays the MC and she's got a really just a magnetic way about her. It's funny because I think we've seen her mostly in comedies around town. But, and there are some common elements to this especially with her role she is sort of this almost like a huckster. You know, trying to get people entertained and trying to get people to buy drinks and so she has that comic feel to her performance but there is also this kind of edge of menace which is kind of intrinsic to the role and she does really well in that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yeah, Pam because it must be difficult to approach this very well-known role in giving your personal edge. Do you feel that Karson does that?
PAM KRAGEN: Oh I think she's wonderful. We are members of the critics Circle and we gave her an award for her acting last year. She's just a very charismatic performer which is what you need and that part. She's also I think she wears this sort of mannish costume and it reminded me a little bit of Marlena Dietrich annealed movies in the 30s where she was bisexual and questionable and in person wears a vest with her arms exposed and she's kind of buff. She's got some good muscles, so she's kind of plane between the lines of bisexuality, and sort of androgynous. She's kind of friendly in the beginning of the show and she grows more menacing. So it is a really fully conceived performance.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Any other performance that stand out in the second production of Cabaret?
PAM KRAGEN: It is a big cast. Think it's 15 people and there are a number of good performances. Joy Yandell plays Cecile Abelson who is the Liza Minnelli character and she's really powerful singer.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Which you need in that part.
JIM HEBERT: Yeah, exactly and even in some of the smaller roles there is Tony Houck who is a local actor and does a lot of work around town, and he plays actually one of the cute girls.
PAM KRAGEN: He's hilarious, he's very blasé.
JIM HEBERT: Helga, yet and he's pretty fun to watch.
PAM KRAGEN: I loved Linda Libby and Jim Chovick. They played the German landlady and the Jewish grocer who surprised themselves by falling in love late in life but they are sort of torn apart by the rise of Nazi-ism and I thought it was heartbreaking to see them fall in love. It was so joyful, and then to see them have their hearts broken. To me that was the whole story.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Because even though this is a very, amusing and a sense of musical and to watch and the songs are wonderful there is this threat of darkness in it because of the rise of the Nazi-ism. In Berlin. And is that something that this production makes good use of would you say?
JIM HEBERT: Yeah, there are actually scenes where Ashley turn on a dime and it blindsides you. There's a scene that is the party scene and part of the feel of the piece is that these people who are doing all they can to ignore this, what's happening outside that Cabaret with the rise of the Third Reich and there is one scene where the partygoers are actually had an engagement party and they are doing this kind of silly dance. It's almost like a pattycake. Then suddenly they all face the audience that they hold the hands and the light drains from the set and they look like a tableau of the photos that you see at concentration camps. There is that image, there's kind of the neck of that look and you suddenly realize here is these people's future and it is a little terrifying. Especially because it happened so quickly like that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That sounds really remarkable. A real showstopper. Cygnet Theatre's production of Cabaret is plain old town theater through May 15 and if you'd like to see some of the beautiful costumes from this production of Cabaret you can check out a post on our blog culture list by our producer Angela Corona and that is at KPBS.org. Let's move on Jim, to another point, a drama called In the Next Room, also known as The Vibrator Play production. Glad you got this one, Jim, tell us about it.
JIM HEBERT: Have the kids at home turn the radio down. Yet, this is a Sarah Rule play, she's pretty hot young playwright she's a MacArthur genius grant award winner and she said it numbers shows in a statement cell phone and a play called them clean house which they decrypted a few years ago now they've brought in in the next room, which is set in the Victorian era in America and it deals with, it's at the dawn of the electrical age so one of them main characters is a doctor who treats women for "hysteria and part of what he uses is this contraption which is mentioned in the title which is not accountable to. And it's interesting because because he really looks at it as a scientific thing. He doesn't have anything to do for him anyway with sex or with women's, it is more to do with just here is how I treat this disorder or whatever. And of course the women in the plane began to realize there is more to it than that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Oh yes, so is this funny is the sort of a play of sexual awakening in Victorian era women. Is it funny?
JIM HEBERT: It is yes. It is essentially a comedy and I think Pam saw it in New York. I don't know how this production might differ from the original production, but Sam Woodhouse directed the show for the Rep. It is almost, there's a little bit of almost a farcical feel to some of the scenes especially with Dr. Givings who's played by Fran Burke. He's just sort of so comically repressed almost in an over-the-top way and he just cannot deal with you know, he's treating these women in such a clinical way it and at the same time his wife who is on the other side of the door outside the exam room because it is his operating theater is in their house and his wife is starving for attention and affection and he is just blind to that because he is so busy doing the work of God and Thomas as it is.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sexually liberating the rest of the female population, yes. And what did you think of the production you saw in New York?
