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In later life, my friend and fellow theater critic Charlene Baldridge had devoted every fiber of her being to a pursuit only a mother and ally could understand.

In death, she can breathe again.

Baldridge, noted local author, editor and arts reporter for nearly 40 years, died Sept. 9 at Kearney Mesa’s Sharp Memorial Hospital after a lengthy illness. She was 83.

Noted arts critic Charlene Baldridge, who died at 83 on Sept. 9, declared that this Ken Howard photo was her favorite.

Baldridge, an Evanston, Ill. native, wrote for several local, regional and national publications on matters operatic, symphonic and theatrical since 1979. She was an award-winning member emerita of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and maintained three blogs — her Charlene and Brenda in the Blogosphere featured production reviews and input from Brenda McGillicutty Burgoo, an imaginary companion who “dances on the sidelines while I weep.”

She also wrote San Diego: Jewel of the California Coast, a 2003 book featuring San Diego’s favorite attractions, including the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld San Diego and Balboa Park’s museums.

Baldridge studied voice and opera at the University of New Mexico from 1956 to 1958. She also worked at The Old Globe Theatre in several capacities, including media management, from 1981 to 1995.

Social media are overrun with expressions of grief and gratitude about Baldridge, a preponderance of which refers to a series of events that garnered her further acclaim.

She’d compiled the poetry book The Warrior’s Stance at the request of her critically ill author daughter Laura Jeanne Morefield. Morefield, a Laguna Niguel resident, died in 2011 of colon cancer.

‘You breathed just two more breaths and left on the inhale, like you wanted.’
— Charlene Baldridge

Baldridge would later amend Morefield’s concept to include her voice — and The Warriors’ Duet, which related the shock of Morefield’s 2008 diagnosis, her gallant fight for life and the women’s powerful astral connections, was born. The two-character play quickly gained the attention of several live theater producers, debuting in 2011 as a staged reading at Hillcrest’s ion theatre. The company Circle Circle dot dot produced it at the inaugural 2013 San Diego International Fringe Festival, at which it sold out. Circle Circle subsequently mounted it at Liberty Station’s White Box Theatre.

“You breathed just two more breaths,” Baldridge wrote in the play, describing the scope of her existence as Morefield died, “and left on the inhale, like you wanted.

“I have not breathed since.”

Baldridge subsequently entered the work competitively at Waterford, Conn.’s Eugene O’Neill Theatre Festival in 2014. It placed in the contest as a semifinalist.

To the bemusement of some, Baldridge and daughter Laura Morefield were kindred spirits.

A collection of Morefield’s poems was later set to music by composer Jake Heggie (Dead Man Walking) and titled The Work at Hand: Symphonic Songs for Cello and Mezzo-Soprano. It debuted at New York’s Carnegie Hall in February of 2015 and was performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in May of that year.

“I might say ‘Rats!’,” Baldridge wrote in nextavenue.org in 2014, “but I’m the proudest mother in the world to announce that my competitive daughter beat me to Carnegie Hall.

“I am a … grieving mother,” she concluded, “but I have much to do. Getting the play produced again, selling Laura’s books … and finding an agent … will probably keep me busy for the rest of my life.”

Service arrangements are pending.

Baldridge is survived by son Charles Ortego, several grandchildren and the hundreds of colleagues and friends who loved and admired her. Local journalism’s loss is the ages’ gain, personified in a courageous, extraordinary woman whose infectious smile colored her work and her unbridled lust for the human experience.

Godspeed, pally. Thanks for everything.

This article was originally written for La Jolla Village News.

Martin Jones Westlin

Martin Jones Westlin

Martin Jones Westlin, principal at editorial consultancy Words Are Not Enough and La Jolla Village News editor emeritus, has been a theater critic and editor/writer for 25 of his 47 years... More...

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4 Comments

  1. Avatar Bill Eadie on September 10, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    Lovely piece, Marty. Thanks for remembering our dear Charlene in this manner.

  2. Avatar Mark Somers on September 11, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    This delightfully recalls how dear a person, mother, author and critic Charlene was. So proud to have called her “friend.” Thank you for sharing your portrait of a marvelous woman.

  3. Avatar Darlene G. Davies on September 12, 2017 at 10:45 am

    Beautifully written, Martin.

  4. Avatar Chuck Ortego on September 20, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    Very touching reminiscences of my mother. For a few brief minutes, you brought her back to life for me. Thank you. I miss her terribly much.

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