The Wedding on The Eiffel Tower

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by Jean Cocteau

Directed by Robert Salerno

C’est L’Absurd!

“A rare treat… A rich artistic melange… Priscilla Allen, grand dame of local theatre has outdone herself!…”

Anne Marie Welsh, SD Union Tribune (Read Review)

“Director Robert Salerno, choreographer Esther Emery and designer Nadja Lancelot all provided me with a hearty boost to my bliss, using their handsome cast of 17 actors as though they had bred them for this very occasion. (Salerno and Lancelot even did a slick new translation ). I just relish the joyous leaps through torn logic and the startling images in such improbable juxtapositions.”– Welton Jones, SanDiego.com

“An evening of absurdist delight… a true tour-de force… astonishing… rife with craft and subtlety… must be seen.”– Charlene Baldridge, Village News

“Two brilliant, hilarious, and thought-provoking productions… “Rob Hopper

“ENCORE, DAMMIT! Vantage program reveals void in local theater… This avant-garde milestone…had her (and the rest of us) by the ass.”–Martin Jones Westlin, San Diego City Beat

“Entertaining absurdist concoction”S.D. Theatre Scene (Read Reviews)

“Using a singular sense of comedy, symbolism, and satire… under the insightful direction of Robert Salerno, the show moves at a breathless pace leaving one always thinking, laughing, and feeling a bit confused – but definitely never bored.”– Playbill.com

“Classic Cocteau… absolutely not to be missed… Priscilla Allen is powerful, in charge, bigger than life… This is a must see.”– Carol Roper, SD Jewish Times

“This is Allen’s show, and under Salerno’s direction, she sparkles and shines, commanding the stage, showing off her expansive talent and prodigious humor.”Pat Launer, KPBS Theater Critic


Priscilla Allen is masterful…  Do get to the Lyceum to see these lovely shows.”– Jenni Prisk,San Diego Theatre Scene

Robert Salerno’s award-winning production of The Wedding on The Eiffel Tower, by Jean Cocteau

Running with Eugene Ionesco’s hysterical farce, The Painting,

both starring Priscilla Allen

WINNER

2003 AASD Festival Awards!

Best Production

Best Direction– Robert Salerno

2003 Playbill “Billie” Award!

Outstanding Costume Design

The Wedding on The Eiffel Tower

by

Jean Cocteau

Directed by
Robert Salerno

Choreography by
Esther Emery


Art Director
Nadja Lancelot

Costumes: Sheila Rosen

Masks: Nadja Lancelot

Lighting Design: Sally Stockton

Sound Design: Robert Salerno

Photography: Paul Savage

CAST

  (IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE)
    Priscilla Allen, Ron Choulartan.............Phonographs
   Jen Meyer.....................The Ostrich, A Telegram
   Jim Turner...........................The Photographer
    Terence Burke...................The Hunter, A Telegram
    Nick Herrera...............The Manager, The Art Dealer
    Jen Yee.........................The Bride, The Groom
    Erin McKown...............Mother-in Law, Father-in-Law
   Eric George .................................The General
Michael Barnett.............................The Ushers
    Sandra Little..........................The Bridesmaids
    Wendy Savage....................The Cyclist, The Child
    Annette Nixon......................The Bathing Beauty
Rachael VanWormer.......................A Telegram
    Reggie Willis................................The Lion
Tom Fitzpatrick..................The Art Collector
   
 Setting: The Eiffel Tower, Paris, 14 July 1921

C’est L’Absurd!

“The frightening appearance of a drop of poetry under a microscope.”- J. Cocteau

Cocteau’s first play, The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower, advances a theatrical line that extends from Moliere and Jarry and also draws upon the Elizabethan tradition of “dumb shows” and the French school of ”guignol.” Corresponding to other trends in early twentieth century art and music, this “surrealist” work asserts that theatre need not precisely reproduce the conditions of everyday life. Technology, war, bourgeois society and the nature of reality itself are subjected to the scrutiny of Cocteau’s unique and poetic vision in this riotous farce.

