Depending on the material, the courtyard at Bourbon Street Bar & Grill is kind of a cool area for a play; the noise from the abutting bar area is its own sound system as it filters in and underscores the action. It works especially well during the opening scene of San Diego, I Love You 2.0, Circle Circle dot dot’s sophomore entry in what’s apparently intended as a company franchise.
Last February’s 1.0 (which I didn’t see) got some decent buzz amid its story about dating and dumping—the difference is that these vignettes were mounted in several non-theater locations in Hillcrest, just as 2.0 unfolds in University Heights at Bourbon Street, Red House Pizza, the lobby at Diversionary Theatre, a private residence and the DeMi Café Café. The venues present a few logistical concerns, and some might regard the short treks as distracting—but directors Patrick Kelly and Julio Jacobo let their sensibilities speak for themselves in this earnest little piece about military life, its local component and its role in romantic sacrifice.
(Disclaimer: The performance I saw on Feb. 1 was a dress rehearsal for the press; the show opens Feb. 8 and runs through Feb. 16.)
Our walk is led by narrator Frankie (Eddie Avalos), eventual son of sailor Chuck and divorcee Grace. The couple’s initial encounter at a bar in 1986 ends up where you’d suppose (“Wanna see my ship?” plebe Chuck asks slyly); they marry two years later and have Frankie in the 1990s, but endless deployments will morph their relationship into something else, notably amid 9/11.
Long ago, Grace had gone by the nickname Fanny Pack, per the couple’s maiden evening; later, they named their dog Stash. But both affectionate handles are clearly behind them amid the last straw. The question of mutual fidelity takes center stage as Chuck ships out yet again. And this time, Grace shows one of her true colors—seems she’s taken up life at another port in the storm after all (this sequence has Durwood Murray and Jyl Kaneshiro as Chuck and Grace, and they work quite well together). Life goes on, and its clear that carefree 1986 spawned untold object lessons in the grit of the present day.
One general problem I’ve had with Circle’s entries lies in the degree to which our locale is the primary focus, and that glitch surfaces here.
True, Chuck (alternately Michael Parrott, Ryan Kidd, Murray and John Whitley-Gibson) makes a perfectly fine cog in the humongous wheel that is the United States Navy, and Grace (Ashley Toolan, Crystal Mercado, Kaneshiro and Kathi Copeland) sports the smile of a lady on and just as quickly off the market. But the references to Sunset Cliffs, Balboa Park, El Zarape Mexican restaurant and DeMi are easily interchangeable with those in any military city, just as Chuck and Grace struggle with the same slippery slopes any couple face when the military’s involved (playwrights Jacobo and Samantha Ginn prove my point amid their generous use of Virginia Beach, with its enormous naval air station, as a secondary setting).
The Navy christened a cargo ship in honor of John Glenn here on Feb. 1 (a huge deal), and Point Loma’s Liberty Station was the training ground for thousands of Navy cadets before several local commands were decommissioned in 1995. Those are just two items that pepper this city’s exhaustive military history; couldn’t the playwrights have worked some of them into the conversation to imbue a more specifically local flavor? If we’d wanted Virginia Beach, I Love You, we would’ve gone there.
But just as theater is a terribly public act, site-specific fare in non-theater locations isn’t a half-bad notion. The San Francisco Mime Troupe mounted scores of pieces at these places as early as 1959, and today, it’s one of the country’s most successful venues for political satire. In 2005, San Diego’s Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company couldn’t have picked a more appropriate (if acoustically awful) locale for its Vietnam-intensive A Piece of My Heart than the Veterans Memorial Center, across from Balboa Park. And community-based theater like this even claims a place behind the country’s ivy-laden walls (Circle artistic director Katie Harroff has an MA in the subject from Arizona State University).
Indeed, Circle forges on in that spirit, and 2.0 undeterredly lays it out for all to see. Behind the intensely intelligent Harroff and her motley crew, the company is making and will make its way into the fabric and, one might tentatively add, the conscience of local cultural life.
Bourbon Street, the play’s starting point, is located at 4612 Park Ave. In addition to Avalos, Justin Warren-Martin and Theresa Whetherhold are your guides depending on the show.