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Stories by Jeff Smith

The Big Noise: The Free Speech Fight of 1912, Part Five

City Leaders Cracked Heads at the County Line

Prominent San Diegans in 1912 formed vigilance committees that escorted free-speech advocates to the county line. That wasn’t the worst of their enforcement efforts.

The Big Noise: The Free Speech Fight of 1912, Part Four

Free-speech protesters got the fire hose.

San Diego city officials turned the fire hose on free-speech protesters — not last year, but 100 years ago.

Small Talk

“Frankness at all counts is the means to a healthy marriage.”

A Pinter sampler at North Coast Rep; Brilliant Mistake at New Village Arts

The Big Noise: The Free Speech Fight of 1912, Part Two

Joe Hill called them the “Starvation Army."

At the Free Speech Fight of 1912, soapboxes were kicked out from under speakers.

The Big Noise: The Free Speech Fight of 1912, Part One

Unforgettable: Long-Ago In San Diego

About a hundred years ago, the Wobblies labor movement boiled over in San Diego.

Last One Standing

“A truck to a Texan is just like his hat.”

Hands on a Hardbody at La Jolla Playhouse.

Lynch Fever

The Scottsboro Boys at the Old Globe

The nine served time on death row — and heard the electric chair screech when in use.

Crazy Happens Here All The Time

What you expect is not all there is. The black women, for example, are the wealthiest.

In Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman writes brilliantly about how the mind works and how we make decisions. He calls one of our most consistent errors “WYSIATI,” the assumption that “what you see is ...

Taboo Territory

“No man or woman has ever crossed the line and lived to tell the tale!”

During intermission at New Village Arts’ opening night of Buried Child, a patron said, “I’m confused.” Another replied, “Don’t worry. You’ve been paying attention.” Asked to describe what some have called a masterpiece, Sam Shepard ...

A Great Escape, Part Four

Daylight The lights at Villingen shut off on schedule. Edouard Izac, Harold Willis, and 11 others would become the only Americans to try a mass escape from a German POW camp during World War I. ...

The Recent Unpleasantness

In the midst of mass hysteria, Leo and wife Lucille fall in love, maybe for the first time.

Bravo, Cygnet Theatre! Their largest production to date easily ranks among their finest. Cygnet’s doing such a magnificent job with Parade, it’s hard to believe the musical had an iffy track record. Although it earned ...

Dropping the August Title of Eternal Woman at the Old Globe

To combat “the brute force of public opinion,” she must out-pure the driven snow.

The views in the Old Globe’s world premiere musical, A Room with a View, are one of the show’s best features. Heidi Ettinger’s sets re-create Florence, Italy, and Surrey, England, with enlarged postcards from 1908. ...

A Great Escape, Part Three

The Best Made Plans Toward the end of World War I, the Germans boasted that their prisoner-of-war camp on the western outskirts of Villingen was tight as a sealed tomb. A ten-foot-tall, barbed-wire fence surrounded ...

A Great Escape, Part Two

Trial and Terror “Very few prisoners of war try to escape,” writes historian Dwight R. Messimer, “and very few of those who do, succeed.” When a German U-boat sunk his ship, Lieutenant Edouard Izac became ...

A Great Escape, Part One

Capture “I rather expected to be wounded or killed or even drowned,” writes Navy lieutenant Edouard Izac. “It was only natural that…the [USS President] Lincoln would finally be torpedoed….But never once had the thought of ...

An Intimate Stage

Furious calls on a cell phone reveal that the car is her son’s. Was her son’s.

This is backward. When you attend a play you go from the parking lot to the box office to the show. At the La Jolla Playhouse, you go from the box office back to a ...

Royal Raymond Rife: Into the Micro Beyond

Long-Ago In San Diego

On August 12, 1971, the San Diego Union printed an obituary: “Dr. Royal R. Rife, 83, an optics engineer who invented a high-power microscope, was buried yesterday at Mt. Hope Cemetery. Rife had worked on ...

Hidden History: The Ballad of Juan José

“If America wants to build a wall to keep out the Mexicans — who do you think will build it?”

Dreams don’t care about time or space. They freely remix the known and unimaginable. In Culture Clash’s American Night: The Ballad of Juan José, a kaleidoscopic dream guides the title character on an official tour ...

The Old Globe’s Recommendation; A Behanding in Spokane at the Cygnet

“Baby, I ain’t chained to a radiator in a room full of chopped-off