The play appeared just after World War I, a time of immense turmoil in society and the arts. Paris was its epicenter, with perhaps the greatest convergence of artistic talent ever assembled in one place since the Renaissance. Cocteau was right in the middle of this excitement, and was known for his unique collaborations with such artists as Picasso, Satie, Man Ray, etc. Between 1914 and 1924 a complex mood of change was in the air that, in its simplest terms, involved a new freedom to experiment and a sweeping aside of traditionally held values. In music this took the form of a revolt against the Impressionism of Debussy and the dense chromaticism of German romanticism. Jean Cocteau led the way with his new aesthetic for Parisian musical avant-garde, claiming members of Les Six as its chief protagonists. The pivotal work as far as Cocteau’s ideas were concerned had been Erik Satie’s ballet Parade, which he saw as symbolizing the emergence of a new Parisian musical avant-garde. It was the result of the colorful collaboration between Cocteau (who devised the scenario), Picasso (who designed the sets and costumes), the choreographer Massine and composer Satie, and its premiere in 1917 caused a riot.

While its revulsion against the meaninglessness of contemporary civilization is not quite as extreme as the Dada movement’s, The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower contains much witty and biting social commentary. Cocteau seizes every opportunity to bend our conception of “reality.” He uses two “narrators” who are dressed as phonograph machines (symbolic of the new, post-industrial revolution dominance of technology). These narrators deliver all of the dialogue as well explanations of the actions onstage as they are mimed by the “actors.” Not only does this accomplish a daring severing of the long unquestioned identity of speaker and actor, but it also makes this play uniquely suited to our time.
Our production attempts to capture the spirit of the original, with the use of period music, a “cubist” design, use of masks, and the device (dating back to Jarry) of having one actor simultaneously portray many characters… and a few surprises.

 

Cast and Crew

 

Phonograph

Priscilla Allen has been a theatrical institution in San Diego for decades. She has starred on all of the major local stages and has also appeared opposite such stars as Arnold Schwarzenegger in film and TV. Beyond her monumental talent, she is much beloved for her generosity of spirit and her many years of teaching excellence and dedication.

Phonograph

Ron Choulartan  has been a leading actor on all the major  San Diego stages  for decades, with credits too numerous to list.

 

 

The Ostrich

Jen Meyer is a quadruple threat- actor, singer, dancer, choreographer who has worked at Eveoke, Women’s Rep, SD Comic Opera, and the Beacon, Muse, & Stone Soup Theatres.

 

The Photographer

Jim Turner performed in the title role of Vantage Theatre’sThe Butterfingers Angel, and in Picasso at the Lapin Agile,and The Shadow Box, both at Mira Costa College. He also is currently appearing as The Painter in Vantage Theatre’s ThePainting.

 

The Trouville Bathing Beauty

Annette Nixon is a triple threat. She has performed as an actor at Starlight Bowl (Evita, Jekyll & Hyde), dancer (Disney Cruises), and stage manager at Starlight and SD Rep.

 

The Manager

of

The Eiffel Tower

Nick Herrera has recently appeared at Mira Costa College’sThe Merry Wives of Windsor (as Dr. Caius) and Picasso at the Lapin Agile (as Pablo Picasso).

 

The Hunter

Terence Burke has been seen in productions at Vantage Theatre, Coronado Playhouse, 6th@Penn, Lyceum Space, San Diego Opera, and last year’s AASD Actors Festival.

 

The General

Eric George is a veteran of AASD and is known about town as one of the mimes of Imagination Express. Eric is also among the Living History crew aboard the Star of India.

 

The Cyclist

&

The Child

Wendy Savage has performed recently in The Marriage of Bette and Boo, Christmas at The Starbrite Diner, andConventional Behavior. She has appeared in films and on TV (TLC).

 

The Dealer and The Collector

of Modern Paintings

Nick Herrera & Thomas Fitzpatrick

Tom is excited to be a part of this incredible theater experience. Tom was last seen in Flaming Idiots atLamplighter’s and “not seen” as the Polka-dot Ghost with Big Joe Puppet Production. Other local favorite credits include 6th@Penn’s musical hit Trolls, and Diversionary’s critically acclaimed Psycho Beach Party. Thanks to family, friends and Vantage Theatre.

 

The Mother/Father-In-Law

Erin McKown is a newcomer to S.D. She has recently appeared as a dragon for the Playwright’s Project at TheGlobe.

