By Pat Launer
2005 was a watershed;
Time to look backward — and ahead
As the song goes, ‘It was a very good year.’ There were many terrific productions, superb ensembles, excellent new plays and more readings (staged and otherwise) than ever. And there were all those anniversaries ( theaterfolk are a tenacious lot!!).
The Globe turned 70 and Craig Noel, 90. The Opera celebrated 40 years, Lamb’s, 35 and the San Diego Rep, 30. Moonlight turned 25, and Sledgehammer and Diversionary both reached the two-decade mark. No wonder we have such a toehold on Broadway – persistence and longevity. Oh yes, and very high quality.
Out with the Old, in with the New
We ushered in high-profile, high tech new spaces, too – the state-of-the-art Potiker Theatre at the La Jolla Playhouse, centerpiece of the Jacobs Performing Arts Center , and the beautifully renovated Stephen and Mary Birch North Park Theatre. And there were high-profile additions to the theatre landscape, most notably, Jerry Patch, the country’s top developer of new plays, who came on board as the Globe’s resident artistic director. And NTC is on the march. The former Naval Training Center is being heralded as a new cultural destination, where 23 historic buildings will be restored on the Promenade; the Dance Building is set to open this spring/summer.
But you win some, you lose some. Our greatest loss was the beloved former funeral chapel, St. Cecilia’s, former home to the San Diego Rep and, for the past ten years, Sledgehammer Theatre. Co-founder and acting artistic director Scott Feldsher staged a tuneful, rueful elegy for the space, A/Wake: A Theater De-Installation with Choir and Soloists which included, over the course of four nights, the dismantling of the entire place. Heartbreaking. Now, Sledgehammer will join the ranks of our other homeless, nomadic (and in their case, site-specific) theaters: Sushi Visual and Performing Arts, the Fritz Theatre, Black Ensemble Theatre (gearing up for a resurgence this month) and Asian American Repertory Theatre (undergoing extensive reorganization). Adams Avenue Studio of the Arts also closed its doors at the end of the year.
Another great loss to the theater community: Jack Banning, who was ailing when he took his final bow in Renaissance Theatre’s Of Mice and Men. He was loved by all, and will be sorely missed. Almost gone, but not forgotten, is Richard Baird , who heads off to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It’s a great move for him (co-founder of Poor Players and incandescent Shakespearean actor) but a big loss for us.
Best of the Best… a bit of Patté…
On the brighter side, there were many stellar theater moments last year, but I won’t enumerate them all here, since I’ll be giving out the 9th annual Patté Awards TM for Theater Excellence on Monday (Jan. 9). If you don’t have a ticket, so sorry; we’ve been sold out for weeks. But good news! It’ll be streaming live on Monday night, 6:30-9pm. Surf over to: kpbs.org/ Patte.asx . Or, you can catch the KPBS-TV broadcast on Sunday, January 15 at 10:30pm (channel 15/cable 11).
I would like to mention a few noteworthy productions that weren’t eligible for Patté Awards, since they weren’t “San Diegans making theater for San Diego .” One is still ongoing: the sumptuous touring production of The Lion King, at the Civic Theatre, brought to us by Broadway San Diego. There’s still time; don’t miss it (through Jan. 15). There was a brief but memorable production of Jean Genet’s 1948 one-act, The Maids, presented by three ultra-talented Columbia University graduate students in acting (and their professor), under the banner of NU Classic Theatre (at Adams Ave.).
Then there was the scintillating production of Naomi Iizuka’s 36 Views at Laguna Playhouse. And a thrilling vocal evening at Orange County Performing Arts Center, seeing/hearing two of musical theater’s greats: Brian Stokes Mitchell (a San Diego guy, veteran of Junior Theatre) and the legendary Barbara Cook, pushing 80 and still going/singing strong.
Tovah Felshuh was brilliant at the Geffen Theatre in L.A. , reprising her tour de force performance in Broadway’s longest running one-woman show, Golda’s Balcony. Also out of town (and out of this world), O at the Bellagio in Vegas, and some great theater nights in New York: The Light in the Piazza, Doubt, Sweeney Todd and of course, the unforgettable opening night of Jersey Boys, which started at the La Jolla Playhouse (under the direction of Des McAnuff) and is knockin ’ ‘em dead on the Great White Way.
Look for San Diego again come Tony-time. We may also be represented (sort of) by Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life (an inspiring visit with theater royalty) and The Times They Are a- Changin ’, both of which premiered at the Old Globe, though they weren’t actually Globe productions. The Times, the Twyla Tharp dance musical to Bob Dylan tunes, revs up at the end of this month.
We were graced, once again, with the incomparable performance of Jefferson Mays in I Am My Own Wife, which won its very first award, a Patté for Outstanding Performance — before it garnered the Tony or the Pulitzer — as a Page to Stage production at the La Jolla Playhouse (2001). And of course, ‘we’ won two Tony Awards in 2005 – for Jack O’Brien’s Old Globe production of the musical, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Billy Crystal’s autobiographical 700 Sundays, directed by the La Jolla Playhouse’s Des McAnuff.
