Retrospective: A year before my eyes

Posted: January 10th, 2014 | Arts & Entertainment, Featured, Theater Review | 1 Comment

Charlene Baldridge | Downtown News

Editor’s Note: During the 2013 season, SDCNN arts writer Charlene Baldridge witnessed 166 music/theatre presentations, including lectures, play readings, dance programs and seminars – and that doesn’t count things she returned to see again, concerts and lectures aboard ship in August and five operas in Santa Fe. Here is what she saw in 2013 and some things we will have the opportunity to see in 2014.

 Jai Rodriguez in “In the Heights (Photo by Daren Scott)

Jai Rodriguez in “In the Heights (Photo by Daren Scott)

Early in my life devoted to writing about theater and music I wrote a yearend piece that was divided into such sections as A) “I hated it – everyone else loved it”; B) “I loved it – everyone else hated it”; and C) “No one saw it, other than I.”

That was long ago, when I still looked for conformity. If I thought something was awful and the other critics praised it, my opinion must be wrong, right?

These days, I seldom read what others write. There are some whose opinions I respect; but reading their opinions does not change my own: I am Taurus and I am always right.

That’s what nearly 20 years does — it makes you more certain of your opinions, right or wrong — perhaps that is because you have a larger pool of experiences with which to make comparisons. Or maybe it’s because with criticism there is no right or wrong, only subjective opinion.

When I write about “Spring Awakening,” for instance, I’m not going to compare it to other productions, tediously recounting the virtues of each. Nor will I go on at length about the source material, or question its suitability for youth of a certain age. Or even adults of a certain mindset. I might, however, admit I’m partial to singer/songwriter Duncan Sheik, and I might even mention his theatrical failure (“Whisper House” with Kyle Jarrow) and my disappointment that critics and audiences seemed to miss the piece and its intent.

Those who love “Spring Awakening” will have another go at the piece when Cygnet Theatre produces it in Old Town in March and April. Cygnet has received a $10,000 NEA grant in support of events surrounding the production. More power to them.

The best of 2013:

“Venus in Fur,” “In the Heights,” and “Federal Jazz Project,” at San Diego Repertory Theatre. Co-directed by Kim Rubinstein and Sam Woodhouse, “Venus in Fur” featured incendiary performances by Jeffrey Meek and Caroline Kinsolving.

“Be a Good Little Widow,” “Other Desert Cities,” and “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at The Old Globe. Directed by Darko Tresnjak and starring UCSD graduate Jefferson Mays, “A Gentleman’s Guide” moved on to Broadway where it was still playing at press time.

“Gem of the Ocean,” “Assassins,” and “Travesties”/ “The Importance of Being Earnest” at Cygnet, which continues its tradition of work worth seeing.

“Cuatro Corridos,” Experimental Theatre, UCSD — kind of fits into the “Nobody Saw It But I” category — this haunting piece about cross-border human trafficking was co-produced and performed by Susan Narucki, one of the city’s finest singers. Ruff Yeager was stage director and Jorge Volpi wrote the libretto. Music was composed Hebert Vázquez, Arlene Sierra, Lei Liang, and Hilda Paredes.

“The Trip to Bountiful” at New Village Arts, featured a powerful performance by Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson as the elderly woman who runs away in order to return the home where she raised her children.

“Tribes” and “The Tallest Tree” at La Jolla Playhouse: Daniel Beatty, who performed in the latter, a one-man show about singer Paul Robson, also came out with a children’s book toward the end of the year. Titled “Knock, Knock,” it’s about Beatty’s father, absent for much of the playwright/performer’s childhood because he was incarcerated.

“The Bluest Eye” and “Skinless” at Moxie Theatre, two well-produced, haunting and imperfect plays.

“Chicago” produced by San Diego Musical Theatre at Birch North Park Theatre, a fine production featuring Robert Townsend as the crooked lawyer.

“Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” “Grey Gardens,” and “Shining City,” at ion theatre company: Rajiv Joseph’s “Bengal Tiger,” one of my favorite pieces of all time, starred the splendid Ron Choularton as the talkative, dead Tiger, who declares he’s an atheist, then goes on a search for God to find out why he’s still alive and why he has such a hungry nature. Evan Kendig and Jake Rosko portrayed the American G.I.s responsible for the Tiger’s demise.

The Importance of Being Earnest” at Cygnet (Photo by Ken Jacques)

The Importance of Being Earnest” at Cygnet (Photo by Ken Jacques)

“Murder in the Cathedral,” Ildebrando Pizzetti’s 1953 opera, directed by Ian Campbell, at San Diego Opera: The great Italian bass-baritone Ferruccio Furlanetto portrayed Thomas Becket, the assassinated Archbishop of Canterbury in the piece based on T.S. Elliot’s verse play. The production offered an extraordinary opportunity to see this rarely performed work.

“Fiddler on the Roof,” “Wit” and “The 39 Steps” at Lamb’s Player’s Theatre: Deborah Smyth was incandescent as the dying academic in “Wit.” Look for “39 Steps” at Horton Grand Theatre beginning January 15, and “Fiddler” at the Lyceum Theatre beginning January 10.

David Wiener’s “Extraordinary Chambers” produced by Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company at 10th Avenue Theatre, featured the return of actor Greg Watanabe and a splendid scenic design by David F. Weiner, representing the ruins at Angkor Wat.

“She-Rantulas from Outer Space – in 3D!” at Diversionary – a fabulously funny new play by Ruff Yeager and Phil Johnson.

“Bearded” produced by Circle Circle dot dot at 10th Avenue Theatre, a world premiere play by Katherine Harroff based on interviews with department store Santas.

San Diego concerns as we travel into 2014:

The future of San Diego Musical Theatre at the Birch North Park Theatre, which recently changed ownership and management; the future of Diversionary Theatre as it searches for new leadership; and the future of Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company as it seeks new leadership due to the departure of founding artistic director Seema Sueko, who moved to Pasadena Playhouse.

Charlene Baldridge moved to San Diego from the Chicago area in 1962. She’s been writing about the arts since 1979, and has had her features, critiques, surveys and interviews included in various publications ever since. Her book “San Diego, Jewel of the California Coast” (Northland Publishing) is currently available in bookstores. She can be reached at


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