 
 

The Usher(s)

Michael Barnett

 

 

The Bride/Groom

Jenn Yee

 

The Bridesmaid(s)

Sandra Little. Actor: “Kingdom of the Shadows” (Chronos Productions), “Wannabes: Episode I” and “The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower” at the Actor’s Festival 2003;“Deathtrap” & “12 Angry Men” (Parrot Players) and “Hennry the Horse”Beacon Theatre.  Stage Manager:“Farside of Paradise” (6t@Penn).Lighting Tech:“Fridays with Maureen”(Beacon Theatre).

The Lion

 

Reggie Willis last appeared with Vantage Theatre in Robert Salerno’s Orpheus Rox.

The Dancing Telegrams

Terence Burke, Jen Meyer, Rachael Van Wormer

Rachael Van Wormer.  Acting credits:  Sarah in Seascape, and Willie in “This Property is Condemned” (Grossmont College); Echo in Eleemosynary (La Jolla Stage Co.); Amanda in “Curious Dangerous” (Fritz Blitz 2003); and The Player in “Rozencarantz and Guildenstern…” (Hilltop HS); Playwrighting experience: Playwrights Project and the Fritz.

 
Robert Salerno (Director, Music Designer, Producer) is Artist In Residence at Vantage Theatre. He is an author of poetry, screenplays, and plays, and has directed for stage and screen. A workshop production of his epic OPHEUS ROX was one of two plays selected as “Critics Pick” for 1999. Other recent productions include a staged reading of The Holy Man. He has loved Cocteau’s Wedding ever since he directed and starred in it as a radio play, and he is delighted to have teamed up with so many gifted and dedicated artists to bring it to the stage. The 2003 San Diego Actors Festival production won awards for Best Production and Best Direction, as well as a “Billie” Award for Outstanding Costume Design. Watch for a return to the stage of OPHEUS ROX this summer.
 
Esther Emery (Choreographer) Local directing credits include: Green (Staged Reading at Muse Theatre); Jason and Claire (Playwright’s Project); Like a War and Xtreme Unction (Fritz Blitz 2002); Love’s Fire (Stone Soup Theatre Company). Esther is also a professional Stage Manager and a Board Member of the Fritz Theatre. She is currently Stage Manager for A Divine Comedy at Lamb’s Players Theatre.

 

Sally Stockton (Lighting Designer) is Technical Director and Lighting Designer for Vantage and 6th@Penn. She coordinates Vantage’s apprenticeship program and is an accomplished actor. Sally has designed for Diversionary, Fritz, St. Cecilia’s, Circus Earth, Grossmont Opera. Her most challenging design to date was for the multimedia Vantage world premiere workshop of ORPHEUS ROX, at the World Beat Center in Balboa Park.

V. Nadja Lancelot (Art Director) is an MFA graduate from the Theatre Department at UCSD in scenic and costume design. Theatre productions include Having Our Say at the La Jolla Playhouse, Why We Have a Body at the Diversionary, Macbeth, Mad Forest, and Don Juan at UCSD. Her film credits include Art Director on several Disney productions,Traffic, For the Boys and K-9. Nadja is also a professional murals designer and painter.

Sheila Rosen(Costumes) is an award-winning costumer and actor. She has most recently received critical raves for Vantage Theatre’sFrankie and Johnny in The Clair de Lune.

Sheila and Nadja won the 2003 “Billie” Award for Outstanding Costume Design for The Wedding on The Eiffel Tower.

Click picture for more on The Painting, by Eugene Ionesco

 

MORE “Wedding” PHOTOS…

 

Reviews

“C’est L’Absurd” is Allen at Her Best
By Anne Marie Welsh
THEATER CRITIC, SD Union-Tribune. March 9, 2004

The head that speaks sonorously from a gramophone in “The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower,” now at the Lyceum Stage, is the same one that exploded for our governator in “Total Recall.” San Diego theater fans will know to whom that putty face belongs: Priscilla Allen, grand dame of the local stage, Allen’s outdone herself in a pair of little-seen absurdist plays produced downtown by Vantage Theatre as “C’Est L’Absurd.” Jean Cocteau’s “Wedding on the Eiffel Tower” and Eugene Ionesco’s “The Painting” both offer strange, demanding roles to Allen whose vocal and physical resources and sheer stamina are something to behold.

