I have to admit that, while I followed what was going on in San Diego theatre this past year, I was not fully engaged with it. I found recorded theatre to be mostly boring, and as the companies started up again, there were creaks and cracks that kept the quality from being entirely stellar. I couldn’t come up with a “top ten” this year, but I’ve got seven and a couple of honorable mentions, mostly from the reviews I published in SanDiegoStory.com and TalkinBroadway.com. I’ll list the productions in chronological order.
June: Becoming Dr. Ruth. Tovah Feldshuh brought Mark St. Germain’s 2012 play to North Coast Repertory Theatre’s stage to record under David Ellenstein’s directon as a prelude to an off-Broadway opening in New York. Ms. Feldshuh had previously tried out her performance of “Golda’s Balcony” in Solana Beach, and she went on to a long run with it. I’m sure there was hope that lightning would strike twice with “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” but it seems that COVID got in the way: the play opened a couple of weeks ago and will close in early January.
July: Beauty and the Beast. Moonlight Stage Productions saw an opportunity to have a summer season producing musicals in its outdoor amphitheater, and they pulled a season together nearly on the fly. “Beauty and the Beast” dropped into the July slot generally reserved for family fare, and it proved to be the hit of the summer. I complained that the production took an 84-minute Disney film and turned it into a three-hour extravaganza, but the music direction of Moonight’s Elan McMahan and the charm of Bets Malone’s Mrs. Potts carried the day.
September: La Cage Aux Folles. Cygnet Theatre was due to produce “La Cage” when everything closed, and kudos to Artistic Director Sean Murray for reassembling his “A Team” (Terry O’Donnell as music director, with Patrick Marion as orchestrator, Sean Fanning as scenic and projections designer, Chris Rynne as lighting designer, Jennifer Brawn Gittings as costume designer, Matt Lescault-Wood and Stewart Blackwood as co-sound designers, Bonnie L. Durben as property designer, and, of course, the estimable Peter Herman as the very essential wig and make-up designer) for Cygnet’s return to live performance. Audiences loved the show, and Cygnet was in the admirable position of finding top-quality replacements so it could extend into November.
Also September: The Garden. La Jolla Playhouse reopened a live season with Charlayne Woodard’s two-character play about women with secrets who meet in the beloved garden of one of the women. The women are mother and daughter, which complicates matters, and the play’s ambiguous conclusion was made to work by the directorial skill of Patricia McGregor and Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, as well as the acting skill of Ms. Woodard and Stephanie Berry. Lots of attention to detail in the production made it one of the best of the year.
October: The Mineola Twins. Paula Vogel’s play is subtitled, “a comedy in six scenes, four dreams, and seven wigs,” which gives you a bit of an idea about this survey of the women’s movement that Moxie Theatre staged at its home base in Rolando. Under Jennifer Eve Thorn’s direction, Samantha Ginn deftly pulled off playing twins, one progressive, the other conservative, and San Diego newcomer Emily Jerez sparkled in a number of male roles. It was good to laugh a lot in the face of what the pandemic did to local theatre.
Also October: Mother Road. San Diego Repertory Theatre did a lot of interesting video production during the closure, and it came up with a sprawling way of reopening, with playwright Octavio Solis’ “Mother Road,” which was commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It’s such a smart idea, and I loved how it reversed John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” by sending members of the Joad family back to Oklahoma via Route 66, because California had proved not to be hospitable to them. Sam Woodhouse’s production soared to epic proportions, and even if some of the relationships got bogged down a bit during the road trip, a stellar cast always moved the show quickly back on track. The Rep’s downtown facility recently flooded in the recent rain, and they had to postpone their season to get the theatre back into performance condition. If you can help them financially, I strongly recommend that you do so.
December: 1222 Oceanfront: A Black Family Christmas. I’m not a fan of holiday offerings, generally (too many productions of “A Christmas Carol” will do that to some of us), but I AM a fan of good theatre. New Village Arts Theatre and Dea Hurston’s team gave us the present of good theatre for the holidays in this tale of a middle-class Black family reuniting in a Carlsbad home that one member bought when the buying was still good. It’s a play with music, as opposed to a musical, and some of the music comes in the form of familiar holiday tunes, while Milena (Sellers) Phillips composed the original songs. The story is warm-hearted and a bit surprising. There are conflicts, but they’re not serious ones, and holiday cheer pervades. The New Village facility went into a major remodel after this production closed, but it’s one holiday offering that I’d be happy to see return on an annual basis.
Honorable Mentions: James Vasquez assembled a fine outdoor production of the musical, Hair to mark The Old Globe’s reopening. If it traded a bit much on nostalgia for people like me (who was thrilled to be dragged up on stage the first time I saw it), no matter. Diversionary Theatre took risks with its fall productions of One in Two and Azul, and I admired the risk-taking, perhaps more than I did the actual productions. Chance Theater, in the eastern part of Anaheim, continued to create enough interest for me to review its productions multiple times during 2021.
And now, bring on 2022!