Arts The doobie lovers 

The Cellar takes Gilbert & Sullivan’s Patience on a truly groovy trip

At this point, it’s hard to do something original with a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. I’ve seen a Mikado with cell phones, Pirates with light sabers, a Brothers Grimm Iolanthe, and the world’s gayest Princess Ida. Since Gilbert and Sullivan’s works are so silly, they’re also infinitely adaptable, allowing a production team free rein to reinvent the work with fresh strokes.

The San Pedro Playhouse’s production of Patience, ably helmed by Gregory Hinojosa, transplants this satire of poet and wag Oscar Wilde from the 1870s to the 1960s, mostly by costuming the cast in outlandish ’60s threads and makeup. While the results are enjoyable and certainly pleasing to the eye, in many senses the production concept doesn’t go far enough. If you’re going to update Patience by nearly a century, why not go whole hog with lava lamps, sock hops, and plenty of doobie? And if you’re going to take aim at far-out poetry, why not sharpen the knives on some hip, contemporary verse (e.g. “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by Buttercup/ dragging themselves through the negro streets looking for Yum-Yum”)? As it is, the makeover seems superficial: There’s lots of Day-Glo color but a truly shagalicious ethos never permeates the soul of the show.

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Rick Sanchez, Jillian Cox, and Anthony Cortino perform in The Cellar’s production of Patience. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

On the other hand, there’s not much soul to permeate. As with most Gilbert and Sullivan librettos, the plot of Patience is pointedly illogical, a patchwork of revelations on which to hang ditties. In brief, the operetta follows the amatory misadventures of Reginald Bunthorne, an “aesthetic” poet clearly modeled on Wilde, though here transmogrified into Austin Powers. Bunthorne, it seems, has been smitten by Patience, a rather plain though tuneful milkmaid, and so spurns the pack of women following him and his wretched poesy everywhere. Complications arrive in the figure of Archibald Grosvenor, a drifting troubadour who manages to be even more pretentious, aesthetic, and hence attractive, than Bunthorne himself. Add to the mix a troupe of hard-up soldiers and the gaggle of women who left them, and you’ve the recipe for an evening of goofy farce.

The leads are generally strong in both acting and vocal power. As Bunthorne, Rick Sanchez chews the scenery with his witty portrayal of aestheticism gone horribly wrong; his diction is impeccable, and when you’ve as many lines of god-awful poetry to plough through as Sanchez does, that’s a real plus. Jillian Cox’s Patience is a sweet, none-so-bright thing (nobody can pull off a blank expression quite like Cox), with a voice that seemed, however, to show some vocal strain in the second act. As Grosvenor, Anthony Cortino is mostly required to strike beefcake poses, and these he does with élan, including some excellent comic business with a mirror.


8pm Fri,
Sat 7pm,
2:30pm Sun
Through Apr 9
$20 adult;
$18 military, senior;
$12 student

The Cellar
San Pedro Playhouse
800 W. Ashby

The supporting roles are weaker. Neither the men’s nor women’s chorus leaves much of an impression other than that of generic G&S pleasantness. As the Colonel, Isidro Medina III is burdened with an awkwardly choreographed number (by Christopher Rodriguez) that makes it impossible to comprehend the patter portion of “The Soldiers of Our Queen.” And though David Omar Davila, as the Duke, attempts to match the leads in energy, neither he nor Medina can match the polish of the lead performers.

The second act holds one welcome surprise, however, as Josue Gonzalez steals the show from pretty much everybody. A man of towering stature and impressive girth, Gonzalez seems an unlikely fit for the character of Lady Jane; in drag, however, he’s a true Mary Jane, and whether pining for the clearly unimpressed Bunthorne or scheming her way past the “other” girls, Gonzalez delights with a fearless comic portrayal of a woman of a certain age (and uncertain gender).

Catherine Johnson’s costumes are vivid and clever, evoking the 1960s in a groovy way. Matthew Seagle’s set design, a park adorned with funky angular trees, sets the mood for this summer of lovin’, while music director Andrew Henley holds together the often intricate score. Given the size of the Playhouse’s Cellar Theater — just 60 seats — it’s amazing that a Gilbert and Sullivan show could fit into such cramped quarters. To enjoy this thoroughly silly evening of theater, you won’t need much patience at all.

By Thomas Jenkins



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