Potiker is more than just a new facility

                             by Martin Jones Westlin

         The voice of actor Joan van Ark (Dallas, Knots Landing) bellowed
         dispassionately from the loudspeakers of the new Sheila and Hughes
         Potiker Theatre, reminding patrons that the facility features a robotic dog
         programmed to eat their faces off should they fail to silence their electronic
         gadgets before the show. Van Ark probably thinks she’s kidding—but, after
         all, the squeaky-new La Jolla Playhouse facility is a marvel of high-tech
         sight, sound and sorcery. Better check the ol’ cell phone again, just to be
         safe. Once that’s out of the way, sit back and enjoy Private Fittings, a
         world-premier adaptation of Georges Feydeau’s Tailleur pour Dames, which
         runs through March 27 and features an English-translation book by Mark
         O’Donnell (Hairspray). There is absolutely nothing to recommend this show
         beyond the fact that it’s the Potiker’s maiden entry—but for farce fans, that
         doesn’t matter. For them, the evening is marked by the trademark
         slamming doors, mistaken identities, jilted wives, long-lost husbands,
         drawing-room innuendo, more slamming doors, riotously cute scene
         changes and a compact conclusion. It’s fun to watch Eric (Kyle Fabel)
         frantically cover his tracks as he woos his dumb-blonde paramour Suzanne
         (Jessica Boevers). It’s even more fun to watch bestselling author Harriet
         (van Ark, who at 61 sports the yummiest legs this side of Betty Grable)
         verbally bitch-slap Eric into submission as daughter Yvonne (a totally
         miscast Stana Katic) looks on. It’s not fun at all to experience otherwise
         clever repartée embedded in a bunch of stupid clichés (“I didn’t write ‘Bitch
         Your Way to Fitness’ for nothing,” growls Harriet; “Everything I eat goes to
         my wrists,” grovels Eric). But there’s another issue at work, less apparent
         amid director Des McAnuff’s vivacious take on the play. It involves the
         Playhouse in a vital community role, one it has yet to assume. The Potiker is
         a 6,500-square-foot black box that boasts 450 of the most comfortable
         seats in the cosmos. It’s the flagship space in the cumbersomely named
         Joan and Irwin Jacobs Center for La Jolla Playhouse. Built for $16.5 million
         over 18 months, the center was the site of a Jan. 15 open house, delayed
         90 days amid construction snafus that caused the 2004 subscription
         season to slop over into this year (Fittings is actually the final entry for
         2004). The center, which Playhouse artistic director McAnuff calls a “theater
         village,” features rehearsal spaces, tech shops, a state-of-the-art sound
         booth, sparkling administrative offices and, presumably, a mechanical
         canine primed to kill. When a restaurant and adjacent parkland open this
         summer, the center will encompass 50,000 square feet. But while
         Playhouse personnel have every right to crow their excitement, the term
         “theater village” bears scrutiny. A village is only as vital as its diversity—and
         the Playhouse long ago gained a reputation as an address where people
         and scripts are imported and exported as if the rest of San Diego’s theater
         community didn’t exist. This city has a way to go before it can boast a
         theater personality of its own—but a grand new resource like the Potiker,
         and routine interchange with its resident mentors and custodians, would
         certainly constitute a step in the right direction. (San Diego actor Ron
         Choularton in that space as the Clerk in Gogol’s stage-adapted Diary of a
         Madman? The prospect is too picture-perfect to comprehend.) With Private
         Fittings, La Jolla Playhouse ushers in its next level with a show as new and
         user-friendly as the Potiker itself. Let’s see if it can—or will—parlay this
         success into communication with its scores of hungry neighbors to the
         south. This review is based on the opening-night performance of Feb. 27.
         Private Fittings runs through March 27 at the Sheila and Hughes Potiker
         Theatre (2910 La Jolla Village Drive in La Jolla). $39-$57. 858-550-1010.