'Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni'is the long way around the name of the 16th-century guy who painted the ceiling of Rome's Sistine Chapel and carved the Pieta, the sculpture that finds the Virgin Mary cradling her dead son. He was a Renaissance man in every sense of the word. But for all his legendary strengths, he took a back seat to rival Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, who was probably from Mars. The latter was an incomparable visionary, crafting concepts for air travel, the telephone and even the contact lens. If he's Mozart, Mike is Antonio Salieri, who would have become the most renowned composer of his time if it hadn't been for Wolfgang.
The coolest history is built on the spats that spark such achievements. That's what School of the World, the world-premiere entry from Vantage Theatre, wants to convey. San Diego playwright Sal Cipolla has culled a good set of ideas about the central figures, and he's crafted a fair low-farce situation to illustrate things. The problem is that his script isn't a play yet. Too often, it's a recitation of each man's accomplishments rather than an interlude in time. As a result, the performances tend toward the rote, although James Gary Byrd's Leonardo and Jeffrey Lippold's Michelangelo mark their turns with some decent mannerisms and facial work.
The men are paired to paint a set of murals at Florence's Palazzo Vecchio in 1503, and they're beset by papal and political interferences that fuel their antagonisms. Directors Dori Salois and Robert Salerno grasp that subtext, giving it focus without allowing it to compete with the plot. While Salois is a decided minimalist in her approach to theater, her husband Salerno is the opposite, and just as resolutely. The two sensibilities don't clash much here, except maybe in the props department, and that's a good thing.
But Cipolla neglects too many odds and ends. He falls into a classic usage trap, unrelentingly referring to Leonardo as 'da Vinci,'which was not a surname (Lee was a bastard son and didn't have a family handle; he was 'of Vinci,'a town in northwest Italy). And there's also a suspicion that Michelangelo danced with the bottle in his free time (his Sistine Chapel work, in fact, features a drunken Noah), yet only once does Cipolla seize on this anecdote to drive the character.
This show gets a paper-thin recommendation, by virtue of Byrd's and Lippold's performances. It's not a world-beating conventional drama by any stretch. It is a well-meaning effort to chart some Renaissance history and a chance to learn a little about the men at the center of the play. While Leonardo's head was in the clouds, Michelangelo's was pretty much up his ass, and Cipolla has crafted a fairly good outline for that portrayal. Now, he's gotta fill it in.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of May 13. School of the World runs through June 9 at Centro Cultural de la Raza, 2004 Park Blvd., Balboa Park. $15-$20. 619-235-6135.
Breaking out in Ives
For all the right reasons, All in the Timing was a hit for San Diego's Ion Theatre Company when it played at the defunct New World Stage last summer. Soon, Ion would lose its New World tenancy amid several silly building-policy issues. But we're talkin' performance art here. Code flaps don't stand a chance against the greater good, especially when the greater good involves such well-told stories of our lives.
You really should see the company's resurrection of this terrific tour de force, comprising six short, very language-based sketches by David Ives. Hopeless Samuel Beckett freaks (like me) will get off on Ives' sprawling, vowel-laden dialogue, but Ives also knows how to craft decent situational comedy inside it, and that's part of the fun. Consider 'The Philadelphia,'a literal, tongue-in-cheek explanation on why sometimes nothing goes right amid inalterable states of mind. Or 'The Universal Language,'which brings Dawn and Don together in romance, the only tongue that matters. Laura Bozanich, Andrew Kennedy, Jonathan Sachs and Kim Strassburger are disparate and splendid in their animation. Directors Claudio Raygoza and Glenn Paris see to the details accordingly. Even the venue-the basement of the Sixth Avenue Bistro-plays a role, with its inviting low ceiling and the funky utility pipes that cross it.
Ion's plan is to sell Timing tickets through June 3, but the company expresses hopes that the show will run for 347 years. That would make it an ideal candidate to pick up where Triple Espresso leaves off, for two reasons: 1) The latter, about three dorky guys and their bid for TV stardom, is reportedly ending in July after almost a decade here; and 2) It had run its legitimate cultural course in about the first a week and a half.
All in the Timing runs through at least June 3 at Sixth Avenue Bistro, 1165 Sixth Ave., Downtown. $24.50-$29.50. 619-374-6894.