Published in KPBS On Air Magazine January 2003

2002 was a pretty dramatic year… On the world stage, everyone’s performance was directed by terrorists, against a backdrop of anxiety, played to the thrum of fear and the rattle of sabers, with war-cries as the grand finale.

In this climate, local theater offerings seemed a bit more somber and sober than usual. Many productions had or took on a heightened political significance — from the historical: Lamb’s Players’ “A Man for All Seasons,” concerning the conflict between Church, State and conscience; Stone Soup Theatre’s “Death and the Maiden” about war crimes; “Copenhagen” (Broadway/San Diego) about nuclear arms — to the topical: La Jolla Playhouse’s “I Think I Like Girls” and UCSD’s “Edward II” about homophobia; Community Awareness’ “Before It Hits Home” about AIDS.

Then there was La Jolla Playhouse’s “Adoration of the Old Woman,” concerning Puerto Rican independence and Asian American Rep’s “Struggling Truths” on Tibetan independence. Sledgehammer’s “A Knife in the Heart” and Diversionary’s “Never the Sinner” looked at adolescent murderers; New Village Arts’ “A Hatful of Rain” and “The Only Game in Town” focused on addiction; and 6th @ Penn’s “A Prayer for My Daughter” and the Playwrights Project’s “The Algerians” concerned police brutality. These were among the most searing and memorable productions of the year.

There were magical moments, too…. like La Jolla Playhouse’s enchanting “Peter and Wendy,” North Coast Rep’s magnificent “Travesties” and the Globe’s gorgeous “Pericles.” But even the musicals cast a more serious shadow — from the marvelous but racially disturbing “Ragtime” (Moonlight Amphitheatre) to the Congressionally relevant “1776” (at Starlight and Lamb’s), and the neurologically intense “A New Brain” (SDSU).

There was even more drama behind the scenes, with shakeups at theaters large and small. After a national search and a very short stint, the new managing director of the Old Globe (Douglas Evans) summarily split, leaving behind only a name change for the company                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (to The Globe Theatres) and the diminution of a terrific gift shop to a tacky souvenir stand. A cloud of uncertainty and a blizzard of rumors accompanied the departures of the Directors of Communications (Josh Ellis) and Development (Sidney Baker) from the La Jolla Playhouse, as well as the exodus of artistic director (Sean Murray) and managing director (Sue Schaffner) of North Coast Repertory Theatre, the managing director of Sledgehammer (Elaine Gingery) and the managing director of Asian American Repertory Theatre (Arnold Marquez). The fresh faces in town: Louis Spisto, new executive director at the Globe and David Ellenstein, new artistic director at North Coast Rep.

Lots of exhilarating talent graced our stages (see the Patté™ Awards in On Air next month, for the best of the best) but here are some young Faces to Watch: Matthew Bohrer, Janet Hayatshahi, Abby Grace Howe, Anna Navida and Emily Ratajkowski.

San Diego spawned some exciting world premieres, including Nora Ephron’s “Imaginary Friends” (which went from the Globe to Broadway), Charles L. Mee’s wonderful “Wintertime” (La Jolla Playhouse), Susan Yankowitz’s sharpened “A Knife in the Heart” (Sledgehammer Theatre) as well as local Plays By Young Writers and the UCSD New Play Festival.

Shakespeare fared especially well last year, as did the Greeks; Linda Castro and David Cohen presented riveting readings in their repeatedly renewed ‘Weeks of Greeks,’ which was supported by a grant from Marianne McDonald, whose new translation of “Andromache” they presented. The Globe’s Jack O’Brien helped assure San Diego’s high national: Broadway/San Diego brought in his winning touring production of “The Full Monty,” which began at the Globe, he teased the Big Apple with the enormously popular “Hairspray,” he directed “Imaginary Friends” here and in New York, and won the prestigious 2002 “Mr. Abbott” Award for ‘extraordinary lifetime achievement in the American Theatre.’

So all told, it was a good year… harrowing, perhaps, and uncertain, but definitely dramatic.

©2003 Patté Productions Inc.