The “Eiffel Tower”(1921), is one of Cocteau’s first works. Like the Serge Diaghilev modernist ballets that it so closely resembles, this absurdist romp is both visually fascinating and gently satirical. Vantage director Robert Salerno staged the cubist-inspired piece with Allen during the most recent Actors Alliance Festival here, which may account for the smooth performance when it was revived over the weekend.

Allen and actor Charlie Riendeau are encased in gramophones on either side of the stage, just their faces showing, as they narrate the playful, non-linear proceedings. A photographer in formal attire tries, and perpetually fails, to shoot a picture of the wedding party on The Eiffel Tower. A dancing ostrich escapes from the mechanism and draws a rifle-toting hunter. The stuffy Tower manager gets in on the act, as well as a stiff German general (Rhys Green) and a roaring lion. Members of the wedding party itself are two-sided creatures, male on one side, female on the other. All wear Picasso-style masks that show their features from many angles at once. The gramophone faces speak all the dialogue, while the actors mime. Along the way, new technologies and proto-fascism come in for mockery that must have seemed even grimmer when the work premiered just after the devastation of World War I. “Wedding” is a rich artistic mélange, connected to the progressive music, art, and dance of its period in ways that few theatre writers and almost no regional theaters, attempt these days.

It’s a rare treat to see it staged. The jaunty, mildly dissonant musical selections evoke the Paris of the musical collaborative Les Six (Georges Auric, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger and others inspired by composer Erik Satie). Happy to report, Salemo, Allen and company (despite an obviously limited budget) reveal Cocteau’s tone and spirit just so.

The Ionesco piece opened brilliantly Sunday with Allen as The Corpulent Gentleman delivering a blustery monologue. Dressed as a fat-cat capitalist who rants about the lack of beauty in his materialistic life, Allen’s Gentleman intimidates a young painter (Jim Turner, wonderfully obsequious), with a canvas rolled under his arm, who’s come to sell “The Painting.” Allen’s Gentleman segues ridiculously from bravado to blubbering as he whines about his unhappy childhood and the ugly, deformed sister whom he is forced to support, and even worse, to look at everyday.

Ionesco’s would-be art patron turns the tables on the painter, forcing him to pay for the privilege of having his work displayed. And in a final inversion, the Gentleman, who’s fallen pornographically in love with the sexy woman who steps forth from the painting, turns artist himself. But there’s a hitch..The Corpulent Gentleman kills both real beauty and real women to objectify them. Both plays on this “C’Est L’Absurd” program are rife with such timely themes. The more one contemplates the ideas and imagination enshrined in these performance scripts, the more impoverished our contemporary realistic theater seems.

Cocteau and Ionesco Plays
Review by Welton Jones,
San Diego.com

The chance to see some virtuoso acting by a local icon and a general air of saucy abandon? That should be enough to drawn mid-week audiences to the Lyceum Space Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays through March 28.

Vantage Theatre has the Lyceum lease these days for its version of Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” but the real news is a pair of plays by Jean Cocteau and Eugene Ionesco featuring Priscilla Allen, well-known force of nature.

Allen plays a “corpulent gentleman” in Ionesco’s “The Painting,” which follows with lip-smacking, ironic lechery the abuse and misuse of art by commerce (or something) as the gent perfects the use of violence to transform his surroundings into erotic fantasy.

In Cocteau’s “The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower” (1921), Allen joins Charlie Riendeau as a pair of gramophones flanking a stage-full of stylized Dada characters including an ostrich, a cyclist, a bathing beauty, three telegrams and a wedding party as they interact mutely inside the famed monument. All the words come from the phonographs, see?

Others may knot their brow over the meaning of Cocteau plays, but not me. I just relish the joyous leaps through torn logic and the startling images in such improbable juxtapositions.

On this occasion, director Robert Salerno, choreographer Esther Emery and designer Nadja Lancelot all provided me with a hearty boost to my bliss, using their handsome cast of 17 actors (most of them unfamiliar to me) as though they had bred them for this very occasion. (Salerno and Lancelot even did a slick new translation of Cocteau’s play.)

Allen anchors the Cocteau but she dominates the Ionesco, with Jim Turner scurrying and dodging as a supplicant painter and Laura Bozanich swinging between dominant and submissive as the gent’s elderly (and equally salacious) sister. Naturally, Allen fits herself in with the generosity and craft of the seasoned player but I can assure everyone of two things:

None of the other 16 actors will soon forget working with Priscilla Allen, and…
Priscilla Allen is the best (though not the only) reason to seek out this show.

