Theatre of the absurd 
Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
The Moppets of Mission Viejo

For Halloween I was invited to a friend’s home to see how the moppets of Mission Viejo beg for treats. Not much differently than moppets anywhere, except there were fewer than expected, and they were mostly pint-sized, dressed as fairy princesses, witches and ballerinas.

Upon my return the next evening my condo elevator was occupied by three cooler-dragging adults, all decked out in numbered shirts. “Your Halloween costumes?” I asked.

Turns out they were returning from a football game. I had fun at their expense: “The Chargers? Is that a football team?” They fell for it, hook, line and lineman. I’m as interested in the football team as they are in new plays and playwrights.

Playwrights process at Cygnet

I was returning from the first of four new-play readings at Cygnet Theatre; the series continued through Sunday. T.J. Johnson, whom I embraced for the first time since his wild adventures bicycling though France and Germany, would rather have watched the game, I’m sure, but gave up doing so in favor of hearing Allan HavisArthur and Joe read by Sean Murray and Mike Sears.

The play is another case of culture clash, in this case imaginary meetings between the brainy Arthur Miller and plain Joe, Joe DiMaggio. Both were married to pop culture icon and film star Marilyn Monroe, who would likely wish to be remembered for serious acting and brains more than for her sexual allure and celebrated body. At the time of her controversial death, Monroe and DiMaggio were planning to remarry. Havis explores it all through the two men who loved her and a mysterious redhead seated in the restaurant. She speaks at the 12th hour. Nothing is real, of course, because the two men never met so far as we know. Havis provides a heady evening, exploring the worshipped Monroe from other, absolutely oblique angles.

I had quite a long talk with playwright Tim West, whose play, Cooperstown, was read Friday night. Readers were Amanda Cooley Davis as Beth, Tom Hall as Steve, Walter Ritter as Pop, and 8-year-old Dash Williams as Michael.

Cooperstown is a poignant father-son drama. A former major league pitcher, the widowed Pop gets a letter from Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was on the road a lot when Steve, a short-story writer and college English composition teacher, was growing up. They have a rather prickly relationship that probably stems from Steve’s feelings of abandonment. Even though Pop isn’t going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, he’s been invited to a teammate’s ceremony. Steve is persuaded to take Pop, who no longer drives at night, on a road trip to Cooperstown. The relationship between the athletic Pop and the bookish Steve deepens, ultimately carrying over to Steve’s relationship with his own son, a talented 10-year-old baseball player who struggles academically.

By coincidence, these two play readings juxtaposed the world of sports and the world of intellect. Just like the clash in the condo elevator.

A switcheroo in plans Sunday night afforded me the opportunity to attend part of West’s seminar on the journey that one takes with playwriting – the actual writing and rewriting and the eventual sharing of the work through private and public readings that hopefully lead to full production.

I also stayed for a reading of Lance Arthur Smith’s Two Wisemen of Las Cruces. With gripping momentum, Smith’s characters charge through another father-son road trip, set in New Mexico circa 1880. Olivia Espinosa read the part of Sabiduria, a Spanish-Indian woman torn between Coates (Steven Lone) and Reg (Patrick Duffy) and devoted to her son Sam (Jonah Gercke). There is a grisly showdown that seemed to satisfy those present. I would have preferred redemption, reconciliation, and some indication that the bad guy was not really such a bad guy. But that's just me, and this is, after all, the Wild West.

The Playwrights in Process New Play Festival was hosted by both the Playwrights Project and West and included daily workshops and talkbacks following each reading. Saturday presented a reading of Julia Fulton’s Lake Powell that I was unable to attend. Kim Strassburger was festival artistic director. Generous support was given by Bill and Judy Garrett, the County of San Diego, and the Playwrights Project.

