Regional Reviews: San Diego
Karen Hartman's script goes back and forth in time to depict the relationship between an empathetic doctor, Roz (Carla Harting), and a divorced dad, Ray (Steven Lone). Starting in 1976 San Diego, Ray believes the physician is able to help his two sons who suffer from hemophilia. Roz promises she will do whatever is possible to keep his kids healthy. After a hopeful early conversation, the narrative switches to 1991 where Ray is picketing outside of her office. He is convinced that Roz is responsible for the untimely death of one of his kids. Throughout the 90-minute play, Hartman pieces together everything that led to the father's tragic loss.
Karen Hartman's writing feels, for the most part, realistic and unexaggerated. Conversations between the two main protagonists reference medical facts, which can be a little dry for those who don't know much about medicine. What she does to make the material dramatically effective is to not rush to the central conflict as it occurs. During earlier flashbacks, there is an optimistic tone as Ray becomes convinced that his children will lead somewhat normal lives. The AIDS crisis isn't explicitly referenced for a while. That's when Ward's script starts to become a learning experience for many visiting Horton Plaza. Roz shares information that is disturbingly fascinating. Moments that go into depth about AIDS are difficult to watch, because of the tense friction that Harting and Lone convey.
Only two performers are featured onstage at the Lyceum Space. Roz and Ray's relationship changes significantly and Harting and Lone showcase their ups and downs. Harting's calm and nuanced performance fits Roz's caring personality and Lone's emotional acting captures Ray's sadness and rage. Both stars remain likeable and don't soften the flaws of the characters they play. Roz occasionally steps over the boundaries in her profession and Ray speaks in a profanely unfiltered way. Even with their foibles, the leads give the San Diegans compassionate personalities.
For a serious story like Hartman's, it helps to have a director who is able to handle difficult material. Delicia Turner Sonnenberg has previously told tales that addressed controversial issues such as racism, massacre, and war. Although there are moments of humor and uplift, Sonnenberg's interpretation is full of contagious fury. Several crewmembers are responsible for providing the representation of different locations and time periods. John Iacovelli's setting is grounded in the way he depicts Rady Children's Hospital. Sherrice Mojgani's projections and well-known songs, used in Matt Lescault-Wood's sound design, help set up the various decades.
Although Roz and Ray should be experienced by anyone who wants to see a bittersweet narrative, certain aspects about Hartman's prose sometimes slow the pacing. Speeches that Ray gives to a news reporter in 1991 use more overtly theatrical language compared to the natural dialogue he shares with Roz. In addition to the monologues, a romantic subplot that occurs doesn't really end up adding to Roz and Ray's journeys. Hartman's side story comes across as a way to include a break from the heavier material. These problems are almost completely gone once AIDS becomes crucial to Roz and Ray. From that point, the rest of the evening is generally tight and focused.
Roz and Ray handles tragic subject matter with respect. Bringing a tissue is recommended for everyone who watches Sonnenberg's touching interpretation.
San Diego Repertory Theatre presents Roz and Ray through October 1, 2017. Performs Sundays through Saturdays at 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego, CA. Tickets start at $33 and can be purchased online at www.sdrep.org or by phone at 1-619-544-1000.