If there isn't a book on the way some movies should have ended, there oughta be. Imaginative takes are all over the place in popular culture, not the least of which feature a crazy little twist on Gone with the Wind. Rhett Butler spits his iconic 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn'in Scarlett O'Hara's direction; a suddenly maniacal Scarlett responds with a knife to Rhett's heart in a fit of rage over his off-color language. George Bailey doesn't fare much better in a send-up of It's a Wonderful Life. The evil Mr. Potter makes off with George's house, wife and kids, leaving a hapless, chronically drunken shell to act on that suicidal impulse he indulged midway through the original flick.
Bunbury, Diversionary Theatre's season closer, features a few similar devices, but it changes the focus to plays and poetry-and the endings are invariably happy. Romeo and Juliet survive their suicide tries; the three sisters from Chekhov's day decide to drop everything and head for Moscow; Edgar Allen Poe's raven is replaced by a peacock; and for a change, Godot actually shows up. Clever stuff indeed, and all for a much more noble purpose. Bunbury, an offstage character in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, wants to prove that even the most insignificant figures (like himself) have a vital effect on the human condition, and he sets out to alter classic literature to do it. After all, if art imitates life, then happy endings must reflect an ideal world, right?
The idea works because author Tom Jacobson knows his theater. He futzes with key characters and scenes from morbid entries like A Streetcar Named Desire and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and his treatments are as pivotal to those texts as Bunbury is to this story. He also wisely created a second for Bunbury-Rosalind (Melissa Fernandes), Romeo's first love, who never appears in Shakespeare's play-as the foil he eventually knew he'd need.
In many ways, though, Jacobson shows us a little too much. Often, he assumes the audience not only gets his jokes but also knows the plays they come from as well as he does. While it's true that the American theater has a rabid following on many levels, that fan base doesn't reflect the numbers Jacobson's attentions indicate. The miscalculation spills onto Diversionary's stage as well. Bunbury may be a literary snob, but he's also a sympathetic character, and actor David McBean wraps him too tightly in his own cheeky conceit to make him a believable agent for a better world. He and helmer Esther Emery could have done wonders with a minimal shift in the part's direction.
Still, if your knowledge of theater history is at all active, you'll like the concept behind Bunbury. Performance geek that I am, I totally lost it amid the nod to Waiting for Godot, my favorite Samuel Beckett play, and I know enough about Wilde to get the meaning behind the lilies that adorn Bunbury's person and Nick Fouch's minimalist set. As used here, such trappings speak loudly and well to the theater's wider, life-altering agenda. To that extent, Bunbury works.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of May 20. Bunbury runs through June 17 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights. $27-$29. 619-220-0097.
Sledgehammer Theatre, ever the maverick among San Diego companies, has mounted a compelling piece titled Beckett3, or, in the vernacular, 'Beckett Cubed.'What's so compelling is that it's not a play but an actorless, self-guided tour through an art installation, wherein the audience sets out on a search for the great Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. The absence of personnel might seem weird, but it isn't unprecedented in Beckett-related material. His play Breath features no performers and is as short (35 seconds) as the Sledge presentation is long (two and a half hours should the patron choose to go the distance).
Spearhead Scott Feldsher, composer Tim Root and collaborator Becky Guttin have converted a bulky Mission Hills warehouse into a multilayered tribute to Beckett's absurdist takes on meaning and meaninglessness. Gravel-lined floors, cryptic messages written on mirrors and electronified anterooms help reflect the playwright's presumed pessimism on human affairs and the disjoined minds that fuel them.
I'll recommend Beckett3, but only because Feldsher, Root and Guttin have demonstrated a solid philosophical grasp of Beckett's intent. In practice, the idea doesn't work that well. Beckett was a wordsmith's playwright, and he used those words in absolutely magnificent fashion. For Sledge to forgo the flesh-and-blood agents of his messages strikes me as a bit sentimental, and Sam was anything but.
Beckett3 runs through June 3 at Sledgehammer Uptown, 4025 Goldfinch St., Mission Hills. $10-$15.
Write to marty@SDcitybeat.com and