San Diego weekend arts events: "Sharon," Frida Kahlo, and youth jazz
S1: Welcome back. You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman for our weekend arts preview. We'll take a closer look at a dark comedy play , as well as a quick look at some other highlights in the art and culture world. Joining me is Kpbs arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans. Julia , welcome.
S2: Hi , Jade. Thanks for having me.
S1: Always great to have you. So tell us about this play , Sharon by playwright Keiko Green that just opened at the Cygnet Theater , right ? Yeah.
S2: So this is a play. It's set in a crumbling apartment building in the kind of small suburban town of Everett , Washington. It's it's just outside of Seattle. And it follows this mother , Sharon , and her adult son , Jake. And they appear to be the landlords of this building that they live in. Jake also works at a grocery store , and I read the entire script. I was just planning on reading a little bit of it to get a sense for it , but I kept going because it was so fascinating. The play's really funny and it's also dark and suspenseful , but I especially love the way that humor is used. Interesting.
S1: Interesting. So you say it's suspenseful.
S2: And I think that one of the things in addition to those things , that's really powerful , it's the way that the characters deal with each other , with truth , with reality and honesty. And it's just really fascinating. But yeah , overall , I appreciated the way that that the humor shares space with those human character elements , but it's definitely bookended by this total curiosity and suspense. One of the things that struck me right off the bat was how you have this otherwise normal scene. Just this mother and her son. They're discussing their day , they're making dinner , but there's something not quite right about it. So let's hear how the playwright Keiko Green describes it.
S3: I do think , like immediately it's clear to the audience that there's something up. You know , we're seeing this very strange , tense , mother son relationship. So , you know , we ask this question of , you know , what is really going on here. And and the play itself is it's a little bit of a mystery and that you kind of have to keep figuring out what's going on. But what I'm really proud of is that every question actually is answered within the play. So by the end , you know , audiences should really fully understand. But the first scene is actually a triplet of three little scene lots. And by the time they walk away from there immediately they'll understand what the heck is going on with these with this strange mother and son. And part of it is , you know , an exploration of transactional relationships that gives like a little bit of a hint. Think of of what might be happening. Okay.
S2: Okay. So tell us about Sharon then , the character and who she is. Or maybe it's better to ask who she isn't. Yeah.
S3: Yeah. So she is the maternal figure in this play. She has a son named Jake. We do find out pretty early on in the play , there's a kind of another Sharon that is that looms over the piece , even the title of the play itself. You know , it's called Sharon , even though our lead character is actually her son , Jake. And it just kind of gives you a sense of how much power this woman has had over her son's life and how he kind of can never break free from that.
S2: So Jake is he's almost like a hard character to like. But you're writing lets these little vulnerabilities show through. There's there's some softness to him.
S3: I you know , I'm always really interested in stories that complicate our humanity. You know , stories of good people doing bad things and bad people doing good things. And so for our story , for Jake , you know , it's really easy to to have this story about a man who is mad at the world trying to find his place in the world , also feeling genuinely erased. You know , it's just I'm writing a story about , you know , someone who's feeling disenfranchised. And for me , the goal is how can I fall in love with each character , even the ones that I don't necessarily agree with or scare me. And so , you know , there's a constant push and pull between him and the and the character of Sharon of these power plays and making sure that no one's ever evil. They're pushed into acting the way they do and behaving the way they do because of their given circumstances. And I think that we've found our actor who's playing the character of Jake Raphael Goldstein. He's an amazing actor that we have from LA. I actually went to undergrad with him forever ago. Oh , wow. Yeah , And his performance in it is truly sensational. And he he's able to really tap into the softness and , you know , making sure that we're never commenting on the character , but really making him as real as possible. Because I do think that audiences will walk away from this feeling a lot of. Feelings about our lead , you know ? Is that someone that we root for , or are we scared of him ? I'm not sure. And I think that it really just shows that each person really can contain multitudes. And and that's certainly the case for our protagonist , Jake.
