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Stories by Jeff Smith

Tuna casserole made funny in Manifest Destinitis

Yankee flu symptoms include “a deep, abiding terror of losing one’s land, family, language, and Spanish culture.”

San Diego sees many world premieres in various stages of readiness. The San Diego Rep’s opening night for Manifest Destinitis didn’t feel new at all. To a person the cast and designers performed as if ...

Act two, scene five alone is worth the money

Humor turns things inside out in The Producers at San Diego Musical Theatre

After he screened a rough cut of A History of the World, Part One to friends, Mel Brooks ran down the aisle yelling, “I can fix it! I can fix it!” He didn’t fix The ...

Professional rookies

“Why didn’t you tell me life would be hard because I’m Asian?”

Jennifer Chen sees a therapist for the first time. And she comes prepared: a list of her phobias, one of her shortcomings, another with her attributes. She can’t simply explore personal issues. She must be ...

Instead of floating daggers...

peerless at Moxie Theatre

Mike Lew’s Tiger Style! at La Jolla Playhouse shows the effects of super-strict parenting on two Chinese-Americans. Jennifer and Albert dove through every academic hoop cum laude but find themselves a few years later without ...

Ascending Mt. Bard

On directing Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew

Carla Nell, artistic director of InnerMission Productions, directed Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, performed last month. It was her initial attempt at the Bard. I asked her how it feels to climb that mountain for ...

Last Call: Love's Labor's Lost at Old Globe

A comeuppance for the imagined heirs of all eternity

One of the year’s better productions must close this Sunday. Even with the play’s disturbing, though fully justified, un-comic ending, the Old Globe’s Love’s Labor’s Lost is a keeper. Two things: 1) People watch the ...

Sacred Brahmins

The Cocktail Hour at North Coast Repertory Theatre

A dying tradition. Like the old New England dining rooms, which A. R. Gurney, Jr., also wrote about, the cocktail hour was a special time for East Coast Brahmins at day’s end. They could unwind, ...

Love’s Labor’s Lost in the towering eucalypti of the Old Globe’s festival stage

Talk the talk

The Old Globe’s got a charmer on its outdoor stage. Director Kathleen Marshall, scenic designer John Lee Beatty, Peter Golub’s original music, and a uniformly fine cast turn Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost into a Greenbelt ...

Last call: Gypsy at Cygnet Theatre

Okay, break the fourth wall

One of the year’s best shows must end its run this Sunday. Cygnet’s Gypsy is a “must see.” And if you haven’t yet, well... “Sing out, Louise!” begins one of the most famous entrances in ...

More about surfaces than depths

Gutenberg! The Musical at Backyard Renaissance

With their new musical, Doug and Bud can’t see the forest or the trees. They only see a long Broadway run, a sweep of all the awards, eternal fame, the usual... Somehow they’ve arranged a ...

End of the road, which began in California

Airline Highway at Ion Theatre

Miss Ruby, erstwhile burlesque diva and longtime resident of the Hummingbird Hotel, is dying. Instead of friends paying tribute to her coffin, Ruby wants her funeral now, while she can still appreciate them. In Lisa ...

Last Call: Junk: The Golden Age of Debt and Free Speech (While Supplies Last)

Two performances indicating the cause and effect of where we are today

Two shows at La Jolla Playhouse must close this Sunday. Taken together, they’re practically a cause and effect of where we are today. Junk: The Golden Age of Debt. It's 1985, and Robert Merkin’s on ...

Meteor Shower — this is a play by Steve Martin, after all

One night in Ojai...

Laura suffers from “Exploding Head Syndrome.” A mere soupçon of stress and — ka-bloooey!

The Golden Age of Debt takes the La Jolla Playhouse stage

Spin, euphemism, glittering generalities — ah, yes, the language of today.

David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross takes place in 1983. His desperate real estate salesmen will do anything to put their name on the board with a big sale. That would validate their worth, literally prove ...

Hungry for sass

My acting bucket list: Cashae Monya

I’m asking veteran 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 that ...

Last Call: Four noteworthy musicals must close

Go see Jesus, Fats, Sylvia, and/or Buddy soon

Musicals hath charms to soothe the most savage of beasts. Four must close this weekend. Jesus Christ Superstar One of the tightest, most balanced shows I’ve seen at the Welk in some time. Ray Limon’s ...

The hits often direct, the misses by a mile

Free Speech (While Supplies Last) at La Jolla Playhouse

According to Second City’s Free Speech, there’s a store in Brooklyn called Bang. It’s an Artisanal Firearms Boutique. They make shopping for munitions a New Age experience. They do criminal background and past-lives regression checks, ...