PAM KRAGEN: I thought it was the best play I saw in 2009 absolutely fantastically a great Broadway cast and a great set I love Sarah related she's a great playwright but I think she writes from a woman's perspective into becoming character is Dr. Givings, man. But I think what I like about the play is that it sort of looks at how the women's roles were so defined in 19th century America. They were the ones who took care of children and they were homemakers and there's characters in here like there's an older man with a much younger wife and his wife is not happy so he assumes she must have hysteria so therefore she goes to the doctor to be treated. It can't just be that maybe she's lonely and depressed and she's not in love with a man who is 25 years older than her. And the doctor's wife is a very sympathetic character because she's just had a baby and she can her spirit she feels totally useless. And her husband will give her any affection so to me it is a woman's story is about intimacy and women form a bond together. The woman, the nursemaid brought in, this woman patient, and the nurse, and then the doctor's wife, it becomes like a sisterhood where they all work together to try and liberate themselves.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jim, we weren't completely fooling around when we said that this is not family friendly. There is some nudity and a spy?
JIM HEBERT: There's a little bit. It's nothing too scandalous but there's basically at the end there's kind of a rearview male nudity so that's pretty much the extent of it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And the adult themes as well.
JIM HEBERT: Yet because of the setting there's not any strong language or anything, but it is not Disney.
PAM KRAGEN: The vibrator is administered during the play but it's all done under a sheet and it's all very comical.
JIM HEBERT: Right and in fact you can imagine some of the scenes that are a little bit like the Meg Ryan was seen in---
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When Harry Met Sally is in the greatest city in the repertory production of the next room, the vibrator play is playing at the Lyceum stage to rebel 17th. Pam, my mind stages during a play called Foxfire at the off of theater. What is it about?
PAM KRAGEN: That's right, Foxfire is the story of an independent widow who lives on a family farm in Georgia's Blue Ridge Mountains with only the ghost of her late husband to keep her company. And during the place of the people visit the farm to try to convince her to sell the farm because it's not safe for her to be your she's almost 80 years old and live to an old folks home but she's not really willing to leave the farm because she would have to leave her husband's body and spirit behind.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I understand this was basically a star vehicle for Jessica Tandy at one time.
PAM KRAGEN: And they both starred in the Broadway production and he was always looking for vehicles that they could do together because they didn't get a chance to perform together that often.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So tell us about, there is a musical element to display that I find very interesting.
PAM KRAGEN: That's right, while the Foxfire, is based on the Foxfire books which chronicled the oral histories of the Appalachian people and those were done in the 60s and 70s and there was also the recordings of Appalachian music and he co-wrote this with Susan Cooper's and they listen to the Appalachian music and they reset some of the music with lyrics that Mr. Cronin wrote to kind of retell the story of this fictional family. So Appalachian music is an oral history of its own and tells the stories of the people and their troubles. So the lyrics in the show were written by the playwrights to tell these oral histories of the characters.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So there is bluegrass music.
PAM KRAGEN: There is bluegrass music it's live on stage bluegrass band and they are actually from Vista, they are a family band. They are very good. One of the performers at the show who plays the son of this elderly woman is a country singer. And he sings several songs which are based on like I said, the oral history of his family's experiences.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Overall how do you like this production of Foxfire?
PAM KRAGEN: I like it. I think it's a bit outdated as a play. I think the second act is a little slow it's probably not my favorite play in a world however I like the two lead actors that played the late husband and wife quite a bit. I think they are just really good local actors.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me tell everyone that the Moonlight stage production staging of Foxfire will be at the Avo Playhouse through April 10. Now here is a play that we talked about a little but already own These Days it is Rafta Rafta at the old Globe. Jim and we had some actors on the show last week but remind the listeners what this play is about.
JIM HEBERT: It is set in England in basically what the play is about, it's characters are a set of Indian immigrant families who live in this kind of industrial town and the parents of the one family are working-class and the action kind of centers on the son who has just gotten married. He and his new bride are kind of on their honeymoon but they are honeymooning and the groom's father's house. Which is, seems to set up some obvious complications because they are living in this crowded house and they are trying to kind of consummate their marriage and try to have some time to themselves.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You got the good plays this time.
JIM HEBERT: Yeah, I know. A lot of crazy stuff.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's what I mean
JIM HEBERT: I'm blushing.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We made a lot last week about the fact that this was sort of a transplanted play based on the comedy in the 1960s that was sent in a white British family
JIM HEBERT: Right.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The same play, and now this has been rethought, reimagined for Indian immigrants in England. So how does that work, Jim?
JIM HEBERT: You know I didn't see the original play, but from what I understand it is a pretty much a straight transfer. What the new setting is meant to add is this kind of clash of not just generations, but you know, I think this is probably true with a lot of families with immigrant parents that they are used to, or they still have a lot of the culture of the country with them and maybe traditions and attitudes about things that clash with the younger generation of people who are growing up in a society. So that's part of what happens in this show. You know, the son whose name is a tool doesn't really want to do the same things that his dad, doesn't want to read the same life that his dad did and they clash a lot because of that there's a big sort of father-son friction, element of friction and display.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So did you like Rafta Rafta?
