Published in Décor & Style Magazine

Okay, it’s a new year. You’ve made your list of resolutions — and checked it twice. But maybe you could slip in an addition, a little insertion crammed in between the diet and the gym and the increased philanthropy. How about penciling in a bit of culture? — checking out what the county has to offer in the arts. And how about starting right here, right now?

In this column, I’ll be choosing from the vast array of theater offerings in town, and introducing you to some theater companies and productions you may not have known before. Sure, we’ll cover the Globe and La Jolla Playhouse and the San Diego Rep. But have you ever been to the Fritz? Sledgehammer? New Village Arts? Diversionary?

This is the theater smorgasbord you’ve been looking for — recommended by someone who’s already tasted the fare. Last year alone, I attended 115 local theater productions. I’m happy to share my insights — and my theater passion — with you in these pages every month. So, sit back and relax. I’ll bring the theater info to you; all you have to do is try something new this year. Deal? Okay.

First up this month, and you’d better hurry to catch it, is the revisit of The Who’s Tommy, coming to the Civic Theatre courtesy of Broadway/San Diego, our local producer/purveyor of lush, lavish (sometimes overblown) touring productions of Big Broadway Hits (and also some worn-out old warhorses). But Tommy isn’t one of those. This knockout musical, about the music biz, hero worship, dysfunctional families and cult status (embodied in a young, deaf-dumb-blind “Pinball Wizard”), has a special place in local hearts. The show premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in 1992 (with still-living members of The Who in attendance). It was Pete Townsend’s first tinkering with the ground-breaking 1979 rock opera, and a spectacular collaboration with Playhouse artistic director Des McAnuff, who left us for Hollywood and thankfully came back to us last year. This is the third national tour of the internationally lauded show, purported, by the Chicago Tribune, to be “the latest, and maybe the best, version of one of rock music’s grand creations.” If you missed the world premiere in ’92 or its return in ’94, you don’t want to kick yourself again this time. It may be loud but it’s incredible (through January 6; 619-570-1100).

If you like your extravaganzas bigger than life but a bit more classical musically, then Verdi’s your man and the San Diego Opera is the place to be. The new season opens January 19 with a beloved masterwork: Rigoletto, about the power of evil and an inescapable curse. In this all-new production, the profligate Duke of Mantua becomes a profligate Hollywood mogul: Arrogant. Egotistical. Supercilious. Womanizing. It doesn’t seem so far a stretch, does it? Verdi veteran Mark Rucker portrays the vengeful movie agent Rigoletto, and Maureen O’Flynn, who’s sung the role at the Met and Covent Garden, is his innocent, deluded daughter. Costumes by — who else? — Giorgio Armani (Jan. 19-30 at the Civic Theatre; 619-232-7636).

On the lighter side (in the loafers and otherwise), there’s Jeffrey, a gay, 30ish New Yorker in Paul Rudnick’s comical Off Broadway hit that became an all-star 1995 film (featuring Patrick Stewart as a flaming interior decorator). The play’s much better than the movie (so what else is new?), and this one’s great for a laugh (through Jan. 19; at Diversionary Theatre on Park Blvd., 619-220-0097).

For the more contemplative theatergoer, the Globe Theatres are starting the new year with a jolt: Harold Pinter’s 1980 drama, Betrayal. One of his least enigmatic creations, the disturbing, engaging and brilliantly crafted play works backward in time to unravel the complicated, far-reaching affair of a woman with her husband’s best friend. Long considered one of the most original voices in the English-speaking theater, Pinter is still writing and acting and provoking audiences worldwide, with his undertone of menace and disquieting glimpse of existential angst in everyday lives. A perfectly grim and gripping little play for the Cassius Carter Centre Stage (previews begin January 27; performances continue through March 10; 619-239-2255).

[JOHN: If you need to cut, you can slice the following graph; we can cover it next month if you want].

To stay abroad and abreast, the Globe is pairing this classic with a new Irish comedy, which wowed audiences on both sides of the Pond. Stones in His Pockets concerns a Hollywood film crew that descends on a rural Irish village. Scads of locals, played by two versatile actors, become the extras in the movie. The play got Tony nominations on Broadway, and the Olivier Award (England’s Tony) for Best Comedy of 2000; now we get the original director, Ian McElhinney. More on this next month (previews begin February 3; the show runs through March 16).

