Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Theater Review: Monsters of the American Cinema


There are monsters in movies and monsters in real life.

Diversionary Theatre, ever on the lookout for something different, takes us to their little room upstairs for Christian St. Croix’s “Monsters of the American Cinema,” which began as an idea here in San Diego and is now a play, on the boards through April 2.

That little room is now a drive-in movie where the walls are plastered with posters of classics like “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “King Kong” and Karloff’s “The Mummy.”

Here we’ll meet Remy (Kirk Brown), both the black proprietor of his late husband’s drive-in and guardian of his straight, white teenage son Pup, aka Peter Diller (Nicholas Toscano).

Here the two will forge a bond out of shared sadness, and attempt to go on with their lives by working on their shared love of monster movies.

The conversation will soon get around to Pup’s female interest, a black girl named Mia who is “just a friend.” Pup has invited her to homecoming.

“What if she wants to dance?” says Remy, and he offers to show the boy how to dance.

Gradually the monsters in their lives seem to calm down, and they settle into a workable relationship.

Bravo to Director Desireé Clarke and her artistic team: scenic designer Yi-Chien Lee, costume designer Jasz Bulan, lighting director Maxx McCartney, sound designer Eliza Vedar and props designer Alyssa Kane.

“Monsters” is funny and sad, charming and not so, and makes for 90 intermissionless minutes of something you’ve never seen before. That alone makes it worth watching.

The details

“Monsters of the American Cinema” plays through April 2, 2023 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd. #101 in University Heights.

Shows Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tickets: (619) 220-0097 or boxoffice@diversionary.org

Monday, March 20, 2023

Theater Review: gUnTOPIA

                        Cast of "gUnTOPIA"

Turn on the news on any given day and you’re likely to hear about deaths by gun violence.

Roustabouts Theatre Playwright Will Cooper noted this phenomenon four years ago, and wrote a play about it – “gUnTOPIA” – which was shut down on opening night due to COVID.

Now it’s back, and playing through April 2 at Moxie Theatre. This version is updated and co-directed by the mother-and-daughter team of Rosina Reynolds and Kate Rose Reynolds.

“gUnTOPIA” is satire. It’s funny, thought-provoking, and extremely strange, and it needs to be seen.

It’s about the Nelson family: Harry (Phil Johnson), his wife Mary (Kalie Karel) and their kids June (Elena Bertacchi) and Bobby (Eben Rosenzweig).

The Nelsons live in a place where everyone carries a firearm and no one thinks twice about pulling the trigger.

Did I say this was funny? Well, it provokes at least occasional nervous laughter.

It starts off with a bang (sorry, bad pun), when Bobby pulls his gun on sister June and shoots her. Dead. 

When dad Harry sees June on the floor, he says with a rueful smile, “Goodbye, sweetheart. Daddy loves you.”

Then he goes off to find Detective Rheingold (Walter Murray), to report the death.

When Harry and Mary decide to replace June, they talk to Consuela (Veronica Burgess), proprietor of the local home for homeless children. Consuela suggests Alice, a girl about June’s age who has proved difficult to place.

Alice seems not to be (Elena Bertacchi) interested in guns, to the point that Consuela has tried five times without success to place her. But she is sent to the Nelson family for another try. 

But what do you do when you’re gun-loving Americans stuck with a ballistophobe?

Bravo to all the excellent cast members, and to Tony Cucuzzella (set design), Michelle Miles (lighting design), Jon Fredette (sound design), Dan R. Cheatham II (Armorer), Alyssa Kane (props), Maya Aizenman (stage manager) and Nathan Waits (set construction).

How can this end? Well, you’ll have to go to Moxie and find out. And do go. You’ve never seen anything like this, I can guarantee that.

The details

“gUnTOPIA” plays through April 2, 2023 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd., Suite N.

Shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Post-show talkbacks are scheduled for each performance.

Tickets: theroustabouts.org/guntopiatickets

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Theater Review: The Cherry Orchard


                Ken Barton, Katie MacNichol, Bruce Turk, Amanda Evans

                                                                Photo by Ken Jacques

Oh, those Russians. Especially those turn-of-the-20th century ones, when the population was twittering between royalty, intellectuals, servants and slaves, and political systems to match. Oh, and women, a whole other category.

Chekhov’s last play, “The Cherry Orchard,” onstage through April 2 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, illustrates such a society, with characters demonstrating grief, envy, ambition and other human characteristics along the way.

The title refers to a piece of property that includes a real cherry orchard. The land, owned for years by Madame Lyubov Ranevskaya (Katie MacNichol), has fallen on hard times and is about to be put up for sale by the merchant Lopakhin (Richard Baird). Mme. Lyubov’s 17-year-old daughter Anya (Riley Osburn), meanwhile, has taken a liking to an “eternal student” named Trofimov (Michael Raver), an easy-to-identify left-winger whose ideas are antithetical to the authoritarian Czarist autocracy.

Mme. Ranevskaya has another, adopted daughter named Varya (Amanda Evans), who at 24 is at least efficient and keeps the place going.

