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Theater: assessing the year that was

Posted: January 15th, 2016 | Arts & Entertainment, Featured, Theater Reviews | No Comments

By Charlene Baldridge

Theatrically, it’s time to take a look back upon the year 2015, name a few favorite productions here in San Diego County, and take a look forward into 2016, finding what looks worthwhile and perhaps taking some time to fret over what seems troubling.

Please be aware that although I see most everything (I attended 115 theatrical productions, musicals, concerts and operas in town this year, not counting at least 10 Fringe Festival shows), there are some things I missed because scheduling is sometimes impossible.

Here’s what I found to be excellent:

Marsha Norman’s “‘night Mother,” at ion theatre company, so good I paid to see it again as skillfully directed by Glenn Paris and starring Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson as the mother of a daughter hell-bent on suicide, played by Yolanda Franklin.

The cast of the tragic “Sons of the Prophet” at Cygnet last January (Photo by Daren Scott)

The cast of the tragic “Sons of the Prophet” at Cygnet last January (Photo by Daren Scott)

Stephen Karam’s 2011 off-Broadway hit, “Sons of the Prophet,” at Cygnet in January, directed by then-new associate artistic director, Rob Lutfy. It was a touching, wildly inscrutable, deeply comic play about a Pennsylvania man of Lebanese descent confined to a wheelchair by an undiagnosed illness, brilliantly played by newcomer Alex Hoeffler. The pace was 1,000 mph and the play chock-full of challenging characters, who repeatedly missed out on love.

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Jenn Colella as a flight captain with the cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s “Come From Away” in June, one of the best plays in 2015. (Photo by Kevin Berne)

By far the most outstanding new musical of the year was La Jolla Playhouse’s world premiere of “Come From Away,” in which a huge ensemble company told the story of the planes and people that were forced to land in Newfoundland on 9/11.

Hayley Podschun and Brendon Stimson in Alfred Uhry's vignette "Love with the Top Down," part of the world premiere musical In Your Arms. In Your Arms, with music by Stephen Flaherty and direction and choreography by Christopher Gattelli, runs Sept. 16 - Oct. 25, 2015 at The Old Globe. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

A scene from “In Your Arms” at the Old Globe in September (Photo by Carol Rosegg)

A truly ravishing visual experience was the Old Globe’s “In Your Arms,” a dance musical with vignettes written by 10 major playwrights, directed and choreographed Christopher Gattelli. Best musical revival was San Diego Musical Theatre’s “La Cage Aux Folles” with endearing performances by Robert Townsend, David Engel and James Vasquez.

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The cast of San Diego REP’s “Violet” in September (Photo by Daren Scott)

  • I adored Jeanine Tesori’s “Violet,” sensitively directed by San Diego Repertory Artistic Director Sam Woodhouse.

Other laudable productions: “The Twenty-Seventh Man,” Old Globe Theatre; “Oedipus El Rey,” San Diego Repertory Theatre; “Freud’s Last Session” with Francis Gercke and Robert Smyth at Lamb’s Players Theatre; “A New Brain,” with Tom Zohar and his real-life husband Anthony Methvin, directed by Kim Strassburger at Diversionary Theatre; “Healing Wars,” La Jolla Playhouse; “The Quality of Life,” produced by Intrepid Theatre at the old Carlsbad Cinema; and “The Vortex” and “Hay Fever” in repertory at Cygnet.

And just for fun: “Return to the Forbidden Planet” at New Village Arts and “Silence of the Clams” at Diversionary; and “The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence” at Moxie Theatre; and “Chapatti” at North Coast Repertory Theatre.

Intrepid Theatre Company is certainly the outstanding theater company of the year, having engendered the two most indelible performances of the year — Jeffrey Jones as the dying protagonist in “The Quality of Life,” and Eileen Bowman as Judy Garland in “End of the Rainbow,” at San Diego Rep. Both shows were directed by Christy Yael-Cox, who built wonderful supporting ensembles for each.

Good news and worrisome news for 2016

The re-enlivened InnerMission Theatre produced two fine shows in Diversionary Theatre’s new Black Box.

In worrisome news, Mo’olelo “lost” its newish artistic director, Lydia Fort, and more recently announced postponement of the remainder of the season. A pity.

Watch for these two new promising play festivals in January and February. The first, the Old Globe’s New Voices Festival, Jan. 15 –17, with readings as follows:

  • 7:30 p.m., Friday, Jan. 15: Sheri Wilner, Julia Jordan, and Adam Gwon’s musical, “Cake Off”
  • 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16: Jiehae Park’s “peerless,” directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg
  • 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16: “The Blameless” by Nick Gandiello, directed by Globe Artistic Director Barry Edelstein;
  • 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17: Mona Mansour’s “Unseen,” directed by Johanna McKeon.

All four readings take place in the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. Tickets are free but require reservations, open to the general public beginning Tuesday, Jan. 5 at noon, through the box office at 619-23-GLOBE.

For the second, La Jolla Playhouse received a $20,000 NEA grant to enhance this year’s DNA New Work Series, which takes place Feb. 15 – 27.

Plays will be announced in early January. Visit lajollaplayhouse.org.

Put these on the calendar now:

  • San Diego Repertory Theatre: John Patrick Shanley’s “Outside Mullingar” now through Feb. 21. Visit broadwaysd.com.
  • Old Globe: David Ives adaptation of the 18th century French farce, “Metromaniacs,” directed by legendary director Michael Kahn, Shiley Stage Jan. 30 – March 6. Visit theoldglobe.org.
  • San Diego Musical Theatre: Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty and Terrence McNally’s “Ragtime” — one of the best musicals of the 20th century. Feb. 5 – 21 at Spreckels Theatre. Visit sdtm.org.

Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at charlenebaldridge.com or reach her at charb81@gmail.com.

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