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The Year in Review: But What About?

She-Rantulas from Outer Space
She-Rantulas from Outer Space

The trouble with Years in Review: over 300 shows and very few words to sum them up.

What, just for instance, about Moxie and Mo'olelo Performing Art’s wonderful co-production of The Bluest Eye? An adaptation of Toni Morrison’s first novel, the play concerns Pecola Breedlove, a young African-American growing up in Ohio in 1941. She has never once known love. And since all the popular kids at school — not to mention movie stars as well —have blue eyes and blond hair, Pecola fears she’ll be an ugly person until she can “re-color” her eyes.

And what about Cashae Monya’s breakout performance as young Pecola? Monya must have been at least twice as old, but you’d never know it. She wasn’t “playing” young; she just was.

And what about Delicia Turner Sonnenberg’s direction, buoyant on the surface and tragic beneath? That production unfolded like a musical score.

And what about that huge head of Venus emerging from the whitewater at La Jolla Shores Beach? For the La Jolla Playhouse’s WoW (Without Walls) Festival, Basil Twist created a 12 to 15 foot replica of Sandro Botticelli’s 1486 painting “The Birth of Venus.” The bone-white face with long blond hair, dark blue eyelashes, and mute pink lipstick rose from the surf and swayed from side to side in an unforgettable moment.

While we’re on the subject: Phil Johnson and Ruff Yeager’s She-Rantulas from Outer Space had some of the usual glitches of a world premiere, over-longish scenes in particular, but what a hoot!

The authors called it a “fartire” — a “unique combination of farce and satire” that paid homage to the horror movies of the Fifties. Johnson played Betty (Crocker?) the template for a traditional 50s woman - genus, housewife; species, whitebread – but who may have come from far, far away or been abducted by small dudes with big eyes and gray jumpsuits. When her daughter Suzie begins to qualify for a cameo on Ancient Aliens, a neighbor becomes Denial Writ Large: “This is crazy talk! So what if she has a few extra arms and legs!”

Spoken Word poetry’s like a candle; it burns bright, then goes out. It’s all about an unrepeatable moment of contact with the audience. The meaning lies in the connection between the words and each different person’s response.

Calvin Manson, artistic director of the Ira Aldridge Players, spent seven years researching his POETICAL: Not to be Played on the Radio. He tape-recorded interviews with the homeless, the racially-profiled, the bullied. He found he could be most effective if he dressed like he too lived on the streets he thought he knew.

And learned otherwise. Stereotypes fell away as individuals emerged. He also discovered how desensitized — even “numb” — San Diegans were to the disenfranchised. In some ways, the piece is about Manson’s personal discoveries.

The spoken word choreo-poem asked: “If a homeless man falls off an overpass and there are people around, will they make a sound?”

This text deserves some kind of afterlife.

What about Javier Velasco’s choreography for In the Heights? Four years ago the San Diego Rep joined up with the SD School for the Creative and Performing Arts and did a summer musical. Both institutions benefitted. The Rep can fill the stage with a large, energetic young cast, and the school has the experience of a big stage production. Velasco’s blended the professional dancers and the students so admirably you can’t tell the difference.

MEMORABLE MOMENTS.

At the end of the Lamb’s Players Wit, Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson’s character does a cameo about, of all things, a “runaway bunny,” as Vivian Bearing is dying of cancer. Thompson (also excellent in New Village Arts’ A Trip to Bountiful) makes the humble tale unforgettable.

Victoria Strong, as the Mother Superior in San Diego Musical Theatre’s The Sound of Music, sang “Climb Every Mountain." When she reached the glory part — “'til…you…find…YOURRRRRRRR DREAMMMMMMM” — she not only hit the high notes clear and true and resonant as a bell, she smiled.

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She-Rantulas from Outer Space
She-Rantulas from Outer Space

The trouble with Years in Review: over 300 shows and very few words to sum them up.

What, just for instance, about Moxie and Mo'olelo Performing Art’s wonderful co-production of The Bluest Eye? An adaptation of Toni Morrison’s first novel, the play concerns Pecola Breedlove, a young African-American growing up in Ohio in 1941. She has never once known love. And since all the popular kids at school — not to mention movie stars as well —have blue eyes and blond hair, Pecola fears she’ll be an ugly person until she can “re-color” her eyes.

And what about Cashae Monya’s breakout performance as young Pecola? Monya must have been at least twice as old, but you’d never know it. She wasn’t “playing” young; she just was.

And what about Delicia Turner Sonnenberg’s direction, buoyant on the surface and tragic beneath? That production unfolded like a musical score.

And what about that huge head of Venus emerging from the whitewater at La Jolla Shores Beach? For the La Jolla Playhouse’s WoW (Without Walls) Festival, Basil Twist created a 12 to 15 foot replica of Sandro Botticelli’s 1486 painting “The Birth of Venus.” The bone-white face with long blond hair, dark blue eyelashes, and mute pink lipstick rose from the surf and swayed from side to side in an unforgettable moment.

While we’re on the subject: Phil Johnson and Ruff Yeager’s She-Rantulas from Outer Space had some of the usual glitches of a world premiere, over-longish scenes in particular, but what a hoot!

The authors called it a “fartire” — a “unique combination of farce and satire” that paid homage to the horror movies of the Fifties. Johnson played Betty (Crocker?) the template for a traditional 50s woman - genus, housewife; species, whitebread – but who may have come from far, far away or been abducted by small dudes with big eyes and gray jumpsuits. When her daughter Suzie begins to qualify for a cameo on Ancient Aliens, a neighbor becomes Denial Writ Large: “This is crazy talk! So what if she has a few extra arms and legs!”

Spoken Word poetry’s like a candle; it burns bright, then goes out. It’s all about an unrepeatable moment of contact with the audience. The meaning lies in the connection between the words and each different person’s response.

Calvin Manson, artistic director of the Ira Aldridge Players, spent seven years researching his POETICAL: Not to be Played on the Radio. He tape-recorded interviews with the homeless, the racially-profiled, the bullied. He found he could be most effective if he dressed like he too lived on the streets he thought he knew.

And learned otherwise. Stereotypes fell away as individuals emerged. He also discovered how desensitized — even “numb” — San Diegans were to the disenfranchised. In some ways, the piece is about Manson’s personal discoveries.

The spoken word choreo-poem asked: “If a homeless man falls off an overpass and there are people around, will they make a sound?”

This text deserves some kind of afterlife.

What about Javier Velasco’s choreography for In the Heights? Four years ago the San Diego Rep joined up with the SD School for the Creative and Performing Arts and did a summer musical. Both institutions benefitted. The Rep can fill the stage with a large, energetic young cast, and the school has the experience of a big stage production. Velasco’s blended the professional dancers and the students so admirably you can’t tell the difference.

MEMORABLE MOMENTS.

At the end of the Lamb’s Players Wit, Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson’s character does a cameo about, of all things, a “runaway bunny,” as Vivian Bearing is dying of cancer. Thompson (also excellent in New Village Arts’ A Trip to Bountiful) makes the humble tale unforgettable.

Victoria Strong, as the Mother Superior in San Diego Musical Theatre’s The Sound of Music, sang “Climb Every Mountain." When she reached the glory part — “'til…you…find…YOURRRRRRRR DREAMMMMMMM” — she not only hit the high notes clear and true and resonant as a bell, she smiled.

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