I liked most of what I saw at the New Perspective Festival of original plays last week, but I'd have sent you to the rest of the run even if the program had sucked ketchup and cottage cheese. The fledgling New Perspective group, in association with La Jolla-based New Works/Vantage Theatre, is mounting an independent showcase of original pieces following the suspension of the Actors Alliance of San Diego summerfest—and since the Alliance event was the closest thing San Diego theater has to a trade show, New Perspective is stepping in at a vital moment, shoring up local summer theater's public presence in a gritty, principled way.
The Alliance, whose budget woes weighed in its decision to bag it for 2008, had put up a slate of original plays every year since 1991. That festival never took in much money, and it's a cinch New Perspective won't break the bank mounting shows in a hall that seats probably 90, tops. But damned if it didn't pull off some hip, cutting-edge, topical fare on opening night, June 20 (the eight-entry program will be repeated Saturday, June 28).
That goes for Stephanie Timm's very good Li'l Heroes, a futuristic piece about motherhood as a weapon of war.
Director Robert Salerno coaxes a great, understated death scene from Krissy Tobey—Geneva, Tobey's character, is offed as she elects to keep her newborn, who otherwise will join millions of others in a military conscription program that begins at birth. Maya Baldwin, who plays the killer, Florence, appears again in That Day as the central figure at a grisly visual arts display. In both roles, the actor struts her stuff with poise and a fascinating lilt to the voice.
In a critical respect, Baldwin's in the vast majority. The festival touts a slew of relatively unheard-from talent amid its 24 very short presentations, culled from 50 original script submissions and performed by nearly 7 million actors. The program I saw features a guy named Tony Beville, cast as the Dad in Homage to Catatonia, which centers on technology's chilling influence on the family. Dad's shit-eating grin slowly clenches as he relinquishes fatherly judgment to a cadre of unseen programmers—and Beville couldn't have been more persuasive in his approach. Wow!Certainly, the Alliance can also point to a share of good stuff over many summer seasons—but at least on paper, New Perspective already does that group one better in the community-service arena. Gabriel Greene, La Jolla Playhouse literary manager, spoke on opening night about the theater's mission, equating it with the machinery of government in its reflection of public policy and societal evolution. “All theater is political,” he said. “The act of putting on a play is a political one and has been since theater's been around.”
I never heard anybody at the Alliance speak so purposefully of its festival. The group was usually content to celebrate its considerable entertainment value, most visibly with an awards fête on closing day. But art is not entertainment, any more than ketchup is a classic complement to cottage cheese. Art is the living archive of the twists and turns that, for better or worse, define us. With Greene's speech, New Perspective shows it recongnizes as much, and that's why you're well-advised to check out the remaining shows.
(Aside: Ketchup and cottage cheese are actually very tasty together. They really are. President Nixon swore by 'em to boot—and if they were good enough for a man who ordered his aides to orchestrate a felony break-in, they're certainly good enough for you. Bon appetit!) This review is based on the opening-night performance of June 20. New Perspective Festival runs through June 29 at Swedenborg Hall, 1531 Tyler Ave., University Heights. $12-$15. www.perspectivefest.com.