Monthly Archives: October 2010

September

The blogger could still be said to be on holiday.


Southern California is southern Florida for grown ups.


The same crowded north/south highways, temperate winters, long beaches. But south Florida allowed rampant development on the sand right next to the water’s edge and now some of the shoreline over there looks like a bad case of gingivitis with the waves lapping at the foundations of the endless condominiums. Sure California has the impending Big One which will turn western Utah into beachfront property.


I like it in San Diego. The place has it all; a year round friendly climate, the Dr. Seuzzical landscape, and of course The Old Globe Theatre, this season including the esteemed Trish Conolly appearing in a play called The Last Romance. And now me – affiliated to the aforementioned actress of note – enjoying a holiday here.


It’s particularly satisfying when a play speaks directly to its audience. The Last Romance is a gentle little piece set in a park. Its three principal characters are all in their senior years. Although in this production its three actors are all more vital than any couch potato half their physical ages. It’s no overstatement to say that Marion Ross is a television icon, she played Mrs. Cunningham in Happy Days and was known for decades in that role throughout the English speaking world. Her partner in life, Paul Michael plays her would be suitor, and Trish plays his sister. There’s a fourth character, an opera singer who plays the younger version of the old man, here played and sung by Joshua Jeremiah in terrific voice. Theatres the world over are tending to attract older patrons. Are they the only ones who can afford the tickets? Or are they the only ones with time? In this case it was a happy meeting of play and audience. I saw the play three times and each time there was the special silence that comes when the audience leans forward not wanting to miss a word. It’s a touching play that surely will reach a wide audience in many future productions.


When The Old Globe was established in the 1930s as a (temporary) Shakespeare Festival – attendance in the first season was equal to twice the then population of San Diego, its native city – back then there were three such festivals in the continental USA. Today there are more than a hundred and fifty three. So the Shakespeare Festival has been immensely successful as a brand.


The Old Globe has, over the past two generations of artistic leadership established itself as one of the major American regional theatrical centers, and now also feeds high end product to Broadway with such hits as The Full Monty, Hairspray, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and a string of others – this policy, brokered under Jack O’ Brien’s leadership – for which he collected several Tony awards, raised the profile of The Old Globe as an institution and in the process further tamped the path of Broadway supply which many regional theaters now wish to tread.


All that hotbed of theatrical activity aside; the San Diego environment with all its Eucalyptus trees on the improbable hills, the theatre itself sited in the heart of Balboa Park lulls one into a dreamy comfort.


So I’m impressed that I’ve got it together enough to announce a firm commitment to 21st century life by buying a smartphone. Not the very sleekest latest wafer, but one that was the cutting edge way back in the distant past of tech-time – like three months ago, and now heavily discounted to clear the stock as the new generation customers queuing round the block. Just in time to get one of these gadgets it seems, because from San Diego we spent a couple of weeks working the town in Los Angeles, where the phone as accessory is noted.


Los Angeles is industrial strength San Diego.


And then a quick trip to Portland Oregon, where the landscape and the fauna are so different from southern California it’s hard to believe they’re the same country. We came here to see my friend, the extraordinary Joe Graves, perform a one man version of the Iliad.


Yes, that’s right, the epic narrative poem by Homer telling the story of the Trojan war and the struggles of the Gods and Heros for possession of the human soul.


Doesn’t sound like a natural for a theatre piece does it? And yet… here the story was framed by the rather brilliant device of the poet (Homer, apparently is a generic name given to poets and story tellers) being touched by alcoholic divine madness and impelled to tell the story. The verse juxtaposed with modern invention – particularly effective when dealing with the inevitable lists of names you get in epics. And one stunning section where the narrator lists some of the endless wars humanity has engaged in over the centuries and you wonder what the hell we are doing with our lives.


There is something cathartic about stories of large scale slaughter. If well told, they can give you a homeopathic dose of the same emotional journey as the characters you are hearing about, but save you the bother of having to live through those experiences. Result: you feel more peaceable. That’s the theory anyway.


I am by nature a lefty liberal type, but there is one issue on which I feel we could employ extreme sanctions. For people who don’t switch their smart phones off in theatres. How about a mandatory app that would melt the phone’s interior?