79 Horton Plaza, Downtown San Diego
Fire in the Meth Lab
A Fringe frustration: when a group from France cancelled their appearance, the Lyceum Theatre had an open slot. For one hour only, on Saturday Jon Bennett performed a work-in-progress, knocked everyone silly, and received a well-deserved standing O.
When he was a boy in Southern Australia, Jon’s older brother bullied him. Tim was also the “school bully,” but reserved special torment for Jon.
The title explains why Tim was in jail. Fire in the Meth Lab attempts to explain why. It includes letters to and from Tim, who vows to murder Jon if he writes the piece (Bennett bemoans the evils of older brothers, but maybe they become that way because younger brothers steal their parents’ love?).
Using videos, often hilarious, and machine gun-fired words, Bennett showed us a light-hearted, dark night of the soul.
Blazing personal confessions about puberty combined with his brother’s psychopathic cruelty (one of the ruling themes of the Fringe thus far: cruelty’s been center-stage in many of the shows I’ve seen). Bennett’s manic deliveries made half the audience roar with laughter, the other half, mute with compassion.
This spellbinding hour came and went. A positive: it certainly recommends Bennett’s Pretending Things Are A C—k at the Tenth Ave. Arts Center.
Ray’s Last Case, by Tim West
Raymond Chandler, the style-rich detective novelist and father of Philip Marlowe, lived on Camino de La Costa overlooking Bird Rock. He didn’t like the ocean view, he said: “too much water, too many drowned men.”
He didn’t like La Jolla either. Called it a place where “old people go, and they take their parents.”
In 1954, Chandler’s wife, Cissy, 18 years his senior, was dying (a very proper woman, she pronounced their last name “CHON-dlah”). He wanted his novel, The Long Goodbye, to rise above “pulp fiction” — he detested the label — and be literature. The convergence of death and creation blocked him. So he sipped gin gimlets with white gloves at the Marine Room, the Whaling Bar on Prospect, and a pricey restaurant, now part of a church, just up the street from his house.
Ray’s Last Case is a product of Scripps Ranch Theatre’s Out on a Limb new play program. In the writing and Charles Peters’ staging is strong on atmosphere and detail. West borrows many quotations from Chandler’s books and letters, and slips in several crisp lines that sound just like the master.
The piece, however, doesn’t advance very far. It’s a series of episodic flashbacks and anecdotes. They add factual information, but don’t penetrate very far into Chandler’s psyche at the time and how he — some say heroically — pulled himself together to finish The Long Goodbye. Having Philip Marlowe’s ghost prod him along explains little.