Creatin' "Ain't Misbehavin'"

Song of the rabbit and the duck

“I don’t stay out late/ Don’t care to go I’m home about eight/ Just me and my radio/ Ain’t misbehavin’ I’m savin’ my love for you.” The singer of Fats Waller and Andy Razef’s classic ...

North Coast Rep stages Ain’t Misbehavin’ with triple-threat actors

Waller’s songs tell stories.

With one major exception, the North Coast Rep’s doing a bang-up job with Ain’t Misbehavin’, Murray Horwitz, Richard Maltby, Jr., and Luther Henderson’s musical revue/tribute to the legendary Thomas “Fats” Waller (1904–1943). The title comes ...

Gypsy’s one mother of a musical at Cygnet

Mama Rose could have been, as someone says, “a pioneer woman without a frontier.”

The great musical Gypsy begins with Baby June and Louise auditioning for Uncle Jocko the Clown. He obviously loathes tryouts and children. Louise is inaudible. Just when you’d expect him to scream, a vocal bomb ...

...and a set in crisp black-and-white soaked in bourbon

A designer's bucket list: Sean Fanning

I’ve been asking veteran actors to name five dream roles and say why. It’s time to expand the category and ask theater designers and directors their dream projects. The answers not only reveal aspirations, they ...

Broken niceties and skewerings

Ruthless at Moxie Theatre

I love Forbidden Broadway and Forbidden Hollywood. Gerard Alessandrini’s revue/parodies of popular shows used to come to San Diego. They hit hard, fast, and deep. His latest, Spamilton: An American Parody, promises to be “$800 ...

Fly-on-the-wall invasion

Sense and Sensibility at Old Globe Theatre

Ardent lovers of Jane Austen’s novels are in for a shock when they arrive for the Old Globe’s Sense and Sensibility. They won’t see the fog-shrouded southeastern coast of Sussex or the milder clime of ...

Last call: Sunday in the Park with George

Dot lover

Between 1884 and 1886 (and briefly in 1889) the young, practically unknown painter Georges Seurat applied tiny dots of pure color to a canvas, knowing that clusters would form a different color in the eye ...

Daring and daunting authenticity in The Last Tiger in Haiti

Haitian folklore

In French, “rester avec” sounds pleasant. It means to “stay with.” In Haiti, a “restavek” is a child from a family so poor they cannot support it. Haiti is the poorest country in the Caribbean ...

Hard-rock score

Jesus Christ Superstar at Welk Resort Theatre

The Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice rock opera may be “loosely” based on the last days of Jesus, but the Welk Resort Theatre’s dazzling JC Superstar is tight as a tourniquet. All elements cohere. All the ...

If you are afraid, do it

My acting bucket list: Kevin Hafso-Koppman

I’m asking veteran 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 that ...

Chaos of fragments

Sunday in the Park with George at Ion Theatre

For his masterpiece A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat chose a fairly remote island on the Seine about four and a half miles from Notre Dame Cathedral. He studied, sketched, and painted between ...

The Old Globe arrests the dead butcher Macbeth and his fiend-like queen

Evil aflame

Macbeth knows how to kill, but he has never committed murder and fears the consequences.

SD Fringe: Recommendations for final days

Highly recommended and word-of-mouth

The San Diego International Festival closes this Sunday, July 3. Ninety-four acts (one canceled) will have performed five shows each by then. And some of the best, like Le Moana’s unforgettable 1918, about the influenza ...

SD Fringe: Witness to Gettysburg and Ozombie bin Laden: in 3D!

Owing to havoc and sub-atomic, proto-nuclear-ish hegemony

Witness to Gettysburg Have you ever been to Gettysburg? Maybe it’s ghosts, or just how the winds swirl across empty fields. If you didn’t know that during the first three days of July 1863 nearly ...

SD Fringe: Phantom of the Empire and Bin Laden: The One Man Show

Mind openers

Phantom of the Empire: Return of the Opera At last year’s Fringe Festival, Turning Tydes Theatre Company performed Les Midge: An Unexpected Journey of Hobbit Proportions — i.e., a mash-up of the musical Les Miserables ...

San Diego Fringe: Embers and I Got Guns

Outs: Through the air and via gun collecting

Embers At one point during Lighthouse Circus Theatre’s often breathtaking performance, as two women did an aerial stunt one should not try at home, the young woman next to me muttered, “Oh my g…” and ...