Lyubov’s brother Leonid Gayev (Bruce Turk) talks a lot (mostly about billiards). He symbolizes the aristocracy’s decadent life of leisure. He wants to save the estate, but lacks the drive or the know-how to do so.

In the lower classes are Dunyasha, a chambermaid. She is pursued by the clumsy clerk Yepikhodov (Jackson Goldberg), but she is in love with the servant Yasha (Michael Louis Cusimano), the best-looking of the bunch, who represents the new Russian generation.

Then there’s the governess Charlotta Ivanovna (Sofia Jean Gomez), a sort of circus entertainer raised by Germans, who does card tricks and ventriloquism at parties.

And Firs (James Sutorius), an aged manservant, whose 87-year-old senility is a source of both amusement and poignancy.

Director David Ellenstein keeps the lengthy play moving nicely, and he gets very able assistance from every one of the cast members. Richard Baird, playing the merchant trying to broker the deal Lopakhin, is especially worth watching. 

Kudos also to set designer Marty Burnett, whose pieces can be moved and changed easily, costumer Elisa Benzoni (whose dresses for the women are delicious), Matt Novotny, whose lighting is lovely and Evan Eason, whose sometimes spooky sound design adds interest.

Chekhov tries to cover too much political and social territory in one piece for my comfort, but Ellenstein and company provide a fine showcase for it.

The details

“The Cherry Orchard” plays through April 2, 2023 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach.

Shows Wednesday at 7 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. A performance has been added at 2 pm. Wednesday, March 22. 

Tickets: northcoastrep.org or (858) 481-1055

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Theater review: God of Carnage


              Francis Gerke, Keiko Green, Jessica John and MJ Sieber                                     

I’ve never considered Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage” a laugh riot, but then I’ve never seen it done by those wild and crazy guys at Backyard Renaissance, either.

But you can (and should) see their laugh-riot version now through March 25 at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center in downtown San Diego.

Here’s the setup: two eleven-year-old boys got into a fight, and one of them knocked out the two front teeth of the other. When the show starts, those two sets of parents meet to decide how to settle the matter.

High-powered corporate lawyer Alan (Francis Gerke) Raleigh and his wife Annette (Keiko Green) are the parents of the kid who knocked out the teeth. The victim’s parents are company wholesaler Michael (MJ Sieber) and Veronica (Jessica John) Novak. They meet at the Raleigh residence, where Veronica has set a coffee table with art books, and she brings clafoutis and offers drink.

Annette, the victim’s mother, is constantly on the verge of a panic attack, which she soon demonstrates by vomiting all over the table. After that, the evening quickly devolves into a name-calling session in which they all end up attacking each other.

Michael blames the kids: “Children consume our lives and then destroy them.”

Alliances change from parent sets to men vs. women, to which man is “better” or “smarter” and which woman is a proper female.

Okay, but when it gets to grabbing the tulips Veronica carefully placed in a vase and throwing Alan’s omnipresent cell phone into the vase, well, you can laugh or not. I found it hilarious.

Alan sums up the human condition this way: “Are we ever interested in anything but ourselves? You do what you can to save yourself.”

Kudos to everyone concerned with this show: set designer Yi Chien-Lee, lighting designer Chris Lynne, fight choreographer George Ye, costume designer Jessica John Gercke, technical director Chad Ryan and master electrician Kate Rose Reynolds. And especially to director Rob Lutfy.

Let’s face it, humans are not necessarily humane, especially when they want something, and this version is a comedic wonder in which glances, gestures and yes, often words create a hilarious (if sometimes horrifying) evening for the audience. Don’t miss it.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Theater Review: Slowgirl


It’s hard enough to live in the Times That Are. Imagine the pain of having to live with the Times That Might Have Been.

Chula Vista’s Onstage Playhouse presents playwright Greg Pierce’s “Slowgirl,” a thought-provoking meditation on family, mistakes and what we missed out on, through April 2. OnStage’s artistic director James P. Darvas helms the show.

It takes place in Costa Rica, where middle-aged former attorney Sterling (Jason Heil) has settled in the jungle. He lives alone and loves it, spending his time cooking, rocking and reading in his hammock where he sees green nature all around and even hears birds tweet and iguanas slithering around on the roof.

Sterling hasn’t seen his niece Becky (Ava Smithmier) since she was nine, and is a bit surprised at a visit from this fast-talking teen who loves company. She’s been suspended from school because she (and others) encouraged a somewhat mentally slow student (the titular “Slowgirl”) named Marybeth to put on paper-mach√© “wings” as a joke. What they didn’t know was that Marybeth would climb out a second-story window and fall.

The day after Becky arrives, Sterling takes her into his rock garden, known as the Labyrinth. Here, ankle-high stones are arranged in 11 concentric circles, and it matters that they be in a particular order. Sterling tells her “I like doing it because it calms me down and straightens out my head.” Becky thinks it looks a bit too religious for her taste, but after they spend a while there in silence, she too begins to find it calming.

Sterling is in Costa Rica because his crook of a law partner got them into a shady deal in which money that was supposedly collected for Holocaust victims was stolen by the partner. Sterling didn’t know about it and was not prosecuted, but it still pains him to think about it.

