Regional Reviews: San Diego
Diversionary celebrates theatre that is written by lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender authors or work that features LGBT characters. MOXIE does the same for women of all sexual orientations. Here, the two groups have picked a play that highlights both women and gay male characters.
Caroline (Julie Anderson Sachs) is a creative director with an advertising agency. She does good work but feels under the thumb of her boss, who is very sensitive to clients requesting an "agency review" (which means that the client is considering changing agencies). Caroline is also carrying around a significant old wound incurred when an intimate relationship ended badly some years ago. She attempts to cover up her hurt by being domineering, trying too hard to maintain a youthful physical appearance, sleeping with Brad (Justin Lang), a much younger and on-the-make colleague, and, eventually, by resorting to prescription drugs.
Both Caroline and Brad are working on a branding campaign for a financial client. A brand stands in for a set of powerful messages and images about a corporation or a product. Ideally, the brand provides a symbol with which potential customers can associate positively. Most brands are not particularly controversial: for example, "Got Milk?" Taking a concept such as "We Value Diversity" is a branding risk, because it is potentially controversial, but it is one that might make a stereotypically conservative organization, such as a credit union, seem appealing to a wider consumer base.
With Brad's assistance, Caroline decides that her client would generate a good deal of positive buzz by overtly supporting the gay community. Brad recruits Jack (John Anderson), a gay man who volunteers for a number of community organizations, based on Caroline's ideas about the type of man to feature in an ad designed to generate local buzz for the client. Jack is a pretty ideal guy for the job, and he even has a partner, Carson (Charles Maze), who might also be featured. There are small glitches, though: Jack and Caroline have a "history" with each other, and Carson, who is not only gay but devoutly Roman Catholic, is not all that sure he wants to be featured in a public campaign that has some chance of reaching his mother, to whom he is not "out." Caroline decides that she can work through her issues with Jack, and Carson takes the local nature of the campaign to be safe, as his mother lives in another city. And off we go.
The campaign is a success, at least at the beginning, but it doesn't relieve Caroline's existential crisis, as personified by her imagined conversations with a woman (Mr. Maze again) she met on a plane. The initial success also provokes demands for a broader campaign, which serves to unbalance Jack and Carson's relationship.
The role of Caroline is quite a complex one, and the actress playing her has to turn on a dime, emotionally. Ms. Anderson Sachs turned on a quarter at the performance I saw, but she proved to be very effective after the turns were complete. She was aided in great measure by very solid acting from her cohorts. Mr. Anderson looks at first as though he might not be convincing, but he becomes the emotional core of the show. Mr. Lang has the most underwritten character (Brad, for example, is ambitious, but we never learn whether he is sleeping with Caroline because he's attracted to her or because he believes he can get ahead by doing so), though he makes Brad amiable enough that the audience can forgive the contradictions that aren't played. Mr. Maze gets a slow start on Carson (he underplayed to the point of nearly disappearing), but he gains confidence from his first appearance as Caroline's imaginary confidant, and that confidence carries over to the head of steam he builds in playing Jack's partner.
A good deal of credit for the effective performances goes to the taut and detailed direction of Delicia Turner Sonnenberg. Ms. Sonnenberg has cast the show expertly and has encouraged them to develop quite a bit of detail and layering for their performances. Under her tutelage, for example, Caroline and Jack's karaoke performance of Sonny and Cher's "I've Got You, Babe," at the end of act one exhibits Mr. Anderson and Ms. Sachs at their chemical best (they even manage to switch parts in the middle of the piece). If Ms. Riml's writing occasionally goes slack, Ms. Sonnenberg does her best to cover up that fact.
The technical aspects of the show are also the best I've seen at Diversionary in some time. Matt Scott's scenic design uses the wide stage (and playing spaces in the audience) better than I've ever seen at this theatre, and Luke Olson's media design is a model of effectiveness. Michelle Caron does a nice job with the area lighting, David Medina has created a wealth of interesting props, and Tom Jones contributes a sound design that compliments the play perfectly. Only Jeannie Galioto's costumes fail to impress, but not so much that they detracted from my enjoyment of the production.
All in all, Poster Boys combines well the talents of both MOXIE and Diversionary and serves as a nice welcome for new Diversionary Executive Director John E. Alexander. The show runs through July 31 and is well worth seeing.
Poster Boys performs through July 31, 2011, at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard in the University Heights neighborhood of San Diego. Tickets ($20-45, with discounts for students, seniors and military) are available by calling the Diversionary box office at (619) 220-0097 or by visiting either the Diversionary Theatre website or the MOXIE Theatre website.
Diversionary Theatre and MOXIE Theatre present Poster Boys, by Michele Riml. Directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg with lighting design by Michelle Caron, scenic design by Matt Scott, sound design by Tom Jones, costume design by Jeannie Galioto, media design by Luke Olson, and prop design by David Medina.
With John Anderson, Justin Lang, Charles Maze and Julie Anderson Sachs.
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