Published in KPBS On Air Magazine February 2000

The end of a decade, a century, a millennium.   Everyone’s been taking a long look backward. But we also need to celebrate the passage of one unique, individual year. For me, many of those 525,600 minutes were spent in the theater.

On Broadway, it was the Year of the Straight Play. Here at home, we also had our share of American classics (“Death of a Salesman,” “Sweet Bird of Youth”), and a welcome view of some fascinating newer work (“Three Days of Rain,” “Blues for an Alabama Sky,” “The Last Night of Ballyhoo”).

But on San Diego stages, it seemed to be a year of the Big Musical. Major productions came to town, not necessarily born here, but nurtured and further developed (“Floyd Collins,” “Jane Eyre,” “Thunder Knocking on the Door”). And some long-overdue biggies came through on tour (“Noise/Funk,” “Sunset Boulevard”). But there were also some B.M.s we could just as well have done without (“Fame,” “Jeckyll and Hyde”).   On the bright side, some oldies were dusted off and given exciting new life on local stages (“The Rocky Horror Show,” “Chess”).

In this era of national prosperity, no local theaters died, blessedly (though none were born either).   A live-theater multiplex is in the planning stages for North Park, and two new downtown spaces are in the offing.   Most promising of all, theater companies have begun to put more than a toe in the water, venturing further into the deep, bracing depths of developing major new work (“Wonderland” at La Jolla Playhouse; “Phenomenal Acceleration” at Sledgehammer) and there is every evidence that this will continue in the coming year.   The La Jolla Playhouse, as a major part of its $36 million capital campaign, has made a major commitment to new play development, and smaller companies like the Fritz, Sledgehammer and Playwrights Project continue to do their part. Also invigorating has been the expanding effort to bring younger audiences into the theater, a necessity which will ensure the continued life of the theater, often referred to as “the fabulous invalid,” that now seems to be getting stronger, healthier, less impoverished and less helpless. Glory be; it’s been a long time coming. We all need to do our part in sustaining theater… with our presence and our presents.

Overall, 1999 was punctuated by brilliant flashes of dramatic and comedic entertainment. It’s high time our magnificent local theatermakers got their due. Time, once again, for the Patté Awards for Theatre Excellence (because they ain’t chopped liver!).

This third installment of the awards, selected from the 99 plays I saw in 1999, is my gift back to the creative community, my personal Pat on the back to artists from San Diego, who make extraordinary theater in San Diego, for San Diego.

This year, KPBS went all out to pay tribute to the honorees, with a big celebrational gala in January, complete with a buffet dinner and a smorgasbord of electrifying entertainment from various mediums (music, dance, theater). And we had an impressive array of local luminaries on the Honorary Committee, chaired by Judith C. Harris & Robert Singer: Dona Donato, Joyce Gattas, Salvatore Giametta, Harris and Linda Goldman, Victoria Hamilton, Dea & Osborn Hurston, Pat JaCoby, Hugh Martin, Judy McDonald, Rick Prickett, Lorin Stewart, Darlene & Donald Shiley.

It was, as always, incredibly difficult to narrow down the choices, but here, in no particular order, is my personal selection of the Best of the Best in San Diego theater, 1999.

Outstanding Ensemble

“Arcadia” – North Coast Repertory Theatre

“The Birthday Party” – UCSD

“Joyful Noise” – Lamb’s Players Theatre

“Triumph of Love” – SDSU

Outstanding Scenic Design

David Ledsinger, “Blues for an Alabama Sky,” “Three Days of Rain” – Old Globe

Ralph Funicello, “Magic Fire,” “The Hostage” – Old Globe

Outstanding Lighting Design

York Kennedy, “Magic Fire” – Old Globe

Ron Vodicka, “Chess” (Moonlight Amphitheatre), “Blues for an Alabama Sky” (Old Globe)

Chris Parry, “Jane Eyre” – La Jolla Playhouse

Outstanding Costume Design

Shelly Williams, “Triumph of Love,” SDSU

Kathy Auckland, “Into the Woods,” Starlight Musical Theatre

Jeanne Reith, “Till We Have Faces,” “Joyful Noise” – Lamb’s Players Theatre

Outstanding Sound Design

Michael Roth (music and sound) – “Arcadia” (North Coast Repertory Theatre), “Death of a Salesman” (San Diego Repertory Theatre)

Jeff Ladman, “Three Days of Rain,” “Thunder Knocking on the Door” (Old Globe), “Phenomenal Acceleration” (Sledgehammer)

Outstanding Performance

Ron Campbell, “The Thousandth Night” (North Coast Repertory Theatre), “The Illusion” (San Diego Repertory Theatre)

Kandis Chappell, “Collected Stories” – Old Globe

Ron Choularton, “Gangster #1” – Fritz Theater

Deborah Gilmour Smyth, “Till We Have Faces” – Lamb’s Players Theatre

Richard Stevens, “Angels in America, Part I” –   Diversionary Theatre

Outstanding Direction

Kirsten Brandt, “The Frankenstein Project” – Sledgehammer

Todd Salovey, “The Illusion” – San Diego Repertory Theatre

Les Waters, “Big Love” – UCSD

Outstanding Production

“The Illusion” – San Diego Repertory Theatre

“True West” – Sledgehammer Theatre

“Wonderland” – La Jolla Playhouse

I took extra pleasure in inaugurating two very special awards this year: the first annual ‘Shiley Award for Lifetime Achievement,’ presented to Craig Noel, the veritable Father of San Diego theater, for his 60 years of indefatigable, inventive, nurturing and life-affirming contributions to San Diego theater in general and the Old Globe in particular.  

The first KPBS Patté ‘Theater Angel Award’ went to Darlene and Donald Shiley, who have been major contributors and tireless supporters of local theater, of KPBS, of the Patté Awards and of “Center Stage,” my live, all-theater radio show which, thanks to their endless generosity, will be broadcast on TV this year.

Also in the coming year, keep your eye on these fresh Faces to Watch: Roseanne Ciparick, Derek Travis Collard, Lisa Maria Guzman and Chrissy Johnson.

And now… a toast (and a bit of paté) to all those whose creative energy brought us a year of theatrical joy and drama, music and mystery, beauty and heartbreak, which, by captivating, provoking, enraging, enchanting and enthralling us, have enriched our lives immeasurably.

©2000 Patté Productions Inc.