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Theatre Talk: Sunday in the Park with George

Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal

Special to The Village News

James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize with two Tony Awards for their play, “Sunday in the Park with George.” That same play is now making its West Coast debut at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido.

Lapine used neo-impressionist George Seurat's 1886 pointillist magnum opus, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" for his inspiration. Seurat’s painting technique, using tiny dots of paint to create this masterpiece, possibly explains why it took two years to finish. (It continues to hang in the entryway at the Art Institute of Chicago).

In some ways, the play calls to mind the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach; however, in this case, actors aren’t camouflaged with makeup, they are beautifully attired through the wizardry of Janet Pitcher’s expertise as a costumer.

Another difference between the Pageant of the Masters and this play is they speak. Before our eyes “Sunday in the Park with George” recreates Seurat’s largest canvas (6’8” x 10’1”) on stage using real people dressed in period costumes in front of a projected background. Visually, it is splendid.

Supporting the outdoor environment is the highly skilled projectionist, Patrick Gates. His artistry engages the imagination which is further stimulated by the musical renderings by conductor Elan McMahan.

Lapine’s clever pen created a backstory for each person inside the portrait, creating their life outside of Seurat’s frame. Even so, according to Lapine, “The monkey always remains the mystery."

As expected, Sondheim’s lyrics are witty and even sometimes biting as they follow the melodies with one in particular sounding very familiar early in the first act. (Let me know if you can find it).

A play in two acts, “Sunday in the Park with George” transitions between Seurat’s studio to an island along the Seine River at the entrance to Paris, ca 1884-1886 in the first act, to an American museum of art 100 years later in 1984 in the second.

This large cast works more like an ensemble albeit two actors are onstage most of the time like George Seurat (Will Blum) and his mistress Dot (Emily Lopez). Still, the rest of the cast share in the storytelling told by the many individuals in the portrait. They are delightfully played by Nicholous Bailey, Tucker Boyes, Juan Danner, Catherine and Elizabeth Last, Ethan Park, Debbie Prutsman, Liliana Rodriguez. DeAndre Simmons, Bethany Slomka, Tori Stamm, Debra Wanger, Zanna Wyant, Elias Wygodny, Nikki Kelder, and Colden Lamb.

All I can offer to director T.J. Dawson for this remarkable effort is, “It was ‘worth the wait’.” His direction is deft and, given all of the talent laid at his disposal by casting director Lindsay Brooks, on target. This work of fiction is somewhere between a comforting embrace and warm cup of cocoa. Possibly both and very well done.

In addition to this play that only runs until March 5, other events at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido can be found on their website. Lots of free parking, too.

“Sunday in the Park with George” is indeed an artistic treasure deserving support. For tickets, email [email protected] or call 800-988-4253. Rated 9 out of 10.

More Theatre Talk: Opening weekend is almost here for Curtain Call Company’s “Steel Magnolias” playing in Fallbrook at Christ the King Lutheran Church. There are only four evening performances plus a couple of matinees. Dates are March 17, 18, 31 and April 1. Order tickets early by contacting Mary Fry directly at 760-723-2724 or go to http://www.curtaincallcompany.com. CTK is at 1620 S. Stage Coach Lane in Fallbrook. Look for their ad in this paper.

The first show this year to get a 10 rating, “Anything Goes” will play only until March 12 at San Diego Musical Theatre, 4650 Mercury Street, 92111. Get your tickets at http://www.sdmt.org or call 858-560-5740. Lots of free parking.

Diversionary Theatre will close “The High Table” on March 5 but continues with their Cabaret nights, at 4545 Park Blvd. For tickets, call the Box Office, 619-220-0097.

Chekov’s “The Cherry Orchard” opens at North Coast Repertory on March 8 running until April 1 at 987 Lomas Santa Fe Dr. Suite D, Solana Beach, 858-481-1055 or [email protected].

Coming to the Moxie Theater is “GunTOPIA” presented by The Roustabouts Theatre from March 16 to April 2 at 6663 El Cajon Blvd Ste N, 619-568-5800 or [email protected].

SRT’s “Lucky Stiff” moved to the co-producer’s location, Oceanside Theatre Company at Brooks Theatre, 217 North Coast Highway. For tickets, call 760-433-8900, running only until March 19.

Don’t forget, La Jolla Playhouse is in production for the west coast premiere of a new musical based on Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 film “The Outsiders.” It will run until April 2. You’ll save money by seeing a preview before the official opening. And double check to see if the construction is completed, otherwise you’ll be diverted to a garage and bussed to campus adding an extra 15-20 minutes to your schedule. The playhouse is at 2910 La Jolla Village Dr. For tickets, call 858-550-1010 or visit https://lajollaplayhouse.org/.

Lambs Players continues with their 1960’s musical revue “R*E*S*P*E*C*T” until April 9 at 1142 Orange Avenue in Coronado. It’s fabulously entertaining. All 90-minutes are filled with the best music ever! For tickets, call 619-437-6000 or visit https://www.lambsplayers.org/.

It’s Broadway San Diego 45th Season. “Mean Girls” closes March 5. Tickets are on sale for “Riverdance” April 11 to 13. For tickets, call 619-564-3000 or visit https://www.broadwaysd.com/.

At The Old Globe in Balboa Park, “Under a Baseball Sky” continues until March 12. Call 619-234-5623 or visit https://www.theoldglobe.org/.

San Diego Ballet will perform “Viva Vivaldi: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons” on March 9 and 10 at 7:30 PM at 8800 Grossmont College on that campus. Call 619-294-7378 or visit https://sandiegoballet.org.

Check out City Ballet’s website to discover more about their upcoming performances in March. They’ll be dancing in La Jolla from March 17 to 19 and on Wednesday, March 22 at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido. For details visit http://www.cityballet.org or call 858-272-8663.

San Diego Symphony is California’s oldest symphony under the charismatic baton of conductor Rafael Payare. Upcoming performances, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., are listed for both Copley Symphony Hall and the Rady Shell lawn at http://www.sandiegosymphony.org. Or call 612-235-0804.

Elizabeth can be reached at [email protected].

 

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