While writing “Turning Off The Morning News” playwright Christopher Durang (“Beyond Therapy”, “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You”), explains, in a series of notes at the end of his script: “I wanted the play the be unusual, comic, upsetting, serious, and I wanted to make the ending somewhat hopeful.” Let’s just say he achieved all of the above and then some.
Some years before “Turning Off The Morning News” in 2018 Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” was the talk of the theatre, picking up a Tony, a Drama Desk Award, and New York Drama Crirics’ Circle Award. It was one of the most produced plays during the 2014- 15 season having played here in San Diego at the Old Globe in 2014. Will the same happen with “Turning Off The Morning News? ” That remains to be seen.
|Eddy Lukovic, Salomon Maya, Carla Navarro, Ray-Anna Young and Jaden Juerro as Timmy|
As it happens executive director of OnStage, James Darvas toiled over whether or not to produce this play; it was so far off the tracks, and too much had happened in our world between the time he read the play and decided to produce it that it might be too absurd in the face of reality to resonate anything but sick!
In the time span of three weeks, one school shooting of 19 children in Uvalde, TX, and a week before another mass murder in Buffalo, New York aimed at mostly African Americans shocked this country to its core. Darvas said that projection manager, Salomón Maya ‘had to update his work three times in the last three weeks to keep the content as current as possible. The show opens with a series of projections on a TV blurting out the killings.
|Heather Warren and Carla Navarro|
Durang’s cast of characters staged adeptly by director Adam Parker include Jimmy (Salomon Maya) a middle aged depressed suburbanite who has thoughts of committing mass murder at the mall and then turning the gun on himself. Or maybe he’ll write a book. This is a reoccurring theme for Jimmy. If he’s not threatening to kill in the Mall, then he threatens to kill his wife and son and then turn the gun on himself.
His wife Polly (Carla Navarro), thinks everyone is wonderful and knows what her husband is about, but her thoughts are more concernd for her precious potted plant than her husband’s mental health. Jimmy has not spoken to his wife in three weeks. Probably because he can’t get a word in edgewise. She talks too much because she finds life overwhelming.
Yes, mental health does rear its head. Thank goodness at least that’s acknowledged. (If nothing else, mental illness is at the core of this play.) They have a son Timmy (Jaden Guerrero) who shares a note with the audience, to HELP ME! He’s shy, and not very popular at school. Polly decides to home school him by giving him an assignment to review ‘The View ‘on TV.
Across the street neighbors Clifford and Salena (Eddie Lukovic and Ray-Anna Young) are sharing a house, as friends. He’s white and she, African American, And yes, race figures into the mix as well. He relaxes by doing some form of meditation listening to Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney. (remember her?)
Clifford’s wife and child were killed by a drunken driver and Selena is recently divorced. They can’t help notice the strangeness of their across the street neighbors. The first clue they get about ‘something rotten’ across the street, is seeing Timmy leave the house wearing a pig mask carrying a large trash bag and a gun strapped over his shoulder.
|Jaden Guerrero and Carla Navarro|
Rounding out the cast is Rosalind (Heather Warren, a bit off the wall). Rosalind wears a pillowcase over her head to prevent the sun from causing any damage to her face. She has already had twenty four basal cells removed from her face.
Bazar? Scathing? Satirical? Cutting? Cartoonish? Painful? Toxic? Shocking? Unnerving? Caustic? Yes to all of the above! But funny? Not so much. Unfortunately, the characters in this recent play are acting out what, in reality, is happening on the streets, in churches, grocery stores and synagogues. The gun culture is taking over any sound thinking. One of the most bazar interpretations of the Second Amendment this country covets is the right to bear arms.
Durang just has his own way of getting to the point. Even the clips of the morning news at the opening of the play are interrupted several times because these crimes are happening so fast the news can barely keep up. And rather than trusting the audience to laugh, there is a laugh track that kicks in every now and then.
Scenic Designer Kristen Flores almost bare bones set can be rearranged easily but making sure the ‘plant’ has its own space. Brad Dubious costumes fit the characters well. Dylan Carter designed the lighting and Estefanía Ricalde sound design was a bit too loud for yours truly.
OnStage has taken on a big challenge with Durang’s recent play. To come see it or not is the question. While bazar, it does deal with the casualties of a broken political system in denial of its treatment of gun laws, mental health issues, racial prejudice and a bevy of issues that no one seems to address because we have short memories and the morning news, which we should turn off, kind of sets the mood for the day.
The one thing Durang did promise and we got was some glimmer of hope in the final scenes. At least he tried.
Congrats to OnStage Playhouse for taking on this challenging project.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through June 19th
Organization: OnStage Playhouse
Production Type: Black Comedy
Where: 291 Third Ave., Chula Vista
Ticket Prices: $22. To $25.00
Photo: Daren Scott