Read to Me, Baby!
Dark theater nights on Mondays? Fuggeddaboudit . Last year, there were more off-night readings than ever. And they were great! Some of the Best: just about everything at Carlsbad Playreaders , especially The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, Dinner with Friends, The Clearing, Private Lives and Crimes of the Heart. There were also all-star readings of Rosetti’s Circle and Talking With (North Coast Rep) and Tiger at the Gates (Actors Alliance On Book OnStage , at Lamb’s Players Theatre). And we can’t forget David Cohen ’s moving, annual Walt Whitman presentation/impersonation, Ever-Returning Spring, and the spectacular, star-studded, very moving Shakespeare Benefit at North Coast Rep. Earlier in the year, theater people rallied for a multi-talent benefit evening for tsunami relief, “Artists for Asia,” produced by Robert Dahey and Jenni Prisk.
Coming to a Theater Near You (if you’re lucky)….
Here are a few Faces to Watch and talents to watch for:
Actors: Sonya Bender, Chris Bresky , Mark Emerson, Ari Lerner, Zev Lerner, Yvette Gonzalez- Nacer , Amanda Kramer, Kristen Mengelkoch , Henry Metcalf, Dana Pacheco
Playwrights: Ken Weitzman, Tim J. Lord, Patricia Ash
Mother Nature may have taken her revenge worldwide in 2005 – with storms, floods, fires and quakes – but San Diego theatermakers fought back, with resilience, verve, politically relevant plays and sheer unadulterated talent.
As I said, it was a very good year.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENIN’…..
… I’m baaaack (as you may have noticed); well, the column is… thanks to the supportive assistance of Osborn Hurston. At the 11th hour of 2005, sdtheatrescene snagged a generous grant from the Tippett Foundation . Many thanks to Osborn and sincere gratitude to the Foundation, for their end-of-year munificence. ‘Curtain Calls’ rises again….
… A coupla plugs: Don’t miss a sneak preview of The Patté Awards (well, after the event, but before the TV broadcast) when I appear on two KPBS shows on Thursday, January 12: “These Days” on KPBS radio (10am hour) and “Full Focus” on KPBS-TV (channel 15/cable 11; 6:30 and 11pm). I’ll be talking theater and playing/discussing the Patté highlights. Then you can feast on the whole enchilada, the Patté Awards broadcast, on Sunday, January 15 at 10:30pm. Set your clocks and TiVos and Be There!
….Look for my new arts previews every month in San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles Magazine. Starting January, there’ll be a profile of a visual artist, a preview of a special Night Out (particularly alt music) and a feature on the ‘Lively Arts’ (which could be theater, dance, opera, comedy, improv, whatever) every month in the newly expanded Lifestyles section of the magazine. I’m recruiting ideas for the May issue (!), so if you have an event to tell me about next summer, pitch away! Till then, buy the magazine and see what it’s all about!
…Read a feature about local legend and nonagenarian Kurt Reichert , in the January issue of the San Diego Jewish Journal. I loved spending time with Kurt, hearing and writing about his fabulous stories of life in Vienna before the War — and the poems it inspired. Speaking of which, don’t miss his stories and poetry reading, “A Jew’s Healing Return to Vienna ,” Sunday Jan. 8 at 7pm and Monday, Jan. 9 at 7:30pm, at 6th @ Penn Theatre. If you miss those dates, catch him on March 5, 2-3:30pm, at the Lawrence Family JCC in La Jolla .
… Making a comeback….San Diego Black Ensemble Theatre is proud to honor the late, great August Wilson, one of the country’s most admired and prolific playwrights, by opening its 2006 Playreading Series with a staged reading of Two Trains Running. Set in Pittsburgh in 1968 and filled with rich and colorful characters, the play represents a microcosm of 1960s African American society. It’s part of the decade-by-decade chronicle of 20th century black America that Wilson completed just before his death last year. The cast includes Monique Gaffney, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Ernie McCray, Kirk Bradley, Dr. Julian Rowe and SDBET’s founders, the inimitable Rhys Green and Walter Murray. Antonio TJ Johnson and Rhys Green direct. Part of the proceeds (suggested donation= $15) will benefit Children’s Hospital’s Ronald McDonald house. At the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza ; Monday, January 23, 7:00 pre-show reception, featuring Dwight Love’s Jazz ensemble. For info: 619-280-5650.
.. This is Our Youth, the play that established the reputation of Kenneth Lonergan (The Waverly Gallery, Lobby Hero) will be presented as a staged reading by three talented young locals. These are our youth: Brandon Walker, Rachael Van Wormer and Tom Zohar , directed by Joey Landwehr . The piece follows three very lost, disillusioned souls on the Upper West Side of New York at the dawn of the Reagan era. Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 7m, at Diversionary Theatre.