JIM HEBERT: You know, they had some difficult times during her so because one of the main actors, the actor playing the father who is really central to display had to drop out because he was ill. So they brought in a new actor really on very short notice. And he does amazingly well considering how little time he had to prepare. I don't know if that might have sort of shifted the dynamic of the production and maybe throw in other people's time enough. It's hard to tell but there is something about it when I went on opening night on Sunday the opening was delayed a few days but it still felt kind of tentative and it still felt as though the actors were finding their way through it. So I think that was part of what at least so far as we did not completely successful. The other thing just in there are aspects of the play that feel kind of clichéd terms of how the characters interact and so I think there are two things going on. Maybe the change in the production and also something about the play itself. I think he's just a little bit then there, done that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Finally on display at the old Globe Rafta Rafta there has been much made about the celebratory nature of the production in terms of its look and I guess it's closing, tell us a little bit about that.
JIM HEBERT: Yeah, the director Jonathan Silverstein who is actually a UCSD graduate sort of injected some more elements of Indian culture. From what I understand were not really part of the original productions which were kind of gritty. He brought in, he actually added a scene at the beginning of the wedding, so there are some pretty vivid costumes, and then he added at the end a curtain call that is like a scene from a Bollywood movie. If you saw I am blanking on the name, the movie Slumdog Millionaire. So if you saw that there is a scene, they do something similar
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A big dance number.
JIM HEBERT: A sequence that he added that it's actually really cool. There are great costumes and it does this have choreographed fun dance but it's a little bit of a contrast to the kind of the energy level of the play as a whole to me it says that this thing where well it would have been nice to see more of that energy or more of that texture to the whole production.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well let me tell everyone that Rafta Rafta is playing at the Old Globe and will be there through April 24. The play Or is that Moxie Theatre. Tell us about this play and it's main character Aphra Behn.
PAM KRAGEN: To be honest with you when I first was going to write a feature about this play I did not know who Aphra Behn was. So I had to do some research and she was a 17th century, she was the first professional woman playwright which is what I read on Wikipedia and it said that she led a very colorful life. She was very proudly independent. She was a widow and she spied for King Charles II and he didn't pay her so she ended up in debtors prison, then she got out in became an independent writer. She was bisexual and she wrote about sexual freedom. So she was definitely ahead of her time and display by Liz Duffy Adams is sort of capturing the moment when she's getting out of prison and deciding to not be someone's mistress, not be someone's wife, but be a professional independent woman.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A real trailblazer back in the 17th century. Now, you mentioned there have been parallels between the 17th-century setting of this play in the 1960s. Did you see that in this production?
PAM KRAGEN: I saw that in some reviews when I was checking online but I don't think it really works. It doesn't 60s folk music on for the play starts but once you get into the play I didn't really see it. I think there was a reference to weed smoking which was somewhat smoking and tobacco pipe and there were some references to tune in, turn on, that sort of thing. I didn't see it that much print not that it detracts from the play, but I didn't really see the 60s parallels. This woman was far more ahead of her time than women from the 60s.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Exactly there'll be three actors in the play opposite sexes in the production
PAM KRAGEN: Aphra Behn's plays are very much like really Shakespeare comedies. There's lots of cross-dressing and mistaken identities of the comedy of errors people running off stage and coming back on in a different costumes and that's what Liz Duffy Adams does in this play she has the characters going off and turning up in the closet coming up here and there in different costumes, wigs, mustaches. It's very fast-paced and versatile.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But it isn't exactly historically accurate.
PAM KRAGEN: No. I think that characters are real and a few of the situations like the first time you see her she's in prison and she's getting out of prison and many of the lines from her place and her autobiography she sort of wrote about herself are woven into the play but the situation is all fiction of.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Did you like it?
PAM KRAGEN: I think it's really cute. It's a cute little play.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me tell everyone that Moxie Theatre production of Or is playing April 23 at Moxie Theatre on El Cajon boulevard. Hey, I want to thank you both Pam and Jim, thanks for coming in to tell us all about this stuff.
PAM KRAGEN: Thanks, Maureen.
JIM HEBERT: Thanks Maureen and Pam.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want everyone to know that heat These Days is produced by Hank Crook (inaudible) production assistant and additional assistance from Chad Bennett production assistant is Hillary Anderson we also have Robert Moreno, Joslyn Maggert, Pauline Lucas and Annika John. I am Maureen Cavanaugh, hoping you enjoy the rest of the week. You've Been Listening to These Days on KPBS.