ENCORE, DAMMIT!
Vantage program reveals void in local theater
by Martin Jones Westlin, San Diego City Beat

The night started when the scurvy little blob of a kid iced the members of a wedding party ’cause he wanted to share their croutons with the audience. The gal a few rows down couldn’t have stifled her gale-force laughter if she’d wanted to; that scene from Jean Cocteau’s The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower had her (and the rest of us) by the ass.

This avant-garde milestone scathingly slams the advance of technology, class distinction and wartime mentality. Add the auspices of San Diego’s gritty Vantage Theatre, and it also becomes a superior entry in a three-play bill running in repertory at the Lyceum Theatre downtown.

The San Francisco Mime Troupe of 1960s America had a similar idea—social discontent was acute in Cocteau’s post-World War I Paris, and director Robert Salerno fleeces the fervor in The Wedding.

He gilds Cocteau’s disenchantment with the defiance of a true iconoclast. The scene where the boy pelts the guests is handled almost joyfully, and Sheila Rosen’s bright costumes and Salerno’s great stop-and-go stage pictures eventually yield dancing telegrams, a hunter who can’t see past his nose (Terence Burke), a pompous paper-tiger general (Rhys Green) and the dubious prospect behind ostriches and lions disappearing into a camera.

A funny Priscilla Allen and Charlie Riendeau don’t narrate so much as pontificate; their heads are encased in vintage phonographs to illustrate our technological disconnect. What’s more, the play is done in pantomime—and as Cocteau robs the actors of their speech, so too does he predict similar estrangement for us all. His play is a hilarious textbook on the almost mean-spirited absurdity of everyday life and the realization that we’re not alone in our dismay.

The second one-act is The Painting, one of Romania-born playwright Eugene Ionesco’s wonderful works. Ionesco moved to France in the late 1930s, just as a Hitler sought to plunder the globe in the name of his Master Race. He found something bourgeois in such psychopathy and his plays illustrated the asininity of social distinction and the false values it creates. It’s a world in which the Corpulent Gentleman (a brilliant Allen) talks a young artist (Jim Turner) into renting space for display of his own work in the Gentleman’s home. Underneath his riches, of course, the Gentleman is worth the cost of the carbon it takes to keep him viable. The crazy climax says as much, preceded by a tirade from the man’s sister, Alice.

The final entry of the night, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, is playwright Terrence McNally at less than his best, although the show features the right look and decent production values. Director D. J. Sullivan patiently shepherds actors Daren Scott and Devlin in a quirky tale about requited love and one party’s unsettling persistence to that end. But McNally’s small talk renders Frankie’s fears almost anticlimactic. And there’s something Woody Allen-ish about Johnny’s befuddlement—while Scott’s OK philosophically, he could go further in adopting an according body language.

No such complacency was evident in the patron who went crazy. She had a ball during the absurdist plays, delighting in a visit from two of the most renowned figures of their genre. “You don’t see this stuff done here,” she declared afterward, her smile threatening to split her face.

Her observation speaks to a trait that San Diego’s arts scene sorely lacks.

New York and San Francisco came to be this country’s theater capitals through a key element that San Diego misses—the true spirit of competition. Competition, after all, yields the difference between some fine absurdist fare every so often versus a yearly absurdist festival, however modest.

At this point in San Diego’s theater history, the like-minded company could essentially create its own ground floor, propelling others to follow suit in search of that girl who busted a gut.

If relatively unsung heroes like Vantage don’t do it (and here they do it pretty darn well), who will?

The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower and Ionesco’s The Painting
by Rob Hopper, San Diego Playbill

We are gathered here today to join together Jean Cocteau and Eugene Ionesco for a double-scoop of absurdity that has been waiting half a century to be wed. It took Vantage Theatre and Director Robert Salerno to finally tie the knot, opening their C’est L’Absurd at the Lyceum Space in Horton Plaza with two brilliant, hilarious, and thought-provoking productions. Both are set in Paris, beginning with Cocteau’s The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower written just after World War I, and concluding with Ionesco’s The Painting written nine years after World War II, both starring local favorite Priscilla Allen.

