San Diego Theater Review: WALTER CRONKITE IS DEAD (San Diego Repertory Theatre)

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by Milo Shapiro on September 29, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Walter Cronkite Is Dead by Joe Calarco – directed by Shana Wride – at the San Diego Repertory Theatre - with Ellen Crawford and Melinda Gilb – Regional Theater Review by Milo ShapiroIt’s everyone’s social nightmare brought to life: being trapped next to the annoying stranger who won’t shut up. But when it’s someone like the uptight, instantly off-putting Margaret (Ellen Crawford) getting trapped by a high-spirited über-Walmart-shopper-type like Patty (Melinda Gilb), this nightmare is a delicious delight for us to watch, even if poor Margaret has to live through it.

Such is Margaret’s plight in Walter Cronkite Is Dead. Stuck in a crowded airport waiting area during a storm, she ever-so-reluctantly removes her purse from the adjacent seat, which allows the brassy chatterbox Patty to trample on her personal space. Between Patty’s unfiltered ramblings and Margaret’s attempts at social graces, these two could have entertained us for ninety minutes even if Margaret had never gotten so much as one line in (and for a time, it appeared she might not). She skillfully played what improvisationalists term “the passenger” – the person lassoed next to some crazy person, like one of Bob Newhart’s prototypically forlorn characters.

From the moment Gilb bursts onto the smartly laid-out set with overflowing carry-on bags and a giant pink fanny pack as she gabs loudly on her Bluetooth device, she grabs our attention and refuses to let it go. Intermittently bubbly and awkward, Patty keeps us laughing through such self-conscious lines as, “That’s okay. This is what I do. I annoy people.” But as the play develops, she reveals an underlying pathos that breaks through the bubbly façade.

It was an immense pleasure to see Ellen Crawford – best known for fifteen seasons on E.R. – get to have more than the typical couple of consecutive lines those TV scripts afforded her. She brings a both a quirkiness and a lovely sympathy to Margaret that quickly transcends the character’s initial two-dimensional quality.

Joe Calarco’s thoughtful script goes way beyond standard comedy fare. We get two unexpectedly complex women, each carrying far more life baggage than they could check on this flight. When Margaret arrives at the point of accepting that she’s better off trying to engage with this motor-mouth rather than merely tolerate her, the energy becomes downright exciting.

The script takes the audience on a roller coaster ride filled with both sudden laughter and unexpected punches to the gut. Thankfully, nothing feels contrived, although occasionally a line or two feels forced; but under Shana Wride’s astute direction, these are of little distraction. The short, exuberant evening flies by and even supplies us with plenty to discuss afterward.

And that’s the way it is.

photos by Daren Scott

Walter Cronkite Is Dead
San Diego Repertory Theatre
Lyceum Space, 79 Horton Plaza
ends on October 16, 2011
for tickets, call 619.544.1000 or visit SD Rep

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