Mellicone, Cage and Beethoven open La Jolla Symphony & Chorus season

“Time has a sound, and history makes music,” said La Jolla Symphony Music Director Steven Schick, paraphrasing Stegner in remarks that prefaced the organization’s inaugural 2012-2013 concert, “Hero/Anti-Hero.” In fact all the programs this season are inspired by Wallace Stegner’s 1971 novel, Angle of Repose. Schick explained that the repose of the title refers to the calm that ensues a protracted struggle. Music is, after all, the struggle between keys, the clash of dissonance, discussions, some heated, between orchestral sections, and the sometimes untidy discourse of musical ideas. Resolution is nice, but as in the case of Two Wisemen of Las Cruces, is not necessarily the ultimate goal of playwright or composer.

Steven Schick
Courtesy of La Jolla Symphony

The main attraction of Schick's pre-concert talk – and the entire program, it turned out – was 32-year-old American composer and Pennsylvania native Missy Mazzoli, who attended Yale School of Music, the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, and Boston University. She is deemed by The New York Times as “one of the more consistently inventive, surprising composers now working in New York.” Her work upholds that imprimatur. She is certainly vivacious and her work is fascinating.

The West Coast premiere of Mazzoli’s Violent, Violent Sea opened Saturday’s 7:30pm concert at Mandeville Auditorium. The composer was especially pleased because it was only the second time the work has been performed in its extended version for full orchestra. As she says, her sea shimmers on the surface, but is “gnarly” underneath – lots going on in the work, which is essentially melodic. As Schick said of this ocean, “You have to get in it to hear it.”

I also loved Mazzoli’s declaration that in order to do something new, one's oeuvre must proceed from previous history, that originality is inevitable when one is true to oneself and one’s heritage. These are inspiring thoughts to carry into one’s life and creative endeavor, no matter what the challenges may be: To be true requires heroism. I think of the critical lambasting endured by  young composers who dare to sound like themselves, their music flavored by their influences. 

The LJS&C program also paid homage to John Cage’s birth centennial with performance of three works including 101 (written for 101 musicians playing, with certain flexibility, written parts within proscribed intervals) and 4’33”. Soprano Jessica Asazodi and the orchestra performed Aria. Graceful and gloriously clad in apricot and beige silk and armed with a delicious sense of humor as she assayed Cage’s vocal world, Asazodi totally charmed the audience with a spectrum of spectacular vocal iteration. She and Schick performed an encore, she sitting on the podium’s step and he, accompanying with percussive hand-generated beats on the podium itself.

I guffawed over the program note that stated 4’33” would be presented in its version for full symphony orchestra. Anyone familiar with the work knows it is utterly silent. The side doors of Mandeville were thrown open to admit any ambient sound. All I heard were audience coughs, shifting, and, from the campus, a distant shout.

Immediately following the conclusion of 4’33” Schick and the orchestra launched into an entirely adequate performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Opus 55 (“Eroica”).

San Diego Symphony plays Mahler

Jahja Ling, San Diego Symphony
Sunday afternoon: Thoughts during Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor

Even amid life’s fierce tribulations, fraught with ill health and superhuman requirements, there is hope, as evidenced in Gustav Mahler’s Adagietto, the first of two movements in Part III of his transcendent 5th Symphony. Listen here to Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago.

Maestro Ling and the orchestra profoundly captured Mahler’s sublime utterance.

The coming week with Brenda

Luscious Noise trumps politics with music of Debussy, Mahler and Daugherty at 7:30pm Tuesday, Nov. 6 at Anthology

November 10: San Diego Repertory Theatre opens A Hammer, a Bell and a Song to Sing

Brenda also plans to attend the LA Phil's La Vida Breve, Jim Caputo’s Holiday Spirits at Scripps Ranch Theatre , and the Old Globe MFA production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure

Director Ray Chambers directs The Old Globe/University of San Diego Graduate Theatre Program production of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure in the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre Nov. 10 - 18, 2012. Photo courtesy of The Old Globe.

 How's that for a week?


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