Volume III, Issue II Summer 2004

Turbulence - Charlene Baldridge's theater diary

For the week of July 4

One purpose of art is to roil calm waters of the mind and soul. Another is to entertain. The past week in San Diego presented a bit of each with emphasis on the latter. Mainly Mozart knocked holes in my theater-going for much of June, so I played catch-up, certainly a worthy and rewarding endeavor.

The scene at San Diego's smaller theaters commands attention, and aside from musicals at Starlight ("Triumph of Love") and Moonlight ("My One and Only") my catch-up played out in these smaller, indoor venues, which required fewer jackets and no blankets, though they've been keeping the auditorium at the Neurosciences Institute so cold that one might as well be outdoors. Bitch, bitch, bitch.

A Lesson From Aloes Meticulous directing and extraordinary acting are hallmarks of Luis Torner's not-to-be-missed production of Athol Fugard's "A Lesson From Aloes," playing Sundays through Wednesdays through July 18 at 6th at Penn Theatre.

The three-hander is set in New Bethesda, Fugard's hometown. It's a taut, swift-moving drama concerning three South Africans affected by apartheid. Linda Castro portrays Gladys, who possesses a certain frailty and uncertainty, as if she's returned from a long trip and has yet to unpack. Gladys is married to the solicitous though emotionally remote Piet (Bernard Baldan), a man obsessed with native flora, namely aloes, which he identifies, catalogues and nurtures. He is much more involved with the prickly aloes than with Gladys.

There is tension in the couple's verbal intercourse as they prepare for dinner guests, about which Gladys is none too happy. The reasons for her disquiet and the couple's apparent lack of friends are revealed gradually over the course of the meticulously crafted play, which is all about endings.

A young "coloured" named Steve – patriarch of the intended dinner guests – finally arrives, alone. This role is played by Rhys Green, who achieves his finest, most well-calibrated performance under Torner's direction. Having spent seven years in jail for his political activism, Steve is leaving, taking his family to England. More cannot be revealed without giving away the intricate and fascinating plot, which depends upon its gradual dissemination of information for maximum impact. Suffice it to say this work is one of Fugard's best.

Lilithing around

I went to a read-through of composer Anthony Davis and librettist Alan Havis' work-in-progress chamber opera, "Lilith." It's a wickedly funny, musically jazzy, spiky piece about the woman who, according to Jewish mythology, preceded Eve as Adam's mate. Sledgehammer Artistic Director Kirsten Brandt directed. Julie Jacobs narrated. The title role was sung by Davis' wife, Cynthia Aaronson-Davis, who despite the high tessitura of her husband's vocal lines manages to articulate the lyrics.

UCSD master's graduate Anne-Marie Dicce sang the role of Eve. A UCSD professor of voice, bass Philip Larson sang a role designated simply "Voice," but it's apparent he's either God or an archangel and a very funny one at that. Sledge artist Ruff Yeager managed the Voice's text, music and high tessitura very well indeed.

In the audience were lots of friends, among them David Tierney and Janet Hayatshahi from Sledgehammer, Brandt, and Arthur and Molli Wagner, for whom the UCSD Wagner Dance Building is named.

Pop go the Pops and the Padres

Ohmigoodness. Friday night, after trying for two days to get through to the San Diego Symphony ticket office to find out about handicapped parking, we simply went to the San Diego Summer Pops site, which has relocated to Marina Park South on the far end of the Convention Center. My advice: don't park there. You'll have a devil of a time trying to get home, especially if the Padres game ends shortly after the Pops fireworks.

San Diego Pops Aside from renting a helicopter for a personal drop at the site, the best thing to do – in addition to exercising extreme patience – is to park in one of the paid lots near North Harbor Drive and Broadway. Then take the free double-decker bus that drops patrons at the Pops site. After the concert, the double-deckers are lined up right outside the Pops venue to take you back to your parking lot. The traffic will still be nightmarish, but you won't be driving. The able-bodied may take the Trolley to the Convention Center stop and take the footpath between the Marriott Hotel and the Convention Center. Those less athletic may wish to take one of numerous pedicabs. The good news is that only ten Pops events coincide with Padres home games. Sigh.

Throughout the Pops summer season Viejas presents a series of artists in Bayside Concerts on the same site. Whether you're heading to one of those or to the Pops, plan an early arrival and do research on the San Diego Symphony, San Diego Padres and Viejas websites. End of practical advice.

So, how was the music, Ms. B? The Pops fielded The Grand Pacific Band, a fine, locally based group conducted by Pat Pfiffner, whose performance with the band of Joe Green's "Zylophonia" was a treat. Additional guests were the San Diego Chorus of Sweet Adelines International. Separately and together the groups performed an array of Americana, some a bit heavy on rah-rah Republican-style patriotism for the raging liberals in the audience.

But hey, the evening was in celebration of Independence Day. Nonetheless, we found overkill in the letters written by military men who did not return from Iraq, however sensitively performed over Howard Schnauber's "My Name Is Old Glory" by Dan Shadwell of Channel 8. Shadwell notably got lost amid a July 4th standard, Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait." Also overkill was also an unprogrammed and truly execrable piece of music titled "God Bless the USA," badly sung by an American Idol wannabe named Lars.

It's always good to hear the Wilhousky arrangement of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" though the women's chorus was better heard in their a cappella barbershop arrangements of "I Love Jazz" and "Yes Sir, That's My Baby."

To the north, pure fun

Through August 8, North Coast Repertory fields an astonishingly good company in Tom Dulack's "Breaking Legs," which theatergoers may remember from its 1989 production in the Cassius Carter Centre Stage at the Old Globe. Marty Burnett's Italian restaurant set is effective at establishing New England tone, with windows stage right looking out on the alley in which the unfortunate Frankie Salgucci (Mark C. Petrich), indebted to the mob, meets his fate.

Breaking Legs Robert Grossman portrays the stone-faced Mike, Paul Bourque, Tino, and the wondrous Von Shauer, the restaurateur named Lou, who is father of the play's saucy and sexually succulent waitperson, Angie, deliciously played by Jennifer Eve Kraus. Kraus nails her character, right down to the sassy Italian accent and she looks great in Martha Phillips' ultra-brash, ultra-feminine frocks and leather skirt. The mob men wear Armani-like suits, an array of pastel shirts and fabulous neckties.

Recently seen in Korbett Kompany's "Our Lady of 121st Street," John Nutten is delightfully naïve as a tweedy professor/playwright who seeks to get his work underwritten, not knowing he is dealing with the Italian Mafia. The professor finally stands up for his rights, but it is obvious that Angie, who gets what she wants, wears the pants in this play, a fabulous visit to the world of godfathers, redolent of "Moonstruck." It's a great getaway and bound to be a huge hit for North Coast Rep as it opens its 23rd season with a 60 percent rise in subscription sales.

Artistic Director David Ellenstein taps Michigan BoarsHead Theatre's artistic director Geoffrey Sherman to stage Dulack's popular bon-bon, a certain sign that North Coast continues its audience-pleasing rise under his leadership.

Seen at the "Breaking Legs" opening: philanthropist/scholar/playwright Marianne McDonald in company of Tea playwright Velina Hasu Houston and actor Diep Huynh, most recently seen in Diversionary Theatre's "M. Butterfly."

That's all for now, folks. Watch for more Turbulence next week.

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