Underline “inroads” with a big, black Magic Marker. Circle it for effect. Then cross your fingers. After all, downtown San Diego has seen performance groups come and go since 1869. That's when Alonzo Horton put up Horton Hall, the city's first live theater, in a bid to encourage downtown growth (the building caved into its own flames a mere 28 years later). Meantime, Horton's dream of expansion has caught fire beyond his wildest aspirations. If all the condos in central San Diego were leveled and lined up end to end, they'd stretch around a bunch of theater artists who'd be just as happy with the result.
“The developers own downtown,” groused Sledgehammer Theatre artistic director Scott Feldsher. “There is so much building going on. Who the hell's gonna move in to all these new spaces?”
But it's worth noting some short-term turns of events that might-might-signal a modest rebirth of theater in the city's core. No sooner did the door slam for good Jan. 1 at St. Cecilia's Playhouse than two recycled venues, the Tenth Avenue Theatre and the New World Stage, have opened theirs. Sledge will stage Charles Mee's Chiang Kai-Shek beginning Tuesday, June 13, at the Tenth Avenue (the group's new home), at the corner of Tenth and E Street. Starting the next night, Ion Theatre will mount an absurdist program at New World, 917 Ninth Ave., featuring works by Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett (my two 20th-century faves).
The new Vox Nova Theatre Company won't be staging full productions at either house anytime soon. Even so, it'll figure strongly in the scheme of things when it holds a four-hour bash at downtown's Lyceum, starting at 6 p.m. Monday, June 12, to raise funds and announce its season. Hors d'oeuvres, a silent auction, a turn by the Urban Tribal Dance Company and an audience talkback will mark a staged reading of Oedipus in the Tragicomic Bathtub, a stream-of-consciousness piece on social hierarchies.
Former Sledge artistic director Kirsten Brandt, who seems to spend more time than ever in San Diego theater since her move to Santa Cruz last year, is helming Oedipus and is Vox Nova's associate artistic director.
Staged readings, in fact, are Vox Nova's stock in trade. But Oedipus author Ruff Yeager, a San Diego theater veteran and the company's executive artistic director, quickly cautioned that the term needs work. In Vox Nova's case, he said, “staged readings” isn't as self-explanatory as all that. Each mounting, he explained, will be preceded by 29 hours of workshops and lots of shoulder-to-shoulder contact with the writers.
“Most of the staged readings in town,” Yeager explained, “are from generally established scripts. Theaters are wanting to see if the public [accepts] them. And some theaters are doing readings of things that aren't financially viable as full productions. Vox Nova, which means ‘new voice,' is different. It's a new-play laboratory. We'll collaborate with the playwright and work with [Actors] Equity people from around the country to develop a script. It's also a great way for new actors to be seen.” (Fifty auditioned for Oedipus.)
“We want to be a resource for theater as well,” Yeager said. “And we think the regional theaters will see these works, because the playwrights we have are nationally recognized playwrights,” such as Mac Wellman (7 Blowjobs, which Sledge mounted in 1991) and Susan Yankowitz (Phaedra in Delirium, produced by Sledge in 2003).
Vox Nova's season will run from September to May at the Lyceum and will include at least one locally written piece. San Diego Repertory Theatre artistic director Sam Woodhouse will figure in the directorial duties.
For now, Vox Nova is locked in to a space and touts pedigreed personnel. But it's an uncertain world out there, awash in wrecking balls and a sea of crazed contractors who live to wield them. Tenth Avenue and New World aren't immune to their intent, unless, as Feldsher suggests, “the city steps up and just insists on a space for the arts, like a theater row.”
If he holds his breath for that one, he'll be dead before he reads this.
The Lyceum is at 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown. Check out Vox Nova Theatre Company at www.voxnovatheatrecompany.com. Sledge's number is 619-544-1484. Ion Theatre can be reached at 619-374-6894.
The long way around
The Violet Hour is a fairly good Old Globe show, owing chiefly to its solid take on the fickle nature of time-but violet has many shades across its spectrum, and, sometimes, playwright Richard Greenberg tends to try to fill them in all at once.
It's 1919, and young publisher John Seavering (Lucas Hall) will soon discover what the long-term future holds for his legacy in work and life. Greenberg, taken with the novelty of it all, surrounds Seavering with too many themes in his setups; it's a wonder he and director Carolyn Cantor manage to converge them at the end. And T. Scott Cunningham, one of the greatest light character actors in the history of the universe, is forced into gimmickry as his Gidger caricaturizes our day. In any case, Greenberg's telling us that much is expected of those to whom much is given. He's dead-on right about that-and, eventually, his characters get the point.
The Violet Hour runs through June 25 at The Old Globe Theatre mainstage, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park. $19-$59. 619-23-GLOBE.
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