On Sunday, Aug. 12, Solana Beach's North Coast Repertory Theatre will close Rashomon, a parable about the subjectivity of truth. Its characters examine a tale of feudal conquest from four angles, the point being that we channel reality to suit our perceptions. When humans get in the way, the play says, the truth is an unknowable quantity.
North Coast producing artistic director David Ellenstein reads a lot into that premise, and not because he directs the show. Right now, others' realities are marring his vision for North Coast, a vision supposedly set in stone many, many months ago. And while his dilemma in no way approaches Rashomon's moral scope, its upshot could spell a grim development in this region's iffy theater climate.
'At a certain point,' Ellenstein told CityBeat, 'I have to say: 'When is it time for me to move on?''
The flap involves Solana Beach's Cedros Crossing project, a proposed multi-use facility along 10 acres of South Cedros Avenue near Lomas Santa Fe Drive, site of the city's Amtrak station. Years of public input have gone into the plan, which would yield $50 million in boutique office space, residential lofts, restaurants, shops, underground parking and two North Coast venues, one holding 350 patrons and the other seating about 100. The spaces would replace North Coast's 194-seat venue on Lomas Santa Fe and would include new classrooms and workshops.
Ellenstein was hired in late 2002 with the idea that a new space was in the offing. When North Coast eventually prepared to sign a letter of intent to relocate to Encinitas, the Solana Beach City Council intervened and asked Cedros Crossing developer Shea Properties to incorporate a plan for a new theater facility. And in 2006, Ellenstein hailed the then-upcoming 25th season as the watershed marking North Coast's final campaign in the old space.
But each bureaucracy would put its take on the truth into play, slowing progress to a trickle. Shea. The North County Transit District. The California Coastal Commission and its approval on the use of sand from the site to rebuild the city's beachfront. The city and its protracted discussions on environmental impacts and municipal codes. The latest delay came Thursday, July 19, when the Solana Beach City Council tabled Cedros Crossing for 45 days to allow public comment on new traffic and parking data.
Now, the project may be in jeopardy altogether. The transit district must claim a state grant of $6 million for the parking garage by June of next year, with all construction bids due in April, or forfeit the money.
'We had hired a capital campaign consultant,' Ellenstein said. 'We'd done our preliminary studies when we thought we were going to Encinitas. Had we moved to Encinitas, we could potentially be opening our new theater in January.
'And we can't fund-raise, because we can't tell people where we're going to build our theater. 'Hey! Can you give us money for our new venue?' 'Yeah! Where's it gonna be?' 'Well, we're not really sure.' 'Well, when's it gonna happen?' 'Well, we're not really sure.' Here we are, not even knowing if and when we're going to break ground.'
The latest projection now cites Cedros Crossing's completion in 2012. More information is available at www.cedroscrossing.com.
Ellenstein is under contract at North Coast through Aug. 31, 2008. After that, he likely has his pick of projects in and out of California. Many circles consider him a major national figure amid his work in Los Angeles, Miami, Arizona, New Jersey and elsewhere.
'It's a conundrum,' Ellenstein said. 'I love North Coast Rep, and I love living here. My family loves living here. But I'm 50 years old. [Residency is] certainly an issue for me. Depending on how this goes, in six months I'll be re-evaluating where I'm at.'
Meanwhile, he's got a show to do. It's a darn good one, declaring human truth to be of relative value at best. In fact, the piece inspired its director's program note, which cites several recent events as having yielded 'my own Rashomon.'
Maybe he had Cedros Crossing in mind when he wrote it.
Tour de farce
Noel Coward's Hay Fever has little action, almost no plot and dialogue that's totally unfunny out of context. That's not me talking; that's Noel himself, who said stuff like that about a lot of his work. He didn't write plays so much as shtick. It's just that his scripts look like plays amid their length, highbrow mounting and eww-seww-veddy Queen's English patter.
But none of that makes Hay Fever any less funny or well-crafted. This Old Globe Theatre entry, centering on the Bliss family and their unannounced guests' plans for a romantic weekend in the country, is a very good study in conventional bedroom farce. The genre is dependent on absurd situations rather than character development for its success, and this cast wholly embraces that concept under director Robert Longbottom. And watch Judith Lightfoot Clarke, who, as stage actor Judith Bliss, is a total hoot.
Hay Fever runs through Aug. 19 at the Old Globe Theatre mainstage, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park. $19-$62. 619-23-GLOBE.