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Stories by Jeff Smith

My Acting Bucket List: Phil Johnson

The Craig Noel Award-winning actor

I’m asking 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 artistic directors and producers — even some ...

The question of God, carefully

Static but interesting Freud’s Last Session at North Coast Repertory Theatre

On the verge of suicide, Prince Hamlet wonders if he should live or leave. And if he chooses to go, what awaits? Endless sleep? Or the dread of “the undiscovered country,” from where no travelers ...

Last call: The Clean House

Despite its deserved hit-show status, NVA's show about "invisible stuff" must close soon.

Theaters run on such tight schedules, few can extend the run of a hit show. NVA has one — a hit that is, not the run. Their excellent The Clean House must close this Sunday. ...

Deanna Driscoll's acting bucket list

Local veteran presents her top-five "dream roles."

I’m asking 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 artistic directors and producers – even choices ...

Emotional gamesmanship

Shepard seeks to convey "what it feels like to be two-sided."

Cygnet Theatre Shep-reps, staging True West and Fool for Love

All in transition in The Clean House

"If it were not for dust, I think I would die."

Charles just performed a mastectomy on Ana and fell in love with her. When his wife Lane asks how it could happen, he says Ana is his “Beshert,” which is Hebrew for soul mate. But, ...

New translations, New Fortune

Upstart company of young veterans seeks to make the classics new and the new into classics, starting with Henry V.

Ritualized conjuration

Knockout theatricality saves Old Globe's The Royale.

Take away the spectacular theatricality and Marco Ramirez’s The Royale would be a thin-ish script that makes some important points. The characters stand as much for a position in a debate as for themselves. But ...

What you see is not what you thought

Fool for Love at Cygnet Theatre honors the spirit and the anarchy.

Cygnet Theatre is running two of Sam Shepard’s plays in repertory: True West and Fool for Love. In Cygnet’s opening day/night double bill last Sunday, True West came off the stronger [to be reviewed 10/15]. ...

Southern woe

Bright Star may be too sweeping for its own good.

Billy Cane is home from World War II. He wants to follow his “bright star” and write for the prestigious Asheville Southern Journal. The editor, Alice Murphy, works with the Southern Renaissance headliners: Faulkner, Eudora ...

Last call: The Pianist of Willesden Lane and Next to Normal

Two remarkable shows are set to close October 12; don't miss them.

These shows must close this Sunday, October 12. The Pianist of Willesden Lane at the San Diego Rep. Mona Golabek’s “concert drama” is one of 2014’s best. She tells the story of Lisa Jura, a ...

Next to Normal's epic emotions

San Diego Music Theatre does a stellar job with the most unlikely of opera concepts.

When potential backers first heard a proposal for Next to Normal, they probably replied: “A musical about bipolar disorder? Like, huh?” Either that or, with voice lowered, “riiight.” Yes, and a rock musical at that. ...

Moxie witchcraft

A raucous opening night makes an all-around odd Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World.

Fierce tragedy

Intricate but uneven Scott Joplin’s New Rag at Mo`olelo

Now in its world premiere, Robert Barry Fleming’s 75-minute, “fierce tragedy in one act” pays a multi-media tribute to one of the greats of American music. The complex form uses different kinds of storytelling, from ...

My Acting Bucket List: Jeffrey Jones

The Craig Noel Award winner talks "back-pocket roles."

I’m asking 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 artistic directors and producers – even some ...

Where's the monster?

Red Planet Respite 's appealing premise falls mostly flat.

GlobalCom Venture Capital’s “first interactive resort on Mars” is still a work in progress. So is the script for Circle Circle dot dot’s slow, spotty tale of corruption and greed in far-away places. The premise ...

Familiar story, homegrown feel

Localized The Odd Couple at Teatro Mascara Magica brims with life.

During his pre-show remarks, artistic director William Virchis joked with the audience, “If you don’t enjoy it, I’ll call Neil Simon to re-write it.” Actually, Teatro Mascara Magica has taken a major, often-hilarious, liberty with ...

My Acting Bucket List: Rosina Reynolds

Five dream roles from the Craig Noel award winner.

I’m asking 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 artistic directors and producers — even some ...

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 ...

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