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Stories by Jeff Smith

Culture-war questions

The teens wear “purity rings” and know that “true love waits” until marriage.

Now, this was more than 50 years ago, but maybe times haven’t changed. The wife of one of Mississippi’s largest landowners wanted more culture in education. So, she circulated a petition to have French taught ...

Not everyone can be all right

Ion's This Wide Night brings together two ex-cons who are still doing time.

Like Franz Xavier Kroetz’s Request Concert, in which a woman spends a wordless evening at home, Chloe Moss’s This Wide Night narrows the field of view. Often nothing happens, or Marie’s shabby London studio apartment ...

We must; no, we daren't!

Fallen Angels at North Coast Rep is an apt, skilled Coward performance.

What might seem silly today was deemed “radical” and “obscene” when Noël Coward’s Fallen Angels premiered in 1925. Even T.E. Lawrence — of Arabia — gave it a “humph!” One exchange may sum up what ...

Simply spoken, wonderfully played

The Pianist of Willesden Lane at the San Diego Repertory Theatre.

A Portrait of the Young Jewish Pianist in World War II. In the 1920s, Lisa Jura’s father was the best tailor in Vienna. But she dreamt of being a concert pianist. She’d debut playing Grieg’s ...

The Two Gents Template

If you didn’t know who wrote it, you’d swear the author of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, currently at the Old Globe, stole every Shakespearean device he could find. Two Gents is “early” Shakespeare. The ...

Theatrical until the pain hits

Bold choices aim to strike a balance in Regrets Only at Diversionary

You’d think Tibby has it all. Husband Jack’s a mover/shaker attorney. They have a posh-plus, Upper East Side apartment (which, in Matt Scott’s fine set for Diversionary, looks down on Manhattan). Daughter Spencer’s an up ...

This is a perfect part for me

Jeff talks to Steve Gunderson for the "My Acting Bucket List" series.

I have always wanted to ask veteran local actors to name five dream roles and say why. The answers not only reveal aspirations, they may put an idea in the minds of directors and producers ...

Odd lover out

For once, the young characters do an adult thing: they pause and reflect, as if weighing alternatives.

Might have felt like a good news/bad news situation. Renowned director Mark Lamos gets to do Shakespeare at the Old Globe. The bad news? It’s “Two Gents.” The Two Gentlemen of Verona was a popular ...

Robert Landis (1921-2014), rest in peace

A remarkable man, with a remarkable role in San Diego theater, has passed.

If there were a San Diego theater Hall of Fame, Craig Noel would be first on the list. The second, Robert Landis, passed away last week. I still believe the imaginary army must have been ...

Welton's top 10: local show edition

Welton Jones' most vivid show recollections, part two of two

Welton Jones’ top 10 local shows, in chronological order: 1.) Twelfth Night, Old Globe Theatre, directed by Edward Payson Call (1967). “An elegant, legendary stunner.” 2.) Plymouth Rock, written and directed by Scott Busath, Earth ...

Top 10: From a first-hand, encyclopedic knowledge of theater

Welton Jones' most vivid show recollections, part one of two

Welton Jones began writing about theater while a student at Texas A&M, in 1957. He’d been drawn to the arts since childhood, but when he wrote that first review, he’d only seen one play “that ...

Relative harmony

Old Globe Theater stages retiring Quartet

“It must be dreadful to be famous and applauded and acclaimed and not be able to practice your art.”

Last Call: Jade Heart, Les Miserables

One excellent production closes August 10, and the other is the hottest ticket in town.

Long before I became one, a theater critic told me he saw “good productions of good plays, bad productions of bad plays, bad productions of good plays, and good productions of bad plays.” The toughest ...

Extended tease

Half-mast The Full Monty at New Village Arts needs some tightening.

Early in the David Yazbeck/Terrence McNally musical a laid-off steel worker urges his mates to show “who really wears the pants in the family.” So they decide to take them off, together, at a Buffalo ...

Epic! Knock-out!

Intimacy and spectacle combine to make Les Miserables at Lamb’s something very special

I think it was my second or third week on the job. I went to a small theater in National City — Lamb’s Players — in a former church, I found out, after I got ...

Always competent, sometimes sparkling Much Ado

Interesting choices by skilled players set one of the Bard's most dramatic comedies on edge.

Toward the end of Shakespeare’s comedy, Benedick tells Beatrice they are “too wise to woo peaceably.” Up to this point they’ve fought a “merry war”: a Taming of the Shrew of the mind, minus the ...

The effect of Ether

La Jolla Playhouse as surgical theater

Just about every patented discovery has either multiple claimants or someone who got to the patent office too late.

“Unforgettable” Outtakes

Vignettes from San Diego history: Oceanside and Carlsbad.

From the Carlsbad Plain Truth (editor William Webster Borden, whose slogan was “Independent but not neutral”): “Charles Kelly has a remarkable hen. She disappeared on Dec. 25, 1886, leaving a brood of young chickens behind ...

