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The Idea Behind Granny as Gobbler

Granny has a problem. She’s eating her family out of house and home.

“The story revolves around a woman and her insatiable appetites,” said Raul Moncada, who translated Argentine playwright Roberto Cossa’s dark comedy, “The Granny” (La Nonna), opening Saturday on the Cassius Carter Stage at San Diego’s Old Globe. “It’s also about the things the family comes up with to solve the problem. And it asks the questions, ‘What’s your breaking point?’ ‘At what point do you sell out your moral values?’ ”

In other words, there’s a lot more going on here than an eating disorder.

“Everybody wants to know the significance of the granny,” said Moncada, who saw dual stagings of the play last year--in Chile and Costa Rica. For him, the Argentine-set story “is about a capitalistic system that devours its own: its government, its economy, its society . . . but played for laughs. It’s also the difference between reality--what we perceive as real, and hyperrealism--what the writer says is lying underneath.”

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Written in 1977 (two years into Argentina’s military crackdown that resulted in the execution and disappearance of thousands), “The Granny” is also an example of a specific Argentine theater style, grotesco criollo (hometown grotesque). “I asked an actor to describe it to me,” Moncada said. “He said, ‘When someone tickles you, you laugh. After awhile, it’s not so funny. Then it hurts. You beg them to stop--but they don’t.’ That’s what happens in this play.”

Part of the grotesque element has to do with casting: Cossa has specified in his play notes that the part of Granny be played by a man.

“In Costa Rica, they did it with a woman,” Moncada said. “At the Spanish Repertory in New York now, they’re also doing it with a woman. I don’t think it works. You take the character too literally with a woman playing it. It’s still funny, but it becomes a light comedy. It loses depth and character, the dimension that puts an audience on the edge of its seat. When the part is being played by a man, it forces you to look a little more deeply, not take it at face value.”

In the Old Globe production outrageous Los Angeles performance artist John Fleck will plays the granny and Lillian Garrett-Groag (“The Day You’ll Love Me”) directs,

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FOUR SINGERS FOUR: The Great White Way comes to Malibu with “A Broadway Celebration,” a four-person sampler of show tunes opening Saturday at Pepperdine University’s Smothers Theatre.

“The show is a theatrical interpretation, but it’s basically just singing,” said Susan Watson, who’s joined by Lainie Nelson, George Ball and Dan Gettinger. “We talk about the composers and lyricists. Then we do about 40 songs--some in medleys--hopefully with style, and, I may say, good vocals.” The touring program, which Watson believes fills the show-tune void on the radio waves, sports the melodies of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Rodgers & Hart, Jerome Kern, Lerner & Loewe and Jule Styne.

THEATER BUZZ: T. H. McCulloh, who reviews for The Times and formerly was managing editor at Drama-Logue, was recently elected the next president of Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle. He’ll take office in April.


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