May 6 2015 01:02 PM

Tatiana Suarez-Pico's play premieres at Moxie Theatre in Rolando

lesson443
Daniela Millan and Paul Araujo in “Lesson 443.”
Photo by J.T. Macmillan

The evolution of theater in San Diego, and the burnishing of its reputation, depends on theaters—beyond just the Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse—presenting world-premiere works. So bravo to Moxie Theatre's debut staging of playwright Tatiana Suarez-Pico's Lesson 443. Directed by Moxie co-founder Jennifer Eve Thorn and starring a four-person cast fronted by Daniela Millan, a student at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, Lesson 443 is an imperfect but sensitive play in which justifiable teen anger is transformed into understanding and reconciliation.

Millan portrays teenager Cari Gonzalez, who is wise beyond her years. (She sometimes sounds too wise, in terms of dialogue, for any teen). She is royally pissed off about: how her Mexican heritage, and accent, have made her the target of bullying at school; the death, from cancer, of her mother Maggie barely after Cari was born; and her strict and secretive father, who tries to separate her from her stoner boyfriend, and who, Cari discovers, cheated on his wife with Maggie's twin sister, Lottie. Cari's flammable feelings are soothed but not extinguished by the apparent ghost of her mother, whom only she can see and who imparts lessons about coping and adjusting to life in Ohio.

Young Millan is most engrossing to watch as her performance grows beyond the one-note petulance of Act 1 into emotions much more nuanced in the second act. Paul Araujo is properly righteous and guilty-seeming as Manny, Cari's father, though he overdoes his exasperated stammering. Wendy Waddell plays both the ghost of Cari's mother and the also-guilty aunt, Lottie, with matter-of-factness, while Anthony Mabey looks and acts the part of the well-meaning boyfriend with the hash pipe and the electric guitar.

The contrivance of a mother-confessor ghost to treat all the confusion and anger inside Cari is expedient storytelling to be sure, and the numbered lessons imparted, in spite of the play's title, seems like a throwaway device. The merits of Lesson 443 reside in Cari's coming-of-age fragility, as played by the promising Millan, and in the statement Suarez-Pico makes about being who you are and trying to let go, which, we all know, doesn't always happen.

Lesson 443 runs through May 24 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. $20-$27; moxietheatre.com

Write to davidc@sdcitybeat.com.


OPENING

The Piano Lesson: The classic play by August Wilson about an African-American family in 1930s Pittsburgh trying to decide whether to sell a family heirloom in order to make a fresh start. It opens on Thursday, May 7, at the Grossmont College Stagehouse Theatre in El Cajon. grossmont.edu

West Side Story: Bernstein and Sondheim's Broadway musical take on Romeo & Juliet, but with street gangs with not-so-scary names like the Sharks and Jets. Presented by J*Company Youth Theatre, it opens on Friday, May 8, at the Garfield Theatre in La Jolla. sdcjc.org

Arms and the Man: Often considered George Bernard Shaw's most romantic comedy, this play centers on a young Bulgarian woman who gets caught up in a love triangle during the Serbo-Bulgarian War. It opens on Saturday, May 9, at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org

A Civil War Story: Intended for young audiences, this original play follows a runaway slave and a Union soldier hiding out together in Confederate territory. Produced by the Center's Education Department, it happens at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 12, at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido. artcenter.org

NOW PLAYING

Twelve Angry Women: Essentially the female version of Reginald Rose's classic, 12 Angry Men, a dozen jurors find themselves conflicted on whether to sentence a man to death for murder. Adapted by Sherman Sergel, it runs through May 7 at the Vassiliadis Family Black Box Theatre at USD in Linda Vista. sandiego.edu

Les Misérables: The musical story of an ex-convict trying to outrun his past against the backdrop of 19th Century France. Presented by Star Repertory Theatre, it runs through May 10 at The AVO Playhouse in Vista. starrepertorytheatre.com

Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella: The lavish Broadway musical about a young woman, evil stepsisters and some glass slippers that just won't fit anyone else in town. Presented by Broadway San Diego, it runs through May 10 at the Civic Theatre in Downtown. broadwaysd.com

Uncanny Valley: Set 40 years in the future, this world premiere play centers on a neuroscientist working to give humans immortality by downloading their thoughts and memories into an A.I. being. Through May 10 at Lyceum Space at Horton Plaza in Downtown. sdrep.org

Unnecessary Farce: A comical tale of an embezzling mayor trying to outrun his accountant, the law, and a couple of hitmen. Through May 10 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org

Freud's Last Session: A fictional meeting between renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and novelist C.S. Lewis results in a lively discussion about love, war, sex and everything in between. Through May 17 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org

Rent: Based on Puccini's famous opera, La Bohème, this highly successful musical is about young folks struggling to get by in New York City. Through May 30 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat: In a musical based on a biblical tale, a dude who has an "amazing" garment becomes a slave, but he triumphs in Egypt regardless. Presented by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through May 31 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org

Bingo: Hijinks ensue in this musical about three friends trying to make it to an annual celebration honoring the creator of the card-and-numbers game. Presented by PowPAC Community Theatre, it runs through June 7 at the PowPAC Theatre in Poway. powpac.org


Calendar

See all events on Friday, Sep 30