Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Charles L. Mee's Wintertime
Also see Richard's review of Meshuggah-Nuns!
San Jose Repertory Theatre is presenting the local regional premiere of Charles L. Mee's latest tome on the perception of love, the anguish one goes through when in love, and the silliness, jealousy, tedium and infinite delight that makes love essential in every person's life. The playwright tackles the subject with elegant, wacky and buoyant dialogue along with erotic dancing, Donizetti and Puccini arias and Marx Brothers comedy. It's all there in the two hour 20 minute production with intermission.
Charles L. Mee has always had wickedly funny observations about love, shown in such comedies as Big Love and First Love. Wintertime continues this examination of "what is this thing called love?" This is classic comedy bordering on a Feydeau farce with a little of Moliere's amorous ponderings and some soul searching echoes of a Chekhov play. The speech patterns are something between Coward's drawing room dialogue and Kaufman's plays of the 1930s.
Young and naive Jonathan (Joseph Parks) takes his love Ariel (Soraya Broukhim) to his parents' mountain woodland home during Christmas week to propose marriage to her. Everything is romantic and wonderful, with the voice of Dawn Upshaw singing "Lorsque vous n'aurez rien a faire" from Massenet's opera Cherubin. Ariel accepts the proposal and the couple goes into an impromptu athletic pas de deux that is perfect rapture. It looks like everything is going to be peachy until eight minutes into the farce when Jonathan's mother Maria (Suzan Hanson) shows up with her lover François (Michael Butler). They also thought they would be alone in the house for a romantic tryst. It becomes a confused mess since worldly Ariel might have known François intimately in the past, much to the chagrin of boyish Jonathan.
Matters become more confused when Maria's husband (Jonathan's father) Frank (James Carpenter) shows up with his lover Edmund (Perry Ojeda). Everyone's plans for a romantic Christmas holiday go awry. These people are civilized (or so they seem to think) and they won't hide and run from this awkward situation. They will sit down to discuss, to explain and try to make the best of the situation. François, the worldly Frenchman, expounds on the vagaries of love, and tells the group that no matter who loves who the emotion is neverending, unfathomable and beautiful. However, he causes more mayhem than calm. So before the end of the first act, poor Jonathan is bashing his head against a tree, François dresses in black lingerie and silk stockings (don't ask why), and characters throw dishes and other household items in anger with everyone enraged.
Charles Dean, Joseph Parks, James Carpenter, Catherine E. Coulson, Suzan Hanson and Perry Ojeda
Thrown into this crazy mix of characters are the older lesbian neighbors Hilda (Catherine E. Coulson) and Bertha (Wilma Bonet) and a rustic deliveryman (Charles Dean) who has ideas of natural history and cosmology from the ancient Greeks. Filling out the zany cast is French-speaking doctor Jaqueline Benoit (Mari-Esther Magaloni) whose office is "without walls" and was also a past lover of the Frenchman.
Wintertime has a superb ensemble cast and each gives enjoyable skilled performances. Joseph Parks as the naïve Jonathan is energetic as he trembles with the total hapless rage of a young person who has not come to terms with "real life" romance. Soraya Broukhim (a New York actress who has appeared in many Off Broadway plays) is vibrant as the tempestuous Ariel; she gives a volatile passion in her performance.
Charles Dean, offering a deadpan performance as the delivery man and chaplain, almost steals the show with his droll wit and macabre bits of wisdom as the chaplain in the second act. Michael Butler (a New York actor who appeared in Macbeth and Two Shakespearian Actors) also nearly steals the play with his grand denunciations and habitual French intellectualizing which add pandemonium to the proceedings. Susan Hanson (Enter the Guardsman at San Jose Rep) as Maria is great as a common sense woman who has sensual wisdom. She gives lovely warmth to her character. Perry Ojeda (New York actor who played Gabey in On the Town and Perkins in Blood Brothers) plays Edmund, who gives us a representation of dehydrated lament. Ojeda has a wonderful speaking voice as he expounds his express grief on his relationship with Frank.
James Carpenter's Frank is an excellent looking patriarch who has more sense as well as the greatest duplicity. Catherine E. Coulson (15 years with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) as Hilda and Wilma Bonet (veteran Bay Area actress) as Bertha make a wonderful elderly lesbian couple. Mari-Esther Magaloni as the French speaking doctor gives a sparkling performance in her one scene.
The ending is Felllini-esque with the whole cast stripped down to their cartoonish underwear to give a "moon dance" to the Buena Vista Social Club music that goes on a little too long. This is American farce at its finest.
The set is the magnificent setting of a mountain woodland home bathed in white on white with see-through walls which give a complete view of stark birch trees in snow banks. Giulio Cesare Perrone seduces our eyes with this frozen wonderland that stretches far back into the stage. Lap-Chi-Chu's lighting is spectacular, with bridal colors reflecting on the back stage screen to give various moods to the farce.
Wintertime runs through January 4th at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. For tickets call 408-367-7255 or visit www.sjrep.com.
The next production is a new version by the SITI company of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Nights Dream that takes place in Silicon Valley.