S2: So this play is a it's a thriller , but it unfolds kind of like a comedy or maybe it's a comedy that's more bookended as a thriller. Either way , it's kind of dark , and I'm wondering how those elements coexist as you're writing , like in your process.
S3: You know , there are certain characters that come in that almost feel like they're in a completely different genre , and that's definitely deliberate. You know , my my husband is in the play also. He's a he's really a comedic genius. He's just the funniest person that I know. And his performance of this character , Greg , who works at the bank , it's kind of the first time , I think , in the play where the audience is like , Oh , okay , I understand the comedy of this scene. Like everything until now has been there's a lot of discomfort sitting in , sitting in like really fun discomfort , I think. And , you know , there's like rom com elements to it at certain points within the psychological thriller. And then with Greg comes our first taste of like real , almost farcical comedy. And when we were figuring out the tone of the play originally , we were calling it a psychological thriller farce because there is definitely a lot of farce elements , especially to our our final , final sequence of the play , which is which is , you know , structurally completely different from the rest of it. And that's not to give too much away , but I think we set up an audience for having a certain kind of experience. They'll leave , they'll go to intermission , and when they come back , it'll just be a completely a different kind of play than you've seen so far. That answers every question. And and there's like a kind of a beautiful , chaotic build that that I think will be really satisfying.
S2: And you were also acting in this production as as Tina , one of Jake's coworkers. And I love the character of Tina.
S3: But of course , Tina being the character that's close to me and age is kind of a loud mouth. Um , you know , tells it like it is. Those are things that come really naturally to me. And so when I was talking with the director or Robbie , I had worked with Robbie on two different plays before as an actor , and we were talking about the character and I was telling him , you know , I mean , she really needs to be sounding like this. She needs to be bringing this energy and he's just like , You should just play this part. Um , so it probably yeah , I do think that there is a natural meanness that is written into the role. She really gives us a counterpoint. She gives us an opportunity to find the softness and Jake in the humanity and really with theatrical eyes , a metaphor of , you know , growing up in a toxic home , you know , feeling stuck where you're living. This was written during the pandemic , during the quarantine period. So there is a little bit of , you know , feeling stuck within your four walls. And so , you know , he could have another life if he could just kind of move on from his given circumstances. If you could finally kind of break free from these walls that have kept him in for his whole life , then she represents the this world that he actually could have access to.
S2: So you got your MFA in San Diego , but you are based in LA in Seattle , but you continue to work with the San Diego Theater community on new pieces. There's Sharon , but also recently exotic , deadly that just wrapped up at the Old Globe. Both were workshopped here and had their premieres here.
S3: And at first I was just thinking , Well , I'm going to be here for a few years. I might as well get to know the community here. And I've just been so lucky. It was like the smartest thing I had done in the last few years was really invest in the theater community here , because it's I do think it's really , really special. It's a city , but it feels like a town , you know , where everybody is kind of knows each other. There's a support for one another. And also he worked out at Cygnet doing Life Sucks , and it's just been a real blessing , especially , you know , when we were worried about whether our industry would even exist after the pandemic. To be able to spend that time really kind of feeling supported by San Diego. It was really , really special. And , you know , both of these plays , exotic , deadly and Sharon are wildly different. And they're , you know , two very different. Theatres as well , but they are kind of strange. They are plays that I didn't write , you know , really thinking like , Oh , I'm going to write something that a theater will want to produce. Those are two plays that I wrote from my heart about very different themes , but still about , you know , people who are are struggling to find their place in the world. And for , for me to get to write something that just feels so personal and for that to really ring true for , you know , the decision makers and the theater community and the artists themselves who have contacted me and been so supportive. I mean , I just feel so blessed , truly.
S2: Keiko , thank you so much.
S3: Thank you. Yeah , it was so great talking to you. Thank you so much.
