For three years, the search for a San Diego memorial for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has polarized this city. Charges of racism have flown fast and furious as San Diego named and unnamed first a street, and then the new San Diego Convention Center, for the slain civil rights leader.
This month, the Old Globe Theatre will present a memorial of its own, in the form of "Driving Miss Daisy," which opens Thursday. Alfred Uhry's play, which won the Pulitzer Prize last year and is now being made into a movie, tells the story of a white Southern woman who ends up becoming friends with her black chauffeur. The friendship inspires her to attend a tribute to King, but her need to put distance between herself and her black friend makes her hesitate to ask him to join her, even though she knows he would dearly love to go.
Thomas Hall, managing director of the Old Globe, said the theater fought hard to get the rights to "Driving Miss Daisy" because of the controversy about the memorial here. It was a tussle to get the rights for an independent production of a play currently on national tour, Hall said, but the producers for the Uhry play were the same as those for the Old Globe's "The Cocktail Hour," and that provided the inside track.
Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Sada Thompson, who will play Miss Daisy here, said she was surprised and sad to hear about the local controversy.
"I love the character because she has the ring of truth about her," Thompson said. "She's of a different time, but what she goes through can be mirrored in modern people, who can still see the attitudes of their parents and grandparents. Of course, they may think they are not the same, but they may also be mistaken."
Comedian Don Victor has performed with Whoopi Goldberg, Kathy Najimy and Maureen Gaffney (of Off- Broadway's "Kathy & Mo") and Bryan Scott (co-creator of "Suds").
But while his ex-partners have gone off to seek fame and fortune in New York and Hollywood, Victor has remained in San Diego, waiting for his break while honing his comedy and improvisational skills at the Marquis Public Theatre, the San Diego Repertory Theatre, the Comedy Store, the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre, the Bowery Theatre and Sushi Performance Gallery.
Now Victor and Events West, which is co-producing Victor's upcoming show with Sushi Thursday through July 22, are hoping that "Picture Postcard" will provide that break.
"We're calling in all the old favors," explained Bill Withers, an employee of Events West who handles public relations for the show. "We hope this will be the show that will push him out of town and over the top."
Victor has been working on "Picture Postcard" for more than a year now. The show, which began as a piece commissioned by Sushi for its Neofest, has evolved into an autobiographical tale, featuring six characters based on people Victor has known. Cynthia, for example, is a composite of all the women Victor says he has worked with over the years, including Goldberg and Kathy & Mo.
"I tried to figure out what they all had in common," Victor said. "And then I realized that they were all waitresses."
The show even has a message.
"What I wanted the show to say is that the people who are the most interesting are the ones who are the square pegs in the round holes. And rather than pass them by, we should take a look at them. They are eccentric because they are not playing by anyone else's rules."
They're back. The original "Suds" team of Melinda Gilb, Susan Mosher, Steve Gunderson and Christine Sevec are firming up a one-night-only date in August for "Suds in Concert" at San Diego State's Open Air Theatre.
According to Bryan Scott, who created the show with Gunderson and Gilb, doing the show in concert means that the ensemble can doff their funky '50s garb and the flimsy story and rock and roll with backup singers and a band.
Meanwhile, for those who prefer some plot with their musicals, the original "Suds" has been extended with another cast at the Phoenix Little Theatre through July 9.
PROGRAM NOTES: William Murray, the New Yorker contributor ("Letter from Italy"), must have been serious about the pleasure he said he took in his San Diego debut in San Diego Gilbert and Sullivan Company's recent production of "Trial by Jury." He's back as the very model of a modern major general in "The Pirates of Penzance," opening tonight at the Casa del Prado in Balboa Park. . . . The Ensemble Arts Theatre was hoping to take "Tracers" to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland on Aug. 14-Sept. 2. That fell through when the show's creator, John DiFusco, decided to take his own production there. Now Ensemble Arts is trying to raise $25,000 to take its "Tracers" cast to Edinburgh to perform in Sam Shepard's "Angel City" and "Water Music," an original play by UC San Diego playwright Michael Erickson. . . .