A subjective look back at San Diego theater in 2016

Posted: January 6th, 2017 | Arts & Entertainment, Featured, Theater Review | No Comments

By Charlene Baldridge

Theater critics are usually given complimentary tickets for a performance near the opening of each production. A ticket to see another performance is ordinarily at the critic’s expense.

The Dec. 21 deluge did not matter. I had purchased a ticket to see ion theatre’s “The Normal Heart” again before it closed and nothing would dissuade me.

Every year of late has presented a must-see-again production (I attended 150 this year, here and abroad). This year there were many, but time allowed a return to only three of them, ion theatre’s “The Normal Heart” and “Sunday in the Park With George,” and Diversionary Theatre’s premiere of the extraordinary “The Boy Who Danced on Air.”

Two plays I wanted to see again but could not fit into my schedule were Cygnet Theatre’s alternating repertory of August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars” and “King Hedley II,” for which they brought in a renowned Wilson director who cast the works with identical companies mainly comprised of area actors.

Outstanding and quirky at La Jolla Playhouse were Quiara Alegria Hudes’ Playhouse commissioned musical, “Miss You Like Hell” and the challenging and enigmatic “Last Tiger in Haiti,” a world premiere co-production with Berkeley Rep written by Jeff Augustine and directed by Joshua Kahan Brody, both graduates of the Playhouse’s MFA program.

Also exceptional

  • The Old Globe’s lovable new musical, “October Sky,” and Steve Martin’s goofy backyard comedy, “Meteor Shower.”

    Robert Smyth (foreground) in Bill Cain’s treatise on theatrical truth, “Equivocation,” directed by his wife, Deborah Gilmour Smyth, at Lamb’s Players Theatre. (Photo by Ken Jacques)

  • My favorite production of the year, Bill Cain’s treatise on theatrical truth, “Equivocation,” directed by Deborah Gilmour Smyth at Lamb’s Players Theatre and starring her husband, Robert Smyth, as “Shagspear.”
  • Intrepid Theatre’s amazing “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at the Horton Grand Theatre, directed by Christy Yael Cox and starring the Smyths. After assuming shared programming (with San Diego Musical Theatre) of the Horton Grand, Intrepid produced an equally impressive production of Yasmin Reza’s “Art.”
  • North Coast Repertory for its surprising and involving production of “Way Down River.”
  • San Diego Repertory Theatre for its exquisite Moliere adaptation “Manifestis Destinitis,” written by playwright-in-residence Herbert Siguenza, and its intense, suspenseful production of Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize winner, “Disgraced.”

Notable performances

  • Jo Anne Glover’s portrayal of a manipulative lesbian in Moxie Theatre’s production of “The Kid Thing.”
  • Herbert Siguenza’s sincere, straight-ahead portrayal of the household maid in his own “Manifestis Destinitis.”
  • Jonathan Raviv for his multi-faceted portrayal of Jahandar, who owns the boy who dances on air in the Diversionary production of Tim Rosser and Charlie Sohne’s world premiere musical, “The Boy Who Danced on Air.”
  • Claudio Raygoza’s portrayal of the Ken Kramer character in ion theatre’s “The Normal Heart.”

    Linda Libby as Mama Rose in Cygnet Theatre’s production of “Gypsy.” (Photo by Ken Jacques)

  • Linda Libby as Mama Rose in Cygnet Theatre’s production of “Gypsy” and — because who in the world could/would be expected to play such a packed performance week? — her colleague, Melissa Fernandes, who spelled Libby weekly and then for her next act, less than a month later, turned in a stunning performance as Dot in ion’s “Sunday in the Park With George.”

As Mama Rose, the two women were amazing, each unique, each nuanced and vocally solid. I doubt there’s another city in the USA that could field such a duo.

Here’s to more great theater in 2017!

—Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at or reach her at

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