In Wedding, Priscilla Allen and Charlie Riendeau are human phonographs who narrate the story and supply a host of quirky characters with their voices, while the characters pantomime the actions described by the phonographs. Cocteau, a friend of Picasso, creates a world that feels like you’re lost in a Picasso painting. The illusion is aided by the swirling background of the Eiffel Tower that draws us into the surreality of the scene, along with the fact that many of the characters wear painted blocks for heads with Picasso-like faces, some of them being multi-sided so that they became two or more characters in one (like combining all four Bridesmaids (Sandra Little) and the Mother-in-Law and Father-in-Law (Erin McKown) ). These, along with a colorful ostrich, a body-painted bathing beauty, and dancing (not singing) telegrams, are just a few of the fantastic and creative creations of Nadja Lancelot and Sheila Rosen who earned a “Billie” award last year for their work when Salerno staged this same play at the Actors Alliance Festival.

This surreal world is situated on the Eiffel Tower right after World War I, and concerns a professional Photographer (Jim Turner) whose “birdie” (the one that his customers are supposed to watch when he takes their picture) is a prancing and head-bobbing Ostrich (Jen Meyer) who has run away and gets chased by a mighty ostrich Hunter (Terence Burke) . Meanwhile, the photographer ends up photographing a very odd wedding party, his camera going even more berserk in the process. Now, instead of something at least akin to “birdies” popping out, out jumps a dancing Bathing Beauty (Cristyn Chandler) , an amusing but naughty little boy (Wendy Savage) who is the wedding couple’s future son and who massacres the entire wedding party with multi-colored cotton balls of wedding confetti, and a hungry Lion (Brennan Taylor) who, when not playfully attacking with the cotton confetti like a kitten, munches on a stubborn and ridiculous General (Rhys Green) who once had a profound encounter with a mirage, and so now believes that everything out of the ordinary is a mirage, and therefore isn’t afraid of the lion who, logically, must not really be there (at least, he’s not afraid until it is a little too late!). While the grisly feast takes place, the theme to Platoon plays in the background and the phonographs comfort us by suggesting that the General’s ironic doom would have amused him.

Using a singular sense of comedy, symbolism, and satire, Cocteau illustrates the often ridiculous and tragic nature of war, society, and our social conventions. Technology seems to be out of control (the freaked out camera) and yet controlling us (with the phonographs dictating and explaining the actions of the humans). With the charismatic ensemble who fully embrace Cocteau’s weirdness, and under the insightful direction of Robert Salerno , the show moves at a breathless pace leaving one always thinking, laughing, and feeling a bit confused – but definitely never bored.

After intermission, we find ourselves off the Eiffel Tower and in a gray room filled with warped furniture and windows. Within this room, a talkative, intimidating, and sleazy “Corpulent Gentleman” ( Priscilla Allen with greased-back hair) is giving a mousy painter (Jim Turner) a difficult time as the painter tries to sell his painting. While on one hand describing his rise from lowly rags to vast riches, The Corpulent Gentleman keeps haggling the poor painter down in price until the painter is willing to pay just to have the painting taken off his hands.

The rest is thoroughly Ionesco in style with bizarre characters and plot twists performed by a fantastic ensemble led by the amazing Priscilla Allen. Those characters include old, one-armed Alice (Laura Bozanich) , The Corpulent Gentleman’s “much” older sister and the bane of his existence, who keeps “accidentally” sexually harassing the uncomfortable painter as he tries to hang his painting on the wall. The sexy Jennifer Eve Kraus is the figure in the painting whom The Corpulent Gentleman later partly undresses and begins to carry out some of his artistic fantasies with. Rachael Van Wormer is the curious neighbor who is most impressed with a new art form she dubs “painting by shooting.” It looks lovely, but the price you pay is enormous!

What with the decline in funding for the arts and questions over the war in Iraq, this marriage of shows has as much to say today as during anytime over the past century. Both these remarkably written and staged satires keep us all laughing and smiling throughout in spite of the sad and disturbing circumstances they depict. As Ionesco said, “We laugh so as not to cry.”

