This year, San Diego theater produced several distinguished shows that ranged from the intimate to the epic. The 2017 theatrical highlights, for me, showcased modern writers as well as some more classic works. I have called out a few that represent the excellence of local theater during the year.
Many of the Intrepid Theatre Company’s productions have received rave reviews, so it comes as no surprise that Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) earned plenty of critical acclaim. Once again, Director Christy Yael-Cox brought out the best in an ensemble that included Wrekless Watson, Tom Stephenson and Antonio TJ Johnson. The Civil War years present an ugly period of racism in this country, but Yael-Cox and playwright Suzan Lori-Parks resisted the temptation to turn the drama into a plot involving the victimization of blacks. Instead, they crafted a morally complex, almost three-hour long, evening at the Horton Grand Theatre with creative humor, inventive dialogue and intelligently handled twists.
Lori-Parks has been getting plenty of attention from theatre lovers for several decades, and the same can be said about writer Lisa Kron. Two of her autobiographical comedy-dramas, 2.5 Minute Ride and Well played at Diversionary Theatre as part of The Kron Repertory. Each of Kron’s scripts powerfully reflect how her relationships with her parents made an impact on her life. Rosina Reynolds direction of 2.5 Minute Ride and Kym Pappas’ management of Well succeeded in balancing comedic and dramatic moments perfectly. Their storytelling, along with lead performances from Shana Wride and Samantha Ginn, resulted in some poignant experiences about the importance of family.
Martyna Majok is an up-and-coming writer, compared to the accomplished Lori-Parks and Kron. After seeing Moxie Theatre’s production of Ironbound, I’m convinced that she’ll achieve a similar reputation and status to the other two playwrights. Painting a human face on the immigrant experience, Artistic Director Jennifer Eve Thorn provided a vividly realistic narrative that revolved around a Polish factory worker and maid Darja (Jacque Wilke). Wilke’s portrayal of the protagonist was bitingly funny, tough and empathetic. No matter how hopeless Darja’s situations seemed, audiences hoped that she would persevere and overcome over any obstacle.
It’ll be exciting to see the West Coast premiere of Majok’s Queens at the La Jolla Playhouse as part of the 2018/2019 season.
While some original plays provided fresh entertainment, two classic and famous page-to stage-adaptations deserve to be mentioned. North Coast Repertory Theatre’s version of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was a superb representation of the popular novella. Dark and violent scenes were staged in a tense way by director Richard Baird, and he never lost sight of the plot’s heart, which is the friendship between the smart Great Depression-Era rancher, George Milton (Jacob Sidney), and his mentally disabled companion, Lennie Small (Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper). Even though I knew how events would unfold, Baird’s rendition, nevertheless, left me stunned.
While Of Mice and Men is the saddest show I’ve picked for the San Diego Arts Year in Review, The Old Globe Theatre’s (in association with Asolo Repertory Theatre) version of Guys and Dolls has to be the most upbeat. Based on short stories by Damon Runyon, the 1950’s era musical comedy was the type of high quality summer escape theatre goers needed.
Director/choreographer Josh Rhodes came up with a visually snazzy hit, and every artist onstage seemed to be having the time of their lives. This is the type of classic music-filled spectacle where all the elements of theatre are in full display.
Coming up with my selections was a tougher one than usual, because of the wide selection of satisfying shows that were produced since last January. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that 2018 will feature just as much variety, entertainment and impact.