By Larry Taylor/Garden Grove Journal
Rape, incest, torture, suicide – it’s all in “Cloudlands,” now at South Coast Repertory. And it is a musical, by the way…
There is bad and good about the production. The plot is outrageously operatic. Not since Puccini’s “Tosca” have we seen a heroine jump from a wall to her death. Not since the Greeks and Oedipus has a character unknowingly made love to a parent and paid the ultimate consequences. By the end, one may either accept this preposterous action in the spirit of theatrical extravagance or leave the theater, head shaking in disbelief.
With all this going on, the actors mostly do a good job. As well, director Amanda Dehnert moves Octavio Solis’ overwrought script along at a sprightly 90 minutes. And the music and lyrics by Adam Gwon are the best part of it, with the songs composed in a Stephen Sondheim style – lyrics about contemporary problems and often talk-sung. Additionally, the performers uniformly do the songs justice
The action revolves around Monica (Addi McDaniel, compelling with a charming voice). She feels her life is coming apart what with stress over family relations and concern about college in her future. In addition, her relationship is unraveling with boyfriend, Kevin (too immature in Adam Kaokect’s portrayal).
Adding to her emotional problems, she learns her mother, Caroline, (a cool efficient Katrina Lenk) is having an affair with handsome Latino store owner (an overly suave Joseph Melendez). We soon discover he has had troubles of his own. Meanwhile, Monica’s father, Gerald (a stoic Robert Mammana), is ignorant of what is going on.
Revelations run amuck toward the end in a series of mind-boggling occurrences, all of which lead to the tragic conclusion.
Throughout the music is captivating. Standing out is “Explode,” in which Monica reveals her debilitating problems which have led to a suicide attempt. Next, in “How Was Your Day,” we see her dysfunctional family in action in an impressive trio number.
In “Invisible,” Melendez effectively reveals Victor’s immigration problems after coming from Central America, along with the abuses he has received. Later in a reprise of the song, the cast sings in counterpoint about their collective anguish, movingly combining musical lines for maximum effect.
Scenic designer Christopher Acebo’s stark white setting works well, dividing the action on four levels. Very touching is the scene where the two young lovers lie on the grass, contemplating the shapes of clouds.
Finally, those in the audience who can suspend disbelief and go along with the excessive plot will have a good time. Others, not so much.
“Cloudlands” can be seen through May 6 in SCR’s Julianne Argyros Stage.