VANTAGE POINT

by Pat Launer, KPBS Theater Critic

Just in the nick of time, I caught the near-final performances of the two Vantage Theatre productions at the Lyceum: “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” and “C’est L’Absurd .”And even though I’d seen two of the three pieces before, I was happy to pay another visit. Priscilla Allen does a star-turn in both the Absurds, but Charlie Riendeau (left) certainly holds his own (inside the Phonograph horn) in Jean Cocteau’s “The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower.” The duo was humorous and vastly varied in their voices and accents. Lovely performances! And those costumes! In her set, costume and art design, Nadja Lancelot does a splendid job of evoking Picasso, who created the original set and costumes for the 1917 premiere. The black and white Eiffel-like painted drop, the cubist masks with Picasso-perspective faces — sheer delight.

The first time I saw “The Wedding,” last year at the Actors Festival (smaller space, the Ark Theatre), it seemed tighter, more specifically choreographed (by Esther Emery and director Robert Salerno ). This time, it was a bit looser, seemingly more random in movement. but the cast of 16 remained quite strong, and highly amusing, capturing the right, light touch for the absurdist, bizarre proceedings that skewer society — its technological inanities, lack of communication, need to document every act, and create faux-celebrations. Once again, Jim Turner was noteworthy as the hapless Photographer, who tries to take a picture of the wedding party, but can’t get control of his camera (technology on the fritz — then as now!); hunters, lions, ostriches, bathing beauties and all manner of weird stuff keeps coming out of it. Turner’s moves are pure Buster Keaton; his malleable face and rubber-legged body are perfect in this silent-film pantomime charade.

Turner appears again, with Allen, in Ionesco’s “The Painting.” She is terrific as The Corpulent Gentleman, a rich but parsimonious man who pretends to care about and collect art, while he abuses the poor, starving artist (Turner). But he is victimized too, by his invalid sister ( Laura Bozanich , very funny) who seems like his prey at first, and then emerges from that sham to do a sadistic number on her bro. The tables turn with breakneck speed, and the physical and linguistic pas de deux is hilarious. Allen is big and broad and comical; Turner does his Little Tramp bit. Bozanich is a monstrous chameleon. Jennifer Eve Kraus (right) and Rachael van Wormer provide ballast. But this is Allen’s show, and under Salerno’s direction, she sparkles and shines, commanding the stage, showing off her expansive talent and prodigious humor. A vicious commentary on the art world and the perception of beauty, not to mention sibling S&M. A perfect mate for the “Wedding,” in a witty translation by designer Lancelot and director Salerno.  

 Our Town

by Jenni Prisk, San Diego Theatre Scene

On Sunday evening, Kim and I dashed down to the Lyceum to share in Vantage Theatre’s absurdities.  First up was a reprise (from the 2003 Actors Festival) of  Jean Cocteau’s The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower, which I feel is better a second time around. Priscilla Allen and Charlie Riendeau provide delightful phonographic text while a nimble ensemble of 14 actors portray characters as diverse as an ostrich and a telegram.  There is method and meaning in the madness, of Robert Salerno’s directing, together with witty commentary about society in 1920, and now.  You don’t have to understand it all to enjoy it.

Eiffel Tower plays in tandem with Ioenesco’s The Painting in which Priscilla Allen plays the corpulent gentleman with humor, panache and wickedness.  She is masterful.  Jim Turner is a wonderful foil, as the painter, for Allen’s manipulation.  He moves silently around the stage, saying nothing much, yet everything, with his Chaplinesque body language and expressions.  How Jennifer Eve Kraus sits for so long as the painting beats me, but she doesn’t move a muscle, until she leaps from the frame and seduces this audience with her delicious turn.  Laura Bozanich is hilarious as Alice with her gimpy walk and demonic stare.  Salerno directed here also. 

Do get to the Lyceum to see these lovely shows.  They run until March 28 in tandem with Frankie and Johnny in The Clair de Lune , which I greatly enjoyed last year.

