Blog Post 1/25/16

While 2015 was, in my opinion, The Year of the Premiere, 2016 is also getting off to an innovative/creative start.

I was able to catch three of the four staged readings in The Old Globe’s New Voices series, and though I can’t officially review them, I will say that they were all intriguing and extremely well done. Most notably, they were exceptionally well cast (special kudos to casting director Bernadette Hanson), with lots of superb local actors. All seemed worthy of further exploration, and full productions.

The only musical was “Cake Off,” based on the play, “Bake Off,” by Sheri Wilner, with book by Sheri Wilner and Julia Jordan, lyrics by Adam Gwon and Julia Jordan and music by Adam Gwon. Elan McMahan’s musical direction and accompaniment were, as always, outstanding. The story was based on the true tale of the Pillsbury BakeOff, the year it went from a modest prize amount to a whopping $1 million. It was the first time men entered the competition, and a man won that year. This is the imagined backstory of that surprising outcome. Geno Carr and Melinda Gilb were excellent as the contestants, Robert Townsend was hilarious as the smarmy TV host and a few female competitors. Austyn Myers, on the cusp of his audition for Juilliard, was spot-on as the angry son of a divorced father, played by Carr. Gilb’s solo about men taking over even this last domain for women, was intense. And Carr’s aching ballad about his son growing up not to be like him was heartbreaking. It’s a very small piece, and it worked well as a reading. Not clear how the expansion to a full production would succeed.

“Peerless,” by Jiehae Park, was smart, slick, funny — and brutal. Twin sisters in a suburban Midwest high school will do anything – and that means anything (including murder!) to get into the college of their dreams. Joy Osmanski (a mega-talented UCSD alum) was spectacular. As her twin, Samantha Quan was also great. Kevin Hafso-Koppman was wonderful as their nerdy target, and Jacque Wilke was spooky as the clairvoyant “Dirty Girl.” As expertly directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, with neck-snapping, rat-a-tat timing, this piece was disturbing, to say the least, but quite worthy of a full production – by Sonnenberg’s Moxie Theatre, if not the Globe. I hope it retains the same cast.

“Unseen” was written by Mona Mansour, who grew up in San Diego, cut her teeth at Junior Theatre and took acting classes at The Old Globe. Set in an apartment in Istanbul (where I recently visited), this searing piece concerned a young ‘conflict photographer,’ one who chases down photos in war zones. She was found unconscious and brought to the home of Derya (Tala Ashe, first-rate), her former lover. Mia (wonderful Erin Anderson) seems to remember little; her mother (marvelous Linda Gehringer, who also plays a jaded photojournalist) comes from California to help. As they piece together the story, we get an unnerving view of what these photographers actually do in the face of the horrors they see (the older woman’s advice: “Don’t look”). The piece was reminiscent of Donald Margulies’ “Time Stands Still,” also about a female photojournalist, this one wounded in Iraq (produced at North Coast Repertory Theatre in 2013). Joanna McKeon directed with appropriate intensity.

Next up: Plays by Young Writers (also at the Old Globe), the presentation of four winning works from the Playwrights Project’s statewide competition (through 1/24/16).

And then, the DNA New Works Series at the La Jolla Playhouse (2/19-2/29).

I’ll report back after viewing those. Consider this is a great time to jump on an early bandwagon; see new works as they evolve, before they get produced in full, and go on to greater glory.