Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
As we wave goodbye to 2010, that cinching noise you hear is the echoing sound of belt-tightening. Things were tough all over, and non-profits suffered mightily. Mercifully, no local theater companies closed in this difficult year, but staff layoffs were rampant. And yet, in Balboa Park there was growth. The Old Globe celebrated its 75th anniversary, and unveiled its brand new arena stage (the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre) and education center. A wonderful new addition to the theater landscape.
The losses weren’t just personnel; they were also personal. Craig Noel passed away in April, at age 94. A local and national treasure who gave seven decades of his creative energy to the Globe, he was often called the Father of San Diego theater . Several months later, we lost Donald Shiley, one of the county’s most generous benefactors, and one of the Globe’s most tireless supporters. And then, in December, another gaping hole opened up in the theater community: Sandra Ellis-Troy, a gracious, expansive, larger-than-life actor and human being, died in her sleep at age 68: a tragic loss of everyone’s Auntie Mame .
2010 won’t be remembered as a groundbreaking year. Most theaters played it pretty safe; few real risks were taken. But two companies danced on the edge, presenting provocative fare that was not inherently audience-friendly. The La Jolla Playhouse presented a stunning adaptation of “Notes from Underground” and a magnificent staging of the Pulitzer Prize-winner of 2009, “Ruined,” a gorgeous, heart-rending play about a horrific subject (rape victims in the Congo ). ion theatre continued its tradition of presenting thinking-person’s theater, with a provocative political duet: “Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue” and “Back of the Throat,” then capping the year off with a 7-day Human ACTion Festival of politically-charged readings and plays.
The biggest musical productions of the year had great promise but less payoff: the didn’t-add-much adaptation of the Rat Pack movie, “Robin and the Seven Hoods” at the Old Globe; “Limelight,” the story of Charlie Chaplin at La Jolla Playhouse, with a glorious central performance but no depth in the book; and in a similar theatrical vein (fine performances, messy book), the much-revised but still-in-need-of-lots-of-work “ Storyville ” at the San Diego Repertory Theatre.
There were definitely some productions, musical and non , that satisfied on all levels. After viewing nearly 200 shows, the ones that stuck with me, the Outstanding Productions of the Year, were: the aforementioned “Ruined” at the La Jolla Playhouse; “Sweeney Todd” at Cygnet Theatre; and Moxie Theatre’s production of “Eurydice.”
A few touring productions were superb, too: “Golda’s Balcony” at the Globe; “In the Heights” and “Legally Blonde,” brought to us by Broadway San Diego; and the eye-opening and unforgettable “I Am the Machine Gunner” at New Village Arts.
Outstanding Ensembles proliferated locally in 2010: in ion theatre’s “Jekyll and Hyde”; “Yellow Face” at Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company; “[title of show]” at Diversionary Theatre; “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at North Coast Repertory Theatre; “The Piano Lesson” at Cygnet Theatre; “ MiXtape ” at Lamb’s Players Theatre (extended through 2/27) and another Lamb’s production, “The Glory Man” (returning for a brief reprise engagement, January 14-23).
The most memorable Performances included two young 15 year-olds who made it to the Big Time (that is, the stage of the Old Globe): A.J. Foggiano in “Whisper House” and Austyn Myers in “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” There were out-of-towners who left an indelible mark, particularly Rob McClure as Charlie Chaplin in “Limelight” (La Jolla Playhouse), Miles Anderson in the title role of “The Madness of George III” at the Globe and the wildly talented Herbert Siguenza in his new creation, “A Weekend with Pablo Picasso” at the San Diego Repertory Theatre.
Many of the Outstanding Performances of the year came in twos. These Dynamic Duos included: Rosina Reynolds and Richard Baird in “Ghosts” at North Coast Repertory Theatre; DeAnna Driscoll and Jeffrey Jones in “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune at ion theatre; Monique Gaffney and Mark Christopher Lawrence in “The Piano Lesson” at Moxie Theatre; Lawrence Brown and Antonio “TJ” Johnson in San Diego Actors Theatre’s “Master Harold … and the Boys”; Deborah Gilmour Smyth and Sean Murray in Cygnet’s “Sweeney Todd”; and Murray again, this time paired with Shana Wride, in Cygnet’s “Private Lives.”
Knockout Performances were also given by: Karson St. John in New Village Arts’ “As You Like It”; Brian Bialawski , co-creator and solo performer in “Gam3rs,” presented by ion theatre; Greg Watanabe in Mo’olelo’s “Yellow Face”; Tom Hall in ion’s “ Hurlyburly ” and Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s “King John”; Sean Cox in “King John” and Cygnet’s “The Crucible”; Rachael van Wormer in Diversionary’s “Speech and Debate”; and former San Diegan Bethany Slomka in “Hairspray” at the San Diego Repertory Theatre.
In 2010, a new tradition was begun by the spunky, literature-loving oral-reading company, Write Out Loud: Twain Fest, a free, all-day birthday tribute to the great American humorist and humanist, staged in various locations around Old Town State Park , featuring performances and games and all manner of period-appropriate activities. A terrific time was had by all… and plans for next year’s Fest are already in the works.
That just about wraps up what was a prolific if not a landmark year. Personally, I’m happy to shovel 2010 into the dustbin of history. 2011 is looking promising already; some interesting productions are on the horizon. I hope to see you at the theater!
©2011 PAT LAUNER