Swapping Roles: Renowned theater critic takes the stage
Moxie Theatre Company is closing its 11th season with Ruthless! The Musical. It is not often that we see a musical production from the Moxie ladies. However, their signature style, is taking risks and wowing us show after show. With Ruthless! the role of Lita, the merciless theater critic, is played by real life renown San Diego theater critic Pat Launer. A very interesting exercise, Pat isliterally flipping the script and going onstage. I had to ask her some questions to get the information from -the source- and learn how this process came about. Here’s what we chatted about:
What influenced your saying ‘yes’ to play Lita in Ruthless! ?
I sometimes get requests to be part of a show, but since I see 200+ shows a year as a theater critic, I always say No. I just don’t have the time to commit to a rehearsal and performance period. But I do participate in readings from time to time. I only get back onstage maybe once a decade. There were two elements that influenced my decision on “Ruthless!” One was the irresistible offer to play a theater critic. How fun would that be? And the irony of singing a song called “I Hate Musicals,” the complete antithesis of my real feelings (I grew up on them in New York, and was even in a musical theater repertory company). I had enjoyed working with Leigh Scarritt in the past, and the opportunity to work with Delicia Turner Sonnenberg (the two are co-directing) was really tantalizing. I consider her one of the strongest directors in town, and I really wanted to be able to see her process. She is so gifted at encouraging depth of character in her actors… and I was excited to experience that.
How has the rehearsal process been? … and, when was the last time you played a role on stage, for what show?
The rehearsal process has been much more intense than I anticipated. I thought I would have an easy schedule, since my role is kind of small; but I’ve been there, along with the rest of the cast, most of the time, which, in the last two weeks at least, has been six times a week. I hadn’t planned on that, and it’s been difficult to squeeze in theatergoing, too, so I can continue to record a review each week on KSDS-FM. The co-directors are extremely different in style and manner, but they complemented each other so well. I loved being part of Delicia’s delving into character; very few directors do that with a musical, and from the very first rehearsal, she asked probing questions of each of us, about our characters. I did a good deal of vocal work with Leigh to prepare for the show.
The last time I was involved with a production, was Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, about a dozen years ago. I understudied the gargantuan role of Martha (a character I’ve always loved and coveted), but alas, I never got to go on. It was a huge disappointment. Last time I worked with Leigh was in “Bye Bye Birdie,” about a decade before that. I played the comical, kvetching mother, Mae Peterson.
Tell us a little bit about Lita.
Lita is, like so many other characters in this show, something of a diva. She’s flamboyant … and ruthless. She’s much more brutal as a critic than I am. She even excoriates her beloved granddaughter. She has a soft side for her granddaughter, though, and for her daughter, too, though she often deflects honest questions with caustic humor. She’s pretty over-the-top, which makes her a delight to play.
How would you describe the theater scene in San Diego?
San Diego is a major theater town. Folks in New York seem to know that better than many San Diegans. Lots of high-profile theater makers come here to try out their work, appreciating our dedicated audience that relishes new work. (The weather doesn’t hurt, either!). We send lots of shows to Broadway, more than almost any other city in the country. And we have wonderful theater companies, large and small, from our two Tony Award-winning theaters (The Old Globe and the La Jolla Playhouse) to tiny ion theatre (49 seats), which does some of the riskiest work in town. As I said, there’s enough theater to keep me busy more than 200 nights a year… that’s a whole lot of theater!
Why should people come and see Ruthless?
“Ruthless!” is a show to die for! It’s really really funny. There are six major characters and Leigh Scarritt Productions has about 15 kids in the show as well, ranging from age 7 on up. They’re amazing. There are also Equity (Actors Union) performers, so the caliber of performance is quite high. The spoofy cult classic appeals to families (though it is a bit dark), with a consistently high humor quotient. Audiences have been laughing all through the show. It’s fun; there’s a lot of great talent; clever, humorous songs; hilarious characters. What’s not to like?
Pat’s theater reviews can be heard weekly on KSDS, 88.3FM at 9:00 a.m. on Friday and 10:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings. You can read and listen to all her current radio reviews any time at jazz88.org Both current and archived reviews are at patlauner.com
You can see her on the Moxie Stage until Sunday August 7th. For more info please visit: www.moxietheatre.com/shows/ruthless-the-musical/