Heil, a fine local actor/drama teacher, does a splendid job as the reclusive Sterling. Ms. Smithmier, a graduate of the USD Bachelor of Arts program in Theatre), is ebullient and fun to watch as Becky, about as opposite a personality as there could be to her uncle.

Bravo to Anthony Garcia and Kevin “Blax” Burroughs for the fine set and lighting designs, Estefania Ricalde for the effective sound design and Brad Dubois for the appropriate costumes.

Pierce’s piece makes you contemplate the sometimes murky boundary between guilt and innocence, and ponder what might have been if only….

The show is a 90-minute one-act, but plenty of food for thought is packed into those minutes.

The details

“Slowgirl” plays through April 2, 2023 at OnStage Playhouse, 291 Third Avenue in Chula Vista.

Shows Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tickets: www.onstageplayhouse.org

Theater Review: Anything Goes

                     Cast of SDMT's "Anything Goes"

Anything goes, all right, especially when your characters include kids named Snip and Dippy, several guys in priestly collars who are criminals, and a passel of mismatched lovers.

But never mind, this is Cole Porter and with songs like this, you can invent whatever stage craziness you want and it’s okay. In fact, it’s always fun and often hilarious. The singing is excellent all around, and the dancing (much of it tap, popular in 1934 when this show was written) sparkles.

Omri Schein directs San Diego Musical Theatre’s sparkling version of the musical through March 12. Better hurry and get those tickets.

It would take too long to mention all the outstanding performers, but a few really must be named. Anthony Michael Vacio plays young stowaway Billy Crocker, easy to look at and listen to, who is in nearly every scene. 

Local favorite Allison Spratt Pierce, who is beautiful and sings like an angel (and often something a bit more earthbound), owns the role of Reno. And the lady can dance.

Christianne Holly Santiago is lovely and charming as the put-upon young Hope Harcourt, ordered around by the nose (not quite literally) by her annoyingly autocratic mother Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt (brilliantly played by another local favorite, Wendy Waddell). 

Kara Tuckfield is a stitch as the ship’s Captain, who tries to keep things running on an even keel.

The show is quite long, something like 2-1/2 hours. l might have preferred to see just the first act, from which I emerged absolutely thrilled. The second, shorter act adds to the length but not the plot (unless you absolutely insist on knowing how everything turns out).

But this is a wonderful show.

Remaining shows: March 9 @ 7 p.m.; March 10 at 8 p.m.; March 11 at 3 and 8 p.m.; March 12 at 2 p.m.

Tickets: sdmt.na.ticketsearch.com 

Monday, March 6, 2023

Theater review: The Outsiders

The Greasers 

Being a teenager has always been a tough job, when expectations often don’t match wants and desires. It’s especially rough on kids of different social and economic backgrounds, who are in some ways worlds apart. And when those worlds collide, violence is often the result.

Author S.E. Hinton wrote about this in her 1967 book “The Outsiders.” She was sixteen at the time, and this first book was a huge success and made into a film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. “The Outsiders” is her observation of those days.

Now La Jolla Playhouse puts this famous story on the stage in a huge, brand-new musical format featuring 11 excellent young actors playing (and often dancing) the parts of two warring teenage factions, the poor “greasers” and the rich “Socs” (pronounced soshes”) in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Adam Rapp wrote the book, with hip-hop like music and lyrics by Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance (aka Jamestown Revival) and Justin Levine.

There’s so much activity going on that it’s sometimes difficult to concentrate on one thing at a time. The major story revolves around inseparable buddies (and greasers) Ponyboy Curtis (Brody Grant) and his friend Johnny Cade (Sky Lakota-Lynch). The greasers spend much of their time fixing old cars (onstage).

These two and the other greasers have an uneasy relationship with the fancier, much richer and better-dressed Socs, led by Bob (Kevin William Paul) and several others. The Socs also have two pretty girls in their orbit, Cherry (Piper Patterson) and Marcia (Kiki Lemieux).

The groups converge at “Friday Night at the Drive-in,” but of course don’t sit together. But they all appreciate (and would doubtless like to be) Paul Newman as “Cool Hand Luke.”

But when Cherry seems to take a liking to Ponyboy, the relationship between the gangs sours quickly and will end in a rumble. But not before you’ll see some fabulous choreography by Rick Kuperman and Jeff Superman. 

The whole show is a phenomenal presentation, with terrific lighting (Isabella Byrd), projections (Tal Yarden), special effects (Jeremy Chernick) and costumes (Sarafina Bush) and scenic design (AMP featuring Tatiana Kahvegian). And everyone of the actors is outstanding. The eight-member orchestra led by Conductor Matt Hinkley is also fine. Special kudos to director Tanya Taymor for holding it all together.

The show, which clocks in at about two and half hours, could, in truth, be a bit shorter. But it’s a show like no other.

The details

“The Outsiders” plays through April 2, 2023 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Weiss Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive in La Jolla.

Shows Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.; Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.

Tickets: boxoffice@ljp.org  or (858) 550-1010