Slight but sweet

Expert production of Romance/Romance tells of unlikely love and sustained commitment

Turn of the century Vienna bores aristocratic Alfred to distraction. He only attracts women who fancy his outer trappings. To be loved for his “own self,” just once, he dresses down and frequents unfamiliar enclaves ...

Red threads of connection

Jade Heart at Moxie

I doubt that Jade Heart playwright Will Cooper could ask for a better production than Moxie’s. The play, about a Chinese orphan adopted by an American mother, is relentlessly nonlinear and needlessly convoluted. The fits ...

A beauty contest with a twist

Pageant: the Beauty Pageant Musical at Cygnet Theatre

From the fluffy curtains to the large G hovering over the faux marble floor, everything’s an ardent pink — the signature color of Glamouresse, whose beauty products include an aerosol that protects the ozone layer ...

The Old Globe ventures back Into the Woods

The Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical Into the Woods world-premiered at the Old Globe in 1986. The set had three structures, fixed, and a “woods” behind. Along with fairy tale characters — Cinderella, Jack (of beanstalk ...

Sacrificial stands

La Jolla Playhouse stages The Orphan of Zhao

The stylized piece stresses not the gore but the fierce resolve that led to it.

SD Fringe: 146 Point Flame and word-of-mouth last calls

Hasty, vivid reflections that struggle to be heard and a unique set of recommendations for last-call shows.

146 Point Flame They called a snake in Vietnam “Two-step Charlie.” A rock asp — get bit and you went down in two steps. So you had maybe 10 or 15 seconds to curse or ...

SD Fringe: Ceremony and Nightbird

Entwinement and separation at play in two fine Fringe pieces.

Ceremony, by Michael Kass “Michael,” she said, “it’s not going to work out.” Michael Kass was a 35-year-old white male who, along with other “First World problems,” looked to go zero-for-eternity in relationships. He had ...

From blushing bridegroom back to cold-blooded killer

Iago plays on Othello’s fears like a maestro on a Stradivarius.

Iago: “Men should be what they seem. Or those that be not, would they might seem none.” Othello: “Certain, men should be what they seem.” I was re-reading Shakespeare’s Othello recently, and the obvious poked ...

SD Fringe: Getting word of mouth out

The Fringe has been a work-in-progress for everyone, reviewers as well.

Some discoveries: 1 — No non-bionic reviewer can cover everything. Maybe not even a team of pundits, since each day has nine time-slots and usually five shows on at once. That’s 45 shows per day, ...

SD Fringe: The Hideout

Haste delivers a must-see from the "boudoir of Dionysus."

It’s too bad San Diego can’t just adopt the Haste Theatre. Give them a nice, intimate space and let them showcase their fantastical (sometimes tragical) tales. Not only that, the London-based group would give locals ...

SD Fringe: Red, White, and Blacklisted

Tale of the Weavers' exile on Main Street brings out an icon and highlights the power of a space.

Ever hear of the Weavers? No? Well for over a decade the government wanted to keep it that way. The Weavers were a folk music group long before it became popular. They composed and sang ...

SD Fringe: Red Shoes Revamped and other works and Long Way to Midnight

Red Shoes Revamped and other works Though I used to do a mean James Brown (“Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”) and a so-so “Electric Slide,” I’m no expert on dance. I can appreciate the ...

SD Fringe: Fire in the Meth Lab and Ray’s Last Case

One-off spellbinder from Jon Bennett and a shallow look at Mr. CHON-dluh from Scripps

Fire in the Meth Lab A Fringe frustration: when a group from France cancelled their appearance, the Lyceum Theatre had an open slot. For one hour only, on Saturday Jon Bennett performed a work-in-progress, knocked ...

SD Fringe: Nothing With Nobody, Vucciria Teatro

Passion, tragedy, isolation in one act

Rosaria: “Then I’ll take him by his hand and we’ll jump straight down into the blue sea. He will think it’s a game.” Three characters. Sicily, 1980s. The uncredited lighting for this one-act tragedy from ...

SD Fringe: 7 Deadly Sins

Rare staging of the terse, bitter masterpiece makes the case for the Fringe fest itself.

Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s 1933 “Ballet chante” — sung ballet — encapsulates many of Brecht’s themes in a short, spare piece. The full title’s “The Seven Deadly Sins of the Petty Bourgeoise.” In nine ...

SD Fringe: Dr. Frankenstein’s Traveling Freakshow and The Peacock and the Nightingale

Freako-centric Vaudeville done right, Marilyn and Edith done wrong

Dr. Frankenstein’s Traveling Freakshow, Tin Shed Theatre Company The Fringe’s “Off Broadway” space is the stage of the Spreckels Theatre. Tiers of folding chairs, their backs to the house seats, provide an intimate atmosphere. Tin ...