… Local playwright Kristina Meek is inviting other aspiring writers to join a new group, Aspire Playwrights Collective, which will meet every second and fourth Thursday at 7pm in University Heights , beginning Jan. 26. As a kickoff event, a staged reading of Meek’s play, Salt, Light & Stars, will be held January 12 at 8pm; the public is welcome. The full-length drama concerns young adults being brainwashed into fundamentalist Christianity. Tyler Hewes directs. Events will be held at the Athenaeum School of the Arts studio, 4441 Park Blvd. Further information: Inheritheearth@netzero.com.
… Speaking of readings and religion, Scripps Ranch Theatre is presenting a special staged reading of John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God, a murder mystery about a devout, naive nun accused of infanticide. The reading, on Jan 13 and 14 at 8pm, is produced by Jill Drexler and directed by Marjorie Mae Treger. The cast features Tiffany Loui as Agnes, Glynn Bedington as the psychiatrist and Sandra Ellis-Troy as the Mother Superior. Not suitable for children or young teens. No reservations; $5 donation suggested. Talk-back discussion following the performances. On the campus of Alliant International University (formerly USIU). www.scrippsranchtheatre.org ; 858-578-7728.
… Don’t miss the 21st annual Plays By Young Writers ’05, featuring five full productions and four readings. These playwrights, age 11-18, winners of the statewide competition, have created characters that range from an obsessed lover to an immature tomato. Six of the nine writers are local. For the first time, the inspiring presentation, produced by Deborah Salzer (the Playwrights Project’s ever-encouraging executive director), will incorporate dance into a couple of the productions. January 12-22 on the Globe’s Cassius Carter Centre Stage. 619-239-8222; www.playwrightsproject.com.
… The Bard meets The Bardlets …. Mark your calendar now for the 1st annual San Diego Student Shakespeare Festival, sponsored by the San Diego Shakespeare Society. The day-long festival, designed to make Shakespeare come alive for elementary through high school students, will feature scenes and sonnets, as well as dance, music, juggling, puppetry and fencing. It all happens in Balboa Park on Saturday, April 29. All San Diego City and County public and independent schools are invited to participate. A mandatory teacher workshop will be held on Sat. Feb. 20. Details and entry forms are available at www.sandiegoshakespearesociety.org/FESTIVAL.htm.
…When in doubt… Improvise!….The Fun House (with its resident acting company San Diego TheatreSports ) will produce three different shows through February: “Bonus Round – The Improv Game Show,” Fridays at 7:45pm, wherein players compete in improv comedy; “ TheatreSports – The Improvisation Competition,” Saturdays at 7:45, comprising two competing teams; and “The Really Really Big Big Improv Comedy Show Show ,” Saturdays at 9:45pm – about which the players say: “This ain’t your grandma’s improv!” — long-form , avant garde, anything-can-happen improv which can be, shall we say, out-of-the-box or even blue. Recommended for ages 16 and above. More info at: 619-465-SHOW, www.improvise.net .
… Follow the bouncing egg to… Eve’s Tail, Laura Bozanich’s hilarious one-woman show. Back by popular demand for two performances only: February 6 and 7, 8pm at Cygnet Theatre. Ten characters face sex, love, life, loss; it’s all there – and it’s all Laura! Call 619-337-1526, www.cygnettheatre.com.
… And you thought GMC was a truck! The Gay Men’s Chorus of San Diego will hold open rehearsals throughout January, every Wednesday at 7pm, to welcome new members. For info, call 619-57-GMCSD, email@example.com or www.gmcsd.com
.. and if music is your food of love.. you won’t want to miss the year-long, county-wide celebration of Mozart’s 250th Birthday. Mainly Mozart is spearheading the amazing array of events, which include theater productions, dance, art and of course, concerts. In January, the Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra performs in 18th century costume! See all the year’s details at www.mainlymozart.org. or read more about it in San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles magazine!
‘NOT TO BE MISSED!‘ (Critic’s Picks);
(For full text of all past reviews, use the Search engine at www.patteproductions.com)
“The Lion King” – better, and more heartfelt, than the original New York production. Those jaw-dropping costumes still amaze.
At the Civic Theatre, through January 15.
“Pete ‘n’ Keely – A funny, silly revue with knockout performances by Randall Dodge and Kristen Mengelkoch , two of our most delightful and talented musical theater comics.
At the Ramona Mainstage Theatre, through January 22.
“Too Old for the Chorus, But Not Too Old To Be a Star” – if you haven’t had your fill of menopausal musicals, this is great for a date (the guys remind us it’s called MENopause ). Excellent performances , some cute/clever bits and songs.
At The Theatre in Old Town , EXTENDED through March 30 – and maybe beyond.
Now, wasn’t one of your Resolutions about seeing More Theater? That’s a promise you can easily keep…. Make it so.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.