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Stories by Jeff Smith

Last call: Seven Spots on the Sun and The Kid Thing

War zones and living rooms set the stages

Not quite ready for the holiday barrage? Here are two provocative pieces that must close this weekend. Seven Spots on the Sun, InnerMission Productions An old saying goes, “out of the mud grows the lotus.” ...

Let’s Invade Mexico! Outbreaks of Filibuster Fever: The Flamingo Filibuster

Part two of two

“The appetite grows with eating.” Many in the late 19th Century applied the French proverb to an insatiable urge to filibuster: to conquer foreign territories with private armies. If appetite grows, then Captain John H. ...

Ghost play

The Dybbuk for Hannah and Sam's Wedding at San Diego Rep

In a solo performance, Ron Campbell plays numerous guests at a wedding reception, plus all the characters in The Dybbuk: or Between Two Worlds, S. Ansky’s “realistic play about mystical people.” The task requires a ...

Through the eyes of Judas

Jesus Christ Superstar in Concert at SDSU

In 2014 San Diego State University’s School of Theatre, Television, and Film combined with the School of Music and Dance for an epic concert of Les Miserables. Over 200 musicians, singers, and performers roared into ...

Let’s Invade Mexico! Outbreaks of Filibuster Fever

Part one of two | Jump to Part 2

In the last half of the 19th Century, aliens eagerly crossed the U.S./Mexico border — into Mexico. Burning with what historian William B. Scroggs calls “filibuster fever,” they felt entitled “to swallow up every few ...

The Normal Heart’s fierce drama at Ion Theatre

Birth of a crisis

‘There’s not a good word to be said about anyone’s behavior in this whole mess.” The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s fierce drama about the early years of HIV/AIDS, pulls no punches. Practically everyone was an ...

All kill the same

Seven Spots on the Sun at InnerMission Productions

Moises stopped practicing medicine at San Ysidro, a small, Central American village. Civil war lacerates the region — first the rebels, then forces backed by gringo “advisors.” Then back, then forth. All kill the same. ...

Swordfights? Romance? The nose? I mean, come on!

My acting bucket list: Jason Heil

I’m asking actors and designers to name five dream roles/projects and say why. The answers not only reveal aspirations — they may put an idea in the minds of artistic directors and producers — even ...

Beyond definition

The Kid Thing at Moxie Theatre

Margot and Nate have dinner at Darcy and Leigh’s condo in Chicago. Before the two lesbian couples have dessert, Leigh wants to “wind down” the conversation — twin tirades about Michael Jackson’s place in American ...

Road-trip musical Miss You Like Hell pulls into La Jolla Playhouse

“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself falling into at night.”

Miss You Like Hell, world-premiering at the La Jolla Playhouse, tells the reunion of Beatriz and her estranged daughter Olivia. They ride a beat-up blue Datsun pickup from Philadelphia to Yellowstone National Park. On the ...

Last Call: Disgraced at San Diego Rep

Voices you might not hear otherwise

Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2013 and is the most-produced play in America. There’s still time to see why. The San Diego Rep’s top-shelf production must close this Sunday. The ...

Shakespeare's daughter

Equivocation at Lamb’s Players Theatre

One of the characters in Bill Cain’s Equivocation, at Lamb’s Players, is William Shagspere, aka “Shag.” He’s the Bard, with one of his names many different spellings. Another character, Judith, is Shag’s daughter. In the ...

Like a novel you can watch

Last Call: Seven Guitars and King Hedley II at Cygnet

Cygnet Theatre’s commendable achievement, staging August Wilson’s Seven Guitars and King Hedley II in repertory, must close this weekend. One of America’s finest playwrights, Wilson makes rare visits to San Diego. In this sense, Cygnet ...

The American Dream side-slips away in Disgraced

Amir's profile

Donald Trump has no problem with racial profiling. He’d love to stop every Muslim at the border. And, hey, if the police “see somebody that’s suspicious,” he said in a speech, “they will profile. Look ...

Comedy dream team

Laughter on the 23rd Floor at North Coast Rep

In an interview many years after his legendary Your Show of Shows (1950–1954) went off the air, Sid Caesar compared his writing staff to having all the great Impressionist painters collaborating in one room: “all ...

Savage outside world

God of Carnage at New Village Arts

Annette Raleigh: “How many parents standing up for their children become infantile themselves?” The Raleighs and the Novaks meet to solve what seems a minor issue. Not long after these words, their skins thin out. ...

Shag and a freaky hoot

Equivocation at Lamb's Players

In Act Five, scene one, Hamlet tells the Gravedigger, “We must speak by the card, or equivocation will undo us.” “By the card” could refer to Matthew 5:37: “Let your yes be yes and your ...

King Hedley II graces the stage at Cygnet

Language matters

Theater critic Jeremy Gerard said August Wilson “writes plays not for Broadway, but which Broadway simply must have — even if it means getting them last.” Those expecting prepackaged emotions and a tidy take-home message ...

My Acting Bucket List: Wendy Waddell

Imagine Glengarry Glen Ross with an all-female cast

I’m asking actors and designers to name their five dream roles/projects and say why. The answers not only reveal aspirations, they may put an idea in the minds of artistic directors and producers — even ...

Death is almost the eighth character on stage

Seven Guitars at Cygnet Theatre

Praise Cygnet Theatre! Without this company’s ongoing efforts, San Diego might not have seen August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, The Piano Lesson, Fences and, currently in repertory, Seven Guitars and King Hedley II. That’s ...

Worth hanging upside down in a cave for

My choreographic bucket list: Michael Mizerany

I’m asking actors and designers to name five dream roles/projects and say why. The answers not only reveal aspirations, they may put an idea in the minds of artistic directors and producers — even choices ...

Old Globe’s October Sky is sermon on stick-to-itiveness

Look to the sky

If you decide to see the Old Globe’s October Sky, take your seat early. Kevin Depinet’s set has the composition and texture of a quality painting. A massive half-circle hovers over the stage. It’s what? ...

Dick Enberg: the Call of Calls

Oh, my!

I’m from Northern California. Moved to Orange County in 1969 for graduate school. Didn’t think much of the region: mostly scrub, ragweed, and rabbit hills back then. But — the sportscasters! Vin Scully made Dodger ...

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 ...

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