S1: That was playwright Keiko Green. Her play Sharon just opened at Cygnet Theater in Old Town. It'll be on stage through July 2nd. I'm Jade Hindman and this is Midday Edition. I'm talking about weekend arts and culture events with Kpbs arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans. So Julia , let's take a look at some of the other things going on in San Diego. Starting in the North County , the California Center for the Arts in Escondido has a new exhibit of photographs of the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. This isn't work by Kahlo , but of her. So what do you know about that ? Right.
S2: It's a touring exhibit of photography by Frida Kahlo's longtime friend , and it turns out her on again , off again romantic partner Nicolas Marais. The two met in 1931 and they started an affair. And even after that affair ended , they stayed friends until she passed away in 1954. Reading about their relationship was a total rabbit hole for me this week , and it's clear that these are super intimate portraits , but also represent how they each kind of work together and develop their personalities as artists. And , you know , a lot of the super iconic photographs of Frida Kahlo you've probably seen before , they're in this exhibit there by Marie , but there's a total about 40 portraits and even some letters between the two of them. One I saw even has a lipstick kiss Mark on it. The lipstick aside , this exhibits so much about kind of the route of inspiration and what it means to be a muse.
S2: And while you're at the museum , you can also see this other installation from local artist Nan Coffee. She has a background as an animator , and I love the way she fills an entire canvas or even an entire room with cartoonish drawings , mostly in black and white. There's just so much to get lost in. In her work that also opens on Saturday.
S1: Okay , one more. How about some music ? The Young Lions Jazz Conservatory is playing a full day of free concerts on Saturday.
S2: The conservatory is made up of a bunch of smaller ensembles. Some of them are just trios or quartets. Some of them are bigger ensembles. And I think a lot of times these showcases , they get written off as something that's just for the parents. But , you know , this is a youth conservatory. But I've seen these groups before. They are so good , they just crushed it at the North Park Music Festival a couple of weekends ago. It's definitely worth checking out. This is the school , as you may know , that's founded by local jazz royalty , Gilbert Castellanos These kids are incredibly talented. The groups are so cohesive. So just like the performances are mind blowing , this is their big group. It's the Jacobs Jazz Ensemble we're listening to. This was a Panama 66 last summer. And the show on Saturday is free. It's at the loft at UC San Diego. So really close that part of campus is really close to the Blue line station. The trolley and the show is from 11 to 440. They'll have a new ensemble every 20 minutes. So you can plan to pop in for a set or two whenever you can swing it.
S1: And you can find details on these and more arts events and sign up for Julia's weekly newsletter at pbs.org. Smarts I've been speaking with Kpbs arts producer Julia Dixon. Evans Julia , thanks and enjoy your weekend.
S2: Thank you , Jade. You too.
S1: We'd love to hear your thoughts on today's show. Give us a call. (619) 452-0228. You can leave a message or you can email us at midday at pbs.org. Don't forget to catch Evening Edition tonight at 5 p.m. on Kpbs television. And I want to give a big thanks to the midday edition team producers Andrew Bracken , Harrison Patino , Julianna Domingo , all with the help of Arianna Clay. Technical directors are Rebecca Chacon and Adrian Villalobos. Art segment producers are Julia Dixon Evans and Beth Accomando. Also , you may have noticed our new music for the show. It's the fantastic sounds from local band Surefire Soul Ensemble. If you ever miss a show , you can find the Midday Edition podcast on all platforms. I'm Jade Hindman. Thanks for listening.
Everything isn't quite as it seems in "Sharon," a new play by local playwright Keiko Green. It looks at the strange and tense relationship between the titular character Sharon and her adult son Jake, the play's protagonist.
KPBS/Arts producer Julia Dixon Evans spoke with Green about the mother-son relationship at the center of the play and combining elements of a dark comedy with a psychological thriller. We also look at other arts and culture happenings in town this weekend, including a new exhibit of photographs of the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and a free concert by a local youth jazz conservatory.
"Sharon" runs through July 7 at the Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.
Keiko Green, playwright of “Sharon”
Julia Dixon Evans, KPBS/Arts producer and editor