Kirsten Brandt, who late last year resigned as artistic director of San Diego's Sledgehammer Theatre, likes her husband-a lot. So much that she thought it was probably a good idea to set up housekeeping with him on a permanent basis. So about 10 days ago, she got in her car and drove to Ben Lomond, a little place in the mountains above Santa Cruz, and did just that.
We're not rid of Brandt quite yet, though. When the World Was Green: A Chef's Fable, her final directorial effort as Sledge's alpha, doesn't close until March 13. And she'll be back this year to helm stuff at both the Sledge and the Old Globe.
For now, When the World Was Green is worth a special look in light of its director's departure. It's a completely cool and moody show, loaded with the conceptual tenor that has marked Brandt's career. We have to reach back generations for the beginning of the Sam Shepard-Joseph Chaikin story-an insult started a family feud back then, and today, the avenging Old Man (Jim Chovick) is in the stir after killing a guy he mistook for a cousin. We even get to name the play's setting if we want, as the country isn't specified.
Shepard and the late Chaikin draw these ambiguities on purpose; in so doing, they invite an acting complement so courtly that it occasionally flirts with the anal. Brandt and her actors color the action accordingly-the Old Man and the Interviewer writing a story on him (Laura Lee Juliano) are highly ceremonial in their discoveries of each other's lives and motives. The Pianist (Ruff Yeager, who also composed the music) looms large in the Old Man's memory, providing a contrast within the contrasts. The three elements are reconciled on an unexpected note of hope.
That lofty trait materializes at a timely point in Brandt's career. She told CityBeat the other day that unlike her recent visual-driven A Dream Play, this show "was sort of me going back to the poetry of the spoken word, not forcing the visual imagery but letting static statements and subtle shifts lift the word off the page.... I'm starting to lean toward a blending of the word and the visual in my work."
Brandt, 32, is seeking out such projects as a freelancer, marking a respite from the 20-some entries she directed and produced since starting with Sledge in 1999. Her husband, David Lee Cuthbert, is in his second year as a lighting design and digital media instructor at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
I've seen six of Brandt's shows. One of 'em (Medea: Queen of Colchester) totally skarfed some serious weenie, because Brandt had neither a cast nor a script. Two others (A Dream Play and The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow) contained flashes of raw, unfettered genius. Most of the others (this one included) dripped with due diligence.
San Diego theater owes a great debt to this woman, as philosophically forthright an artist as you'll find. She leaves us with a blinding light in her eyes.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of Feb. 12. When the World Was Green: A Chef's Tale runs through March 13 at St Cecilia's Playhouse, 1620 Sixth Ave. $10-$20. 619-544-1484.
Same hit, different day
"If you're gonna say "God,'" growls Captain Marcus (Robert Smyth), "you better have a "damn' on the end." That doesn't begin to characterize Marcus' disdain for a certain itinerant carpenter out of Nazareth, who's just been literally hung out to dry. But soon, Jesus' rock-hard stoicism during the Crucifixion comes back to haunt him. Throw in the Ressurection, and you got a basketcase on your hands.
Thunder At Dawn is a pretty good 35th-season opener at Coronado's Lamb's Players Theatre. Max Enscoe's modern passion play has a nice economy to it, as does Kerry Meads' direction. Wishy-washy Sergeant Major Vitruvius (David Cochran Heath) and virginal Private Domitian (Nick Cordileone) read well. But I suspect the text has been heavily sanitized, and that translates into a significant flaw. Jesus' followers are "yahoos" now? Something tells me his persecutors used marginally stronger epithets. Crisp lighting and stage combat scenes, though.Thunder at Dawn runs through March 20 at Lamb's Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave. in Coronado. 619-437-0600.