Back on this side of the ocean, there aren’t many more influential American women (and that includes Oprah!) than Eleanor Roosevelt. Highly praised local actor/director Rosina Reynolds has spent the last few years, in- between her many other successful projects, transforming herself into the significant and surprising First Lady. She’s done several short stints of Lawrence Waddy’s play, Eleanor, but now, along with Jeannette Horn, she’s revised the piece, taken from Mrs. Roosevelt’s writings, and brings it to a respectable run at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. Part memoir, expos¾ , history lesson and contemplation of life, fame, family and fidelity, this tour de force is a sure bet (January 20-February 17; 888-766-NCRT)

And, for a few words from some quirky contemporary women, check out Marga Gomez and Tanya Shaffer, performing in repertory at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. In jaywalker, which promises to be another of her no-holds-barred standup social satires, Gomez treads the well-worn streets of Hollywood, dying to be the first Latina lesbian on “Baywatch” (1/11-2/7; 619-544-1000). In a similar (jugular) vein, Tanya Shaffer’s Let My Enemy Live Long, has toured the country, with its hair-raising story of a California woman who escapes her humdrum love-life and flees to Ghana — a runaway adventure filled with exotic people, culture and disasters she encounters on her runaway adventure (January 20-February 17; 619-544-1000).

If dance theater is your cup of culture, there are two premieres this month.

Malashock Dance is reconfiguring some ancient Greek myths, re-setting them in unexpected locales: the circus tent, the Spanish gypsy world, the Parisian streets. With text by playwright Allan Havis and an original score by Lisa Bloom Cohen, Misjudgment of Paris forces us to reconsider the myths of Pegasus and Orpheus and Paris. Choreographer John Malashock promises a deft, smooth integration of dancers and actors to tell the timeless tales. (January 11-20 at the Globe Theatres; 619-239-2255).

Jean Isaacs’ San Diego Dance Theater is also once again experimenting with form and collaboration. Teaming with the San Diego Museum of Art, the company presents Sometimes, Something Different, a series of Intimate Cabaret Dances in a cabaret setting (cocktails, light dinner and desserts available). A wide range of music and styles, including selections from the company’s December concert in New York (January 18-20, in the Copley Auditorium of the San Diego Museum of Art, Balboa Park; 619-255-3274).

Also fresh from The Big Apple, a solo show called Angel in Between, performed by the enchanting young actress, Roseanne Ciparick, directed (as it was in New York) by Fritz Theater artistic director Duane Daniels. Talk about your gender-benders! This one features a woman playing a man who becomes a woman. (January 18-February 10 at 6th @ Penn Theatre; 619-233-7505).

Another entry from San Diego’s wonderfully diverse niche theater community is Asian American Repertory Theatre’s Struggling Truths. The centerpiece of this play is a Buddhist monk with an attitude, who introduces us to the young Dalai Lama and Mao Tse Tung. Set in Tibet, China, and the vast landscape of the mind, the Peter Mellencamp play is chock full of humor, philosophical musings (like: “The road to enlightenment is filled with toll collectors”) and the opposing forces of oppression and idealism. It questions the very nature of truth, gurus and conventional wisdom (January 19-February 17 at MMPAC, the McDonald Mori Performing Arts Center in South Park, San Diego; 888-568-2278).

In the “take a chance on something new” category, there’s Stone Soup Theatre Company, a new collaborative formed by SDSU Theater alums who are partnering with the La Jolla Stage Company for their inaugural production, the explosive and provocative Death and the Maiden by Chilean Ariel Dorfman. The nameless country that is the setting for his Olivier-winning play bears more than a passing resemblance to a post-Pinochet, newly democratized Chile, struggling to lick its political and emotional wounds (January 18-February0, at 5661 La Jolla Blvd; 858-459-7773).

Just when you thought Plaid had gone out of style (the nerd-loving musical perennial just closed after a 5-year run at the Theatre in Old Town), along comes… Forever Plaid at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. It’s hard to believe that anyone in San Diego could not have seen this show, after two productions at the Globe as well as Old Town’s long-term lock on the piece. But if you’re sheepishly raising an embarrassed hand right now, well, maybe you should grab grandma and Aunt Tillie and head up to Vista. Some veteran Plaid performers will greet you with their hopelessly goofy humor and incomparably tight four-part harmony, in classics like “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” and “Three Coins in a Fountain.” This bow-tied, feel-good, sentimental musical will probably, as the title says, be with us forever (January 24-February 24; 760-724-2110).

Now, if all that doesn’t make you crave some stage production, I give up. Not really. I’ll be back next month to whet your appetite for more dramatic fare.

See you at the theater!

©2002 Patté Productions Inc.