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Theater Notebook: New romantic comedy at Lamplighters about what not to say to breast cancer patients

Lana Hartwell, Duane Weekly and Shelley Benoit in "Red Jasper" at Lamplighters Community Theatre.
(Heather Longfellow)

Also this week: La Jolla Playhouse’s ‘Lempicka’ musical has a new song recording that listeners can download

San Diego playwright Michael Madden’s sister is a breast cancer survivor. But back when she was sick, she battled more than the disease. She and other cancer patients she knew also had to wrestle daily with misconceptions and sometimes unwelcome behavior and comments from well-meaning family and friends.

So Madden has written a new play that he hopes will not only entertain audiences and make people laugh but also educate them on what to say and how to act around women who are in a battle for their lives against breast cancer.

“Red Jasper,” which opens Friday at Lamplighters Community Theatre in La Mesa, is also a fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. The June 11 performance will benefit the foundation, and Madden has also launched a GoFundMe campaign (“how many wigs can we raise?”) to raise money to buy wigs for women patients who have lost their hair to chemotherapy.

“Red Jasper” is Madden’s second play. His first, the romantic comedy “Maybe This Time,” made its premiere at the 2016 San Diego International Fringe Festival and has since been produced in four other cities nationwide. “Red Jasper” also started out as a romantic comedy, but while creating backstory for his characters, Madden decided that the lead female character, Isadora, would be a breast cancer patient. In the play, she falls for Tom, a man who both charms and infuriates her.

To ensure accuracy, Madden went to two Susan G. Komen charity runs and interviewed more than 40 breast cancer survivors on their experiences. Several common themes emerged. He shared the script with local Komen foundation officials, and he said they felt that it reflected the experience of breast cancer patients so well that they’re co-promoting the show.

“My goal with this play is to give people a better idea of how to act around friends, family or strangers that are experiencing cancer or have experienced cancer, especially with chemo. It’s hard enough dealing with the illness and its ramifications without having to deal with well-intentioned but clueless people they run into on a daily basis,” he said, adding that the play is not a how-to lecture, but a comedy about love and relationships.

“Red Jasper” runs 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 19 at 5915 Severin Drive in La Mesa. Tickets are $23-$25. Call (619) 303-5092 or visit lamplighterslamesa.com.

Eden Espinosa stars in "Lempicka, A New Musical" at La Jolla Playhouse.
(Courtesy of Anthony Matula )

‘Lempicka’ song recording is now live

For the first time in San Diego, audiences will have the opportunity to see “Lempicka, A New Musical” in its pre-Broadway tryout at La Jolla Playhouse, with performances beginning June 14. But fans of the musical about famed Russian painter Tamara de Lempicka don’t have to wait that long to hear star Eden Espinosa sing a number from the show.

Today, Sony Masterworks Broadway has released for downloads the debut single from the upcoming “Lempicka” cast album, “Woman Is,” performed by Espinosa.

Lempicka was a painter who fled the Russian Revolution and built an international career in bohemian Paris with her sensuous paintings. Then, when the Germans entered Paris in 1940, she fled again to Los Angeles. Espinosa originated the role of Tamara in the musical’s 2018 world premiere at the Williamstown Theater Festival. The musical’s book, lyrics and original concept is by Carson Kreitzer, with book and music by Matt Gould. It’s directed by Tony-winner Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”).

For information on the new song visit masterworksbroadway.com.

Playhouse hosts Native Voices

La Jolla Playhouse will present readings of two new plays by American Indian authors on June 4, as part of its longtime partnership with the Native Voices at the Autry’s 28th festival of new plays.

“Bad Medicine” by P.C. Verrone, who is a member of the Osage and Kiowa tribes, will be presented at 1 p.m. June 4. It’s a mystery story about an Indian couple who move to a small Massachusetts town where the wife, Aislin, has a new job at a natural history museum. But something insidious is haunting the town and and her only native co-worker has disappeared without a trace.

“Four Women in Red,” by Laura Shamas, a member of the Chickasaw tribe, will be presented at 4 p.m. June 4. The play looks inside the startling statistic of the 5,712 missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls. Four native women from different generations search for those who have disappeared and wonder if they’ll ever have closure.

Tickets are free, but reservations are required. RSVP to https://lajollaplayhouse.org/native-voices-npf-2022.

Diversionary’s ‘Eighty-Sixed’ to make up dates

As the result of a COVID outbreak among some cast members, Diversionary Theatre canceled a week of performances for its world premiere musical “Eighty-Sixed” earlier this month. The show reopens Thursday and the run has been extended a week to June 19. For tickets, visit diversionary.org

Some theater fans still masking up

On May 20, the Broadway League in New York City announced plans to extend its mandatory mask mandate for ticket-buyers at all of its 41 member theaters through June 30. The decision was based on fast-rising COVID case rates in the city.

In San Diego County, where cases have been ticking up, but not astronomically, local theaters continue to follow the state’s guidelines and are not requiring face masks. At shows I’ve attended over the past two weeks, I’ve noticed about one-third of patrons are still wearing masks for their own comfort and safety.

Kragen writes about theater for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Email her at pam.kragen@sduniontribune.com.


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