June 20 2012 01:16 PM

La Jolla Playhouse's take on geopolitical espionage tops our coverage of plays in local production

Kelly AuCoin is a CIA operative in Blood and Gifts.
Photo by Craig Schwartz

While illuminating the complexity beneath the Soviet-Afghan war, J.T. Rogers' Blood and Gifts also places the wrongheaded conflict in a human context. The play, making its West Coast premiere at La Jolla Playhouse's Mandell Weiss Forum, is a spy story with a soul.

James (Kelly AuCoin), an operative from the United States, which is secretly funding the Afghan response, is in the crosshairs of the Middle Eastern intrigue. So are his British counterpart, Simon (Daniel Pearce), Russian agent Dmitri (Triney Sandoval) and Khan (Demosthenes Chrysan), an Afghan chieftain. Owing to the eloquence of Rogers' script and taut direction by Lucie Tiberghien, these four are not mere white hats or black hats. They are men of strengths and frailties, foes by sociopolitical definition who care about their causes but also about each other in a way that makes each a sympathetic figure.

Blood and Gifts' riveting story is enhanced by Kris Stone's dramatic but understated scenic design. Matt Richards' evocative lighting contrasts shadowy, war-torn Afghanistan with ivory-tower Washington, D.C. Among a stellar cast, Pearce and Sandoval soar as James' counterparts inside Afghanistan, while the stentorian Chrysan is able to bring moments of tenderness to the role of warlord Khan.

The haunting resolution of Blood and Gifts, foreshadowing events pre- and post-9/11, will reside in you—and trouble your heart.

Blood and Gifts runs through July 8. lajollaplayhouse.org

Katori Hall's Hoodoo Love at Mo'olelo Performing Arts' 10th Avenue Theatre is a relentlessly sad tale that relies on Deep South depression-era atmospherics, Memphis blues and the specter of "hoodoo" folk magic. Desperate for a man who doesn't leave and aching to sing her insides out, Toulou (Jasmine Hughes) falls under the spell of the free-spirited Ace of Spades (the charismatic Stu James) and, literally, the conjuring Candylady (Monique Gaffney). Add Toulou's predatory brother (Kirkaldy Myers) to the claustrophobia of longing and misery. A smoky spellcasting scene is bewitching to be sure, but Hoodoo Love's predominant effect is numbing.

Hoodoo Love runs through July 1. moolelo.net

Write to davidc@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.


A Midsummer Nights Dream: A powerful potion and the pursuit of love in the forest outside of Athens fuel Shakespeare's classic 16th-century rom-com. Presented by Arts Off Broadway, it runs June 22 and 23 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. lyceumevents.org

Harmony, Kansas: In this world-premiere musical, a gay farmer is convinced by his city-slicker partner to join a gay men's singing group in a not-so-gay rural community. In previews through June 22, it opens June 23 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org

Incorruptible: In 13th-century France, the miracles have dried up at a local monastery because rivals have stolen the bones of a patron saint. Hijinks ensue. Opens June 22 at Onstage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org

Once Upon a Wedding: Zaniness abounds during a wedding gone horribly wrong, and it does so while patrons dine aboard a boat making its way around Mission Bay, beginning at the Bahia Resort Hotel. Opens June 21. onceuponaweddingthemusical.com

Rent: Artists living in Manhattan's Lower East Side struggle to get by in this Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning musical. Presented by San Diego Musical Theatre, it opens June 22 at the Birch North Park Theatre. sdmt.org

California Suite: Neil Simon's comedy is made up of four playlets, each about visitors to the Beverly Hills hotel—from New York, Philly, Chicago and London. Through June 23 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org

Brilliant Mistake:  his adult-themed, world-premiere comedy, about a novelist who hires a woman to find his birth mother, is set in North County and is presented as a live graphic novel of sorts. Through June 24 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org

Respect: A Musical Journey of Women: The evolution of women's role in society is explored through past top-40 hits in this upbeat musical. Through June 24 at the Lyceum Stage at Horton Plaza. lyceumevents.org

William Shakespeare's Lear: The aging king divides his kingdom and hands the pieces over to his three daughters, according to his judgment of their recitations of love for him. Of course, he messes it all up and everyone dies. Through June 24 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com

Too Old for the Chorus, But Not Too Old to be a Star: A handful of people meet in a coffee shop and talk, sing and dance about being older than 50. Through June 24 at Welk Resorts Theatre in Escondido. welktheatersandiego.com

Pride and Prejudice: Arts Off Broadway and Ivy Players present the stage adaptation of Jane Austen's 1813 novel revolving around protagonist Elizabeth Bennet. Through June 27 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. lyceumevents.org

Coming Attractions: In this comedy, the proprietor of a hotel that had once catered to celebrities who wanted to get away from prying eyes has died, and some colorful folks have come to pay their respects. Runs through July 1 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre.com

Hoodoo Love: A young woman flees the cotton fields of Mississippi in hopes of becoming a blues singer. As you might expect, there are obstacles in her path. Through July 1 at 10th Avenue Theatre, Downtown. moolelo.net

Blood and Gifts: A piece of historical fiction, this one centers on a CIA operative during the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s and is rife with geopolitical intrigue involving the Americans, the Brits, the Soviets, the Afghanis and the Pakistanis. Runs through July 8 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org

'Til Death Do Us Part: Late Nite Catechism 3: You, the theater-goer, are a member of a catechism class and part of the show in this interactive comedy. Through July 8 at Welk Resorts Theatre in Escondido. welktheatersandiego.com

Joe vs. the Volcano: Remember the 1990 movie starring Tom Hanks about a guy who thinks he's dying of "brain cloud" and agrees to jump into a volcano? Well, now it's musical theater. Through July 29 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org

miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Sept. 2 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org

Inherit the Wind: The Old Globe takes on the classic fictionalized version of the true story of the Scopes "monkey trial," at the end of which a high-school teacher was convicted for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution. The 1955 play used the trial as a parallel to the McCarthyism of the era. Through Sept. 25 in the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre at The Old Globe in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org

Richard III: King Edward IV's malicious, manipulative, murderous little brother lusts for England's throne, takes it and presides over a reign of terror in Shakespeare's history play. Through Sept. 29 in The Old Globe's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org

As You Like It: If it's a case of mistaken identity, it must be the Bard. The story of lovebirds Rosalind and Orlando in the Forest of Arden is part of The Old Globe's 2012 Shakespeare Festival. Through Sept. 30 in the Globe's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org

Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net


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