SD Fringe: 1918

Joy shimmers, then...visitors

Word-of-mouth moved fast for Le Moana’s amazing dance-theater piece about the outbreak of Spanish Influenza in Samoa, 1918. The Saturday afternoon show was packed. The troupe from New Zealand performs only two more times at ...

SD Fringe: Cocooned in Kazan and Letters from the Wall

Comical and real sacrifices

Cocooned in Kazan Nikolai Gogol, Russian-Ukrainian novelist and short-story writer, wrote about a young rake in 19th-century St. Petersburg. He could win his deceased mother’s wall-safe-bulging inheritance; all he has to do is mend his ...

SD Fringe: Mythos and Caffeine

Choices between being/not being and being happy

MYTHOS Astraeus Aerial Dance Theatre won a “Best of Fringe, 2015” award for their Save My Soul. They’re back at this year’s festival and are blazing once again. But, wait. Who first had the profoundly ...

Starkly real to poetically hallucinatory

Lydia at Ion Theatre BLKBOX

Two mysteries drive Octavio Solis’ family drama. The first: what caused the Floreses to implode? We know that three days before Ceci’s quinceañera (15th birthday, coming of age) she was in an auto accident. Now ...

Frogs must be kissed

San Diego International Fringe Festival #4

Can a marathon be a sprint? Instead of 26-plus miles straight on, attending the popular San Diego International Fringe Festival can resemble wanting to run in five directions at once. That’s because for 11 days ...

Ibsen's law

Hedda Gabler longs for swashbuckling conquest

“A man must live in his own times, but he can try to make the times worth living in.”

Retract the talons

Last Call: Stupid F**kin g Bird

Cygnet Theatre’s wacko, over the woods, and through the river Stupid Fking Bird must close this Sunday. It’s a sad comment on these times that usually when one of Anton Chekhov or Henrik Ibsen’s plays ...

Save Starlight

Weed-pulling party June 25

I first went to the Starlight Bowl in 1980 with two pieces of advice: arrive early and try to put up with the planes booming down to Lindbergh Field. I got to Balboa Park early ...

Majestic bias

Tokyo Fish Story at Old Globe Theatre

For 35 years, from morning to midnight, Koji has prepared sushi on a “dingy side-street ” in Tokyo. His may have been “the best in a generation,” in fact, and he’s done it without throwing ...

Storm on the horizon

They Don't Talk Back at La Jolla Playhouse

Native Voices at the Autry — aka the Autry Museum of the American West — is the only equity company in America devoted to work by Native Americans. As part of this year’s Resident Theatre ...

Fractal edgy

Stupid F---ing Bird at Cygnet Theatre

In Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull (1896), the characters wonder how people will think about them in 100 years. Boy, if they only knew! They’ve been revised, relocated, remixed, and, in Aaron Posner’s comic tribute/diatribe, Stupid ...

The book is better

Camp David at the Old Globe Theatre

Lawrence Wright’s Camp David is an “important” play, but not a well-written one. In 90 minutes it recreates the 13 days of vein-bulged negotiations that led to the historic Camp David Accords. On September 17, ...

To call Hollywood “noir” is misleading

Fade out

Before the police arrived, many of Taylor’s friends ransacked the bungalow — and not for souvenirs.

Ben Vereen Awards

Camp Broadway awaits

On Sunday, May 29,, the Balboa Theatre hosts the 2016 Ben Vereen Awards. Ten male and ten female nominees, chosen for their leading roles in local high school musicals, vie for the chance to represent ...

Last Call: Our Lady of Kibeho

Candle held to a poor, shoeless girl from Gisaka

Moxie Theatre’s excellent Our Lady of Kibeho must close next Sunday (May 29). Here’s some background: Katori Hall’s drama retells the story of the seven Rwandan schoolchildren who witnessed visions of the Virgin Mary (“Our ...

Lady of the Word

How can Anathale’s father sell bananas if his daughter is a witch?

On November 28, 1981, 17-year-old Alphonsine Mumureke was serving lunch to classmates at the Kibeho school for girls in Rwanda. She heard a woman’s soft voice call, “My daughter.” “Here I am,” Alphonsine replied. She ...

At a certain point, the Cupeño stopped looking back.

This land is mine: The Cupeño removal of 1903, part four of four

The wagons came at sunrise. Over 40 teams passed through the barb-wired gate and lurched up the dirt road to Kupa like a giant snake. They came to drive the Cupeño from their land. Stacked ...

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