Regional Reviews: San Diego
I Do! I Do!
The winter and spring theatre seasons in San Diego typically bring an eclectic mix of offerings. Of the two regional theatre companies, the Old Globe is usually ascendant during this period, while the La Jolla Playhouse often mounts more off-beat work, oftentimes with shorter runs (they share their space with the University of California, San Diego, theatre and dance department). The smaller companies fill in with their own often excellent offerings, while Broadway San Diego has to squeeze the tours it presents in between the schedule for the San Diego Opera, which runs January through May.
The Old Globe's season kicks off with a bang on January 13, as the company presents the world premiere of Whisper House, a new musical by indie rocker Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening), with book and lyrics by Kyle Jarrow. Set during World War II, Whisper House is a ghost story about loneliness and trust. Director Peter Askin's cast is led by Mare Winningham, who may well have stayed in town after finishing the run of another world premiere musical, Bonnie & Clyde, at the La Jolla Playhouse. You can listen to an interview and hear music from the show at youtube.com.
The Globe's new theatre, named for Sheryl and Harvey White, officially opens on January 23 with a production of Neil Simon's Pulitzer Prize winning play, Lost in Yonkers. The White is a relatively small (250 seat) arena-style house, and this production should test its capabilities to a significant degree. It should also serve as a test of Mr. Simon's staying power, following the failure of two of his plays to attract an audience this season in New York. Scott Schwartz directs and Judy Kaye stars.
The rest of the Globe's season includes the comedy Boeing Boeing and Roger Rees' one-man show, What You Will, in the Old Globe and two plays with a Civil War connection, Kenny Finkle's Alive and Well and Matthew Lopez's The Whipping Man, in the White. Bob Rendell raved about The Whipping Man in its world premiere performance in New Jersey.
The La Jolla Playhouse is presenting several special events this spring. First up is a one-night-only (January 30) benefit performance of Nilaja Sun's one-woman show, No Child ..., about her experiences as a teaching artist in New York City schools. Aurélia Thierrée's performance/circus piece, Aurélia's Oratorio, moves in for the month of February. John Leguizamo's new one-man show, Diary of a Madman, takes over for the first part of March in a Page-to-Stage production (where the creative team works on the show from performance to performance). Finally, a young person's show, Chile Pod by Rhiana Yazzie, plays the weekend of March 20 and 21.
Of the smaller theatres, there are several shows that look promising. San Diego Rep opens a production of boom, by San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, and follows with a residency by the performance troupe Culture Clash and Herbert Siguenza's one-man show, A Weekend with Pablo Picasso.
Lamb's Players Theatre has two particularly interesting shows this spring: J. B. Priestly's An Inspector Calls and The Rivalry, Norman Corwin's play about the Lincoln-Douglas debates. These are both the kind of show this company does particularly well.
North Coast Rep leads with two potential keepers this winter: Glorious! The True Story of Florence Jenkins: The Worst Singer in the World, by Peter Quilter (and directed by San Diego icon Rosina Reynolds, who probably will be playing the lead), and Jacqueline Goldfinger's world premiere adaptation of Little Women. Ibsen's Ghosts and The Voice of the Prairie, a drama about early radio pioneers, complete the spring.
Ms. Reynolds will be busy these next couple of months, as she is also directing The Marriage Bed, a new play that Diversionary Theatre is presenting in February. Diversionary is also doing Stephen Karam's Off-Broadway hit, Speech and Debate, as well as a 1998 musical titled Moscow, about three gay men who, uncertain whether they are alive or dead, put on a production of Chekhov's The Three Sisters. Diversionary will share its facility with ion Theatre for its production of David Rabe's Hurlyburly, and ion will also be presenting Back of the Throat and Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue at NTC/Liberty Station in March, and the world premiere of Galilee at the 10th Avenue Theatre in May.
ion is also taking over the Compass Theatre, located in Hillcrest. Producer Dale Morris is throwing in the towel after "farewell" productions of The House of Yes and The Fever. The 50-seat space is a difficult one in which to produce, but ion's directors made a go of it with staged readings of Greek tragedies several years ago. The company will produce events outside of its regular season at the space for the foreseeable future.
Cygnet Theatre stages August Wilson's The Piano Lesson and Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd this spring, while Moxie, the company that took over Cygnet's former space in Rolando, will produce Lisa Loomer's Expecting Isabel and a new play festival under the title Fighting Words. We will have a semi-"Sondheim spring" underway with the Lyric Opera doing A Little Night Music at its theatre in North Park. The Lyric's season has featured English-language productions this year; they'll also be performing The Pirates of Penzance.
Up in North County, Carlsbad's New Village Arts takes on The Man Who, based on Oliver Sacks' case studies of neurologically impaired individuals, along with Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles and Tennessee Williams' Summer and Smoke. In Vista, Moonlight Stage does Swingtime Canteen followed by Ring Around the Moon at the Avo, while the Broadway Vista Theatre has a production of the new Neil Sedaka musical, Breaking Up is Hard to Do, in the offing. Over at the Welk Resorts, there is a new policy of doing more shows for shorter runs and not all musicals, as had previously been the case. The theatre leads with Cathy Rigby and Michael Learned in Steel Magnolias, and its spring season includes the musical Footloose. In Poway, the performing arts center is bringing in tours of Ed Asner portraying Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Kennedy Center's Theatre for Young Audiences, the Missoula Children's Theatre, and Robert Dubac's The Second Coming.
Finally, Broadway San Diego will present return engagements of Riverdance and Jesus Christ Superstar in January, along with the tour hit Legally Blonde The Musical during Easter week and Cirque Dreams Illumination, which will play the 1300-seat Balboa Theatre in April.
So, the Old Globe may have the lion's share of the press coverage for the upcoming months, but San Diego theatre continues to be both vibrant and interesting.