San Diego Theatre Scene

This season’s Actors Alliance Festival is presented at the ARK Center for the Performing Arts. On Friday night, I was lured out by the combination of Ron Choularton, Priscilla Allen, Cocteau, my North Park News editor Terence Burke, and La Jolla director/playwright Robert Salerno, whose “Orpheus Rox” will never fade from memory. He staged Cocteau’s “Wedding on the Eiffel Tower,” and I was more than mildly entertained by the absurdist concoction, which makes much of the amusing premise that images captured by the camera can be released accidentally and wreak havoc. The Eiffel Tower setting was cleverly suggested by Nadja Lancelot’s backdrop, whose clever and colorful costumes were redolent of Picasso, and the sound design was rife with music of the times including Enrico Caruso and Amelita Gallicurcci, who in later life was a California resident. Allen and Choularton looked like morning glory stamens and pistils. Their faces were the center of old phonograph bells as they narrated the action mimed by Burke, Jen Meyer, Jim Turner, Nick Herrera, Jen Yee, Erin McKown, Eric George, Michael Barnett, Sandra Little, Wendy Savage, Annette Nixon and Reggie Willis.

Playbill.com

The Thirteenth Annual Actors Alliance Festival wrapped up a highly successful two-week event that included the work of some 100 local actors, 20 local playwrights, and 24 plays. This year’s festival featured numerous pieces of polished, entertaining, and creative works, beginning with Jean Cocteau’s The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower , the most anticipated event of the festival starring local favorites Ron Choularton and Priscilla Allen as human phonographs who narrate the story and supply a host of quirky characters with their voices. Cocteau, a friend of Picasso, creates a world that feels like you’re lost in a Picasso painting (aided by the swirling background of the Eiffel Tower that drew us into the surreality of the scene, and the fact that many of the characters wore painted blocks for heads with Picasso-like faces, some of them being two-sided (some four-sided) so that they became two (four) characters in one – just a few of the fantastic creations of Nadja Lancelot).

The surreal world is situated on the Eiffel Tower right after World War I, and concerns a photographer whose “birdie” (the one that his customers are supposed to watch when he takes their picture) is an ostrich that actually runs away and gets chased by a mighty ostrich hunter. Meanwhile the photographer ends up photographing a very odd wedding party, his camera going even more berserk in the process. Now, instead of “birdies” popping out, out jumps a bathing beauty, a little boy who is the wedding couple’s future son and who massacres the entire wedding party with balls of wedding confetti, and a hungry lion that munches on a stubborn general who thinks everything out of the ordinary is a mirage (and therefore isn’t afraid of the lion who, logically, must really not be there).

Using a singular sense of comedy, symbolism, and satire, Cocteau illustrates the often ridiculous and tragic nature of war, society, and our social conventions. Technology seems to be out of control (the freaked out camera) and yet controlling us (with the phonographs dictating and explaining the actions of the humans). With the charismatic ensemble who fully embrace Cocteau’s weirdness, and under the insightful direction of Robert Salerno , the show moves at a breathless pace leaving one always thinking, laughing, and feeling a bit confused – but definitely never bored.

Village News

La Jolla director/playwright Robert Salerno staged Jean Cocteau’s “Wedding on the Eiffel Tower” during the Actors Alliance Festival is presented at the ARK Center for the Performing Arts on Kettner Blvd. Salerno, whose “Orpheus Rox” is soon to be staged in Los Angeles, made much of Cocteau’s amusing premise that images captured by the camera can be released from the black tunnel to wreak havoc. Art director Nadja Lancelot’s black and white backdrop suggested the Eiffel Tower; her colorful costumes were redolent of Picasso. I was more than mildly entertained by the absurdist concoction.

AWARDS

Comments from Rob Hopper- Judge of Festival 2003 Awards

~ Outstanding Direction ~
Robert Salerno for The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower

“The most ambitious production of the Festival was definitely The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower, a mind-bending romp through the lands of surrealism, absurdism, and Picasso run amuck in a hysterical farce that hits on technology, war, society, and the very nature of reality. Director Robert Salerno’s creative and insightful direction, along with an exceptional cast and artistic crew, produced a performance that completely sucked us into this extraordinary world with all its peculiar characters and problems that strangely mimic the characters and problems in our real world.”

~ Outstanding Production ~
The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower

“And finally, the award for Outstanding Production of the 2003 Actors Alliance Festival goes to the show that offered so much on every level of theatre, from the beautiful and imaginative surrealistic sets and costumes, to the fantastic performances by the cast, the incredible direction, and the unusual but unforgettable script – Jean Cocteau’s The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower.

2003 Playbill “Billie” Award

Outstanding Costume Design:
Nadja Lancelot and Sheila Rosen for The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower (Actors Alliance Festival)

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