Sept. 22 2010 10:21 AM

UCSD's Kasimir and Karoline has a scientist for a director


NorthwesteUniversity, legendary far and wide for its brainiac students and crappy football teams, is also known for a study program leading to a strange little degree—the bachelor of science in drama. Undergrad theater usually leads to a B.A., but not at renegade northwestern; the courses are administered by a department with a history in communication sciences, like linguistics and cognition and stuff. Just ask Larissa Lury, second-year master of fine arts candidate at UCSD. That's exactly the degree she has. And she got it from that school.

Like any humanities student, Lury delights in her poetic side and, accordingly, gives it free rein—but comic drama Kasimir and Karoline, which she's directing this fall for UCSD's Department of Theatre and Dance, is loopy with heady issues that require a nuts-and-bolts, almost clinical approach to their staging.

That scientific bent has come in handy as Lury prepares her show—there's lots of deep intellect afoot here about German fascism's devastating effects. Hungarian playwright Odon von Horvath, whose vicious anti-fascist attacks won him the admiration of many intellectuals, was in rare form with this one.

The play takes place during an evening in the early 1930s at a Munich beer garden. Oktoberfest is in full swing, and the revelry dulls the public to the groundswell that will change history—Hitler's rise to power and his Nazi party's full force and effect.

“It feels,” Lury says, “like a night where anything could happen and where the rules of the world are thrown up into the air. The people are making choices that have an incredibly significant impact on history, whether they realize it or not.”

Anti-Semitism; anti-unionism; anti-protest; anti-capitalism; anti-anything that would steer Germany from its totalitarian course: Horvath exposes it all with a vengeance, coloring it with his ill-fated central characters as a zeppelin hovers overhead and circus freaks revel in the music of the night.

For Lury, there's a method to the staging's madness.

“If you create an exciting atmosphere that audiences want to be a part of,” she explains, “they can start to be engaged in an intellectual way.

“It's important to me that people walk away from the experience with a lot of questions. If you really get inside of somebody, if an audience is really invested in the production, then they can walk away from it with their own questions and relate them to their own experience and what's happening in our time.”

That's not a tough leap. The Germany of the 1930s was awash in debt, unemployment, drugs and booze, just like the United States of 2010. The difference is that America has the luxury of hindsight—and by illuminating societal traits that parallel its own as only theater can, it becomes that much better a steward of its intellectual resources. Horvath died in a freak accident; Lury suggests that this country needn't suffer the same fate.

Kasimir and Karoline plays Nov. 12 through 20 at UCSD's Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre.

More Theater

Friendship and freedom: The Road to Mecca, which runs Sept. 25 through Oct. 17, marks The San Diego Repertory Theatre's latest entry and a local figure's take on grassroots injustice half a world away. Athol Fugard's play introduces eccentric widow Miss Helen, who's decorated her South African front yard with candles, mermaids, peacocks, pyramids and general brick-a-brack. Her neighbors' resentment morphs into a clash for her future—but a young teacher's epiphany fuels a vital shift in this story about friendship and freedom. South Africa native Fugard, a six-time Tony nominee, is an adjunct professor of theater at UCSD. $29-$47.

Going big: With The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, scrappy li'l Ion Theatre Company will attempt to shoehorn an adaptation of a huge novel into its 49-seat Hillcrest digs. Robert Louis Stevenson's classic story of the battle between good and evil has made the rounds as a movie, an animation and a (not very good) musical; Ion has to scale things way down and still make sense of the colossal story, centering on the kindhearted Henry Jekyll and the potion that morphs him into stinky Edward Hyde. As you might imagine, neither man wins. Runs Oct. 20 through Nov. 21. $10-$31.

Identity and crisis: Diversionary Theatre chides Anita Bryant, the former Miss America, acclaimed singer and orange-juice spokesperson who, through her obsessive anti-gay activism of the 1970s, scuttled her career all by herself. The political battle that enveloped her is the cornerstone of Brian Christopher Williams' play, Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins, which centers on teenager Horace Poole and his urgent questions of sexual identity against a backdrop of gas shortages, the Vietnam War and posters of Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz. And, no, Bryant isn't dead; she's 70, although she's pretty much sunk from public view. Runs Oct. 28 through Nov. 21. $31-$33.

Making music: A Grand Night for Singing marks Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's debut at San Diego State University's Experimental Theater (sort of). You know these guys for musicals like The Sound of Music and selections such as “I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out-a My Hair,” “Honeybun” and “Kansas City”—but Fred Wells' arrangements give this program a fresh, hip feel. The Tonys peeps agree, having nominated the piece for Best Musical in 1994. See this, and you'll come away with a 21st-century outlook on two 20th-century musical titans. Runs Oct. 21 through 30. $13-$15.


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