Published in In Theater

Well, the Eyre is clear now in San Diego…

As the La Jolla Playhouse prepares to send Broadway its striking, well-received, extended-by-popular-demand, revised musical version of “Jane Eyre” (directed by John Caird, designed by John Napier), new shows are coming in and a much-respected director is moving on.

Michael Greif, the Playhouse’s artistic director since 1995, moves back to New York (our loss, your gain), but not before he mounts a swansong production of Tennessee Williams’ “Sweet Bird of Youth” (October 12-November 14), starring Pamela Payton Wright and Patrick Wilson. Wilson last appeared in La Jolla in the Barry Manilow/Bruce Sussman musical “Harmony,” (scheduled for New York in ??), and in Greif’s short-lived New York Theatre Workshop production of “Bright Lights, Big City.” Alec Mapa also returns to the Playhouse stage (he was wondrous last year in Greif’s endlessly inventive production of Jessica Hagedorn’s “Dogeaters”) in the world premiere of Chay Yew’s “Wonderland,” directed by Lisa Peterson (September 14-October 17). The play looks at the elusive American Dream, from an Asian perspective. Anne Hamburger, acclaimed site-specific New York producer and founder of En Garde Arts, takes up the A.D. reins of the Playhouse at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the Old Globe is gearing up to reprise its sellout success of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (November 14-January 2). The musical, strongly supported by Dr. Seuss’ La Jolla widow, Audrey Geisel, turned out to be fun for the whole family.   The show is preceded this season at the Globe by Roger Rees’ wacko outdoor production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” set in modern-day Windsor, Ontario (“a very nice Canadian town, ruined by the fact that it’s so near America,” says the RSC veteran actor); Donald Margulies’ Pulitzer Prize finalist, “Collected Stories,” with Kandis Chappell recreating the role of Ruth, the older writer, which she originated at South Coast Repertory Theatre; and Brendan Behan’s raucous romp, “The Hostage,” initially scheduled to star John Goodman (who pulled out due to “scheduling conflicts”), with Jack O’Brien at the helm and Larry Drake (best known as Benny on “L.A. Law”) stepping in to play irreverent, imbibing Pat, the bawdy boardinghouse keeper.

Luis Valdez, creator of “Zoot Suit” and “I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges,” continues his two-year guest-artist residency at the San Diego Repertory Theatre by launching the 2000 season with his “Bandido! The American Melodrama of Tiburcio Vasquez, Notorious California Bandit.”   Written and directed by Valdez, the show features musical direction by brother Daniel Valdez. The Rep follows with Tony Kushner’s adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s “The Illusion,” a tale of loyalty, love and betrayal, directed by Todd Salovey.   The year ends with the Rep’s ever-popular, ever-evolving, 24th annual production of “A Christmas Carol” (adapted by D.W. Jacobs and directed, for the third year, by North Coast Repertory Theatre artistic director Sean Murray).

Back at his own theater company, Sean Murray follows the West coast premiere of Joan Ackermann’s “The Batting Cage” with the San Diego premiere of the acclaimed Wendy Kesselman adapation of “The Diary of Anne Frank” and the Southern California premiere of Alfred Uhry’s 1997 Best Play Tony-winner, “The Last Night of Ballyhoo.”

Sushi Performance and Visual Art, San Diego’s pluckiest dance/performance space, celebrates its 20th anniversary with a packed performance season including a David Cale retrospective (“Swimming in the Dark: The Best of David Cale”), Holly Hughes (“Preaching to the Perverted”), performance art doyenne Rachel Rosenthal (“Ur-Boor”), a dance/butoh/theatre work by Oguri dance company of L.A. and 20hours/$20, a performance marathon (November 20) with guest dance/music/art/spoken word curators shepherding over 40 SoCal artists who will donate their time and creative ability.

In the Wait-and-See Department, it’s possible that “Don’t Stop the Carnival,” the Jimmy Buffett/Herman Wouk musical based on Wouk’s 1965 novel, will ring in the new year, if renovation of the historic Balboa Theatre is complete.

And, lest the millennium be forgotten, Sledgehammer Theatre premieres Tim West’s “Phenomenal Acceleration: A Vaudeville for the End of the Century,” a fact-meets-fiction theater spectacle boasting a series of lighthearted segments such as Bill Gates vs. the United States of America (cavorting to the choreography of local favorite Jean Isaacs), Slobodan Milosevic and Boris Yeltsin playing 8-ball and The Millennium Hour, an AM radio-style conversation about surviving the maelstrom of apocalyptic pronouncements.

In San Diego and elsewhere, the theater has managed to survive another century (a bit bloody but unbowed). Here’s to breaking legs in the new millennium.

©1999 Patté Productions Inc.