No holiday-season fluff at the Rubicon Theatre this year: The Ventura company is ending its season with a powerful staging of South Pacific. This Pulitzer Prize-winning tale of American sailors during World War II, and the islanders whose lives they uproot, seamlessly mixes the sublime and the silly; stories of cross-cultural romance are leavened with cross-dressing humor. Katharine Farmer’s beautifully paced production reveals both how well-constructed it is, and how its themes continue to resonate.
A superb cast of singing actors, under the musical direction of Brent Crayon, reliably conveys the intense emotions behind Rodgers and Hammerstein’s timeless songs. As French exile Emile De Becque, Ben Davis gives a gorgeous, emotionally raw rendition of “This Nearly Was Mine.” As the increasingly fragile Lt. Joe Cable, Alex Nee practically spits out the lyrics of “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,” that angry ode to how we pass down our prejudices from one generation to the next. Best of all, Madison Claire Parks is movingly conflicted as the openhearted but narrow-minded nurse Nellie Forbush. She and Davis have real chemistry onstage, their body language expressing both wariness and excitement.
Mike Billings’s striking set is dominated by a huge wooden barrier that stands between the American military personnel and the beautiful island they temporarily occupy (seen only via projections). The characters seem trapped, which is nicely symbolic: In reality, they are held captive by their own biases. Then again, aren’t we all?