The many trials of Madame Tingley, part five of five

“I saw very plainly that [Katherine Tingley] had impure intentions,” said Henry Reuthling from his seat in the witness box. “What do you mean by impure?” Reuthling: “I mean that her suggestions were of a ...

Barrymore yanks down the bars

I Hate Hamlet at Intrepid Shakespeare Company is an often-silly but always-funny sitcom-tribute to "The Great Profile."

Acting always has a passle of do’s and don’t-you-ever’s. The rules build the cage within which the lion roars. Over the centuries and even over decades, the cage has shrunk. And it must be tempting ...

Streetcorner to Spreckels and back

Internationalized SD Fringe Fest an update on the international arts scene

The first San Diego Fringe Festival was such a hit last summer, this year’s has doubled in size. It now runs eleven days, and offers over 80 entrants. Most will give five performances instead of ...

Last Call: El Henry, Milvotchkee, Visconsin, Miss Firecracker Contest, Spamalot!

Hate to see these go. But they will, come Sunday.

El Henry, Herbert Siguenza, of Culture Clash fame, has written a rousing, funny, and eloquent script based on Shakespeare’s history play, Henry IV, Part one. We’re at Aztlan City — i.e. post-apocalyptic San Diego in ...

Life and death in Aztlan City

El Henry at Maker’s Quarter is a masterful tapestry

In Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part one, Prince Hal hangs out with Sir John Falstaff and various lowlifes at the Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap, a street in central London. They swill sack. It is 1399. ...

Spamalot is nuts — and wonderful

Moonlight Theatre joins Monty Python's war against pretension

And now for something completely…SPECTACULAR! Moonlight has opened its outdoor summer season with a production so smart, polished, and accurate you’d think they’ve assembled an all-star team. And in a way, they have. Brad Bradley ...

Menacing and comical Journey

Teatro Máscara Mágica offers three angels against a god and his jaguar.

Memo died five years ago. He wants to visit with his living relatives on “the Day of the Dead.” To do so, he must trek through the Underworld, where Mictlantecuhtil, the cruelest of the Aztec ...

Last Call: The Motherfer With the Hat at Cygnet

Standout production is set to close June 22.

Cygnet’s excellent production of the Show We Cannot Fully Name, The Motherf--er With the Hat, must close this Sunday, June 22. The title’s both a warning (there will be untoward language) and an assertion: like ...

The Many Trials of Madame Tingley, part four

Lomaland, a “vile spookery”? Balderdash!

The Allegations In his later years, Harrison Gray Otis rode in an armor-plated, 1910 Franklin Model H. The headlights protruded like cannons; a bronze horn stretching across the molded, deep-green hood resembled an elephant gun. ...

Twelve days of license

The 12th night resembles Fat Tuesday at Mardi Gras: last call to paint Orange Avenue red.

At Lamb’s Players, Mike Buckley’s set hits you first. You’ve come to see Shakespeare’s “festive” comedy, Twelfth Night. It’s set in Illyria. Illyria? Yeah — ancient country on the Adriatic seacoast. But instead, the set’s ...

Words and ideas trickle away in Milvotchkee, Visconsin

A devastating portrait of dementia from Mo`olelo

If you’ve seen that look, that frozen Alzheimer’s stare, on the face of a loved one, you have to wonder what’s inside. If, that is, you can get past the unthinkable horrors a.) of no ...

Gumption rules

Gonzo Miss Firecracker Contest at New Village Arts crackles and pops

Daren Scott’s directed how many shows? Less than a handful? His staging of Beth Henley’s gonzo comedy feels like the work of a seasoned pro. Not only has he served the play well, his cast ...

Sharp minors are the key

Slow start, fab finish in world premiere Dog and Pony at the Old Globe

Rick Elice and Michael Patrick Walker are the multi-talented, mega-award-winning creators of Jersey Boys, Peter and the Starcatcher, and Altar Boyz. Their world premiere musical isn’t a dog. But, even with a top flight cast, ...

Last Call: Book of Mormon, Happy Days, Mud Blue Sky

Three high quality shows must close this Sunday, June 8.

The Book of Mormon Maybe THE most hype-heavy show ever to come to the San Diego Civic lives up to all the accolades. Witten by the creators of South Park, the musical is guaranteed to ...

The many trials of Madame Tingley, part three

The siege of Point loma goes global

Tingle, tingle, little star / Oft I wonder who you are. / What you do that isn’t right, / Every blessed, spooky night. In mid-October, 1901, as Madame Katherine Tingley’s Universal Brotherhood gained popularity, the ...

Odd Couple times 40

Crackle and conflict for The Sunshine Boys

Lewis and Clark were trailblazers — the comedy team, that is, of Al Lewis and Willie Clark. Vaudeville headliners back in the 1930s, they were together 43 years and “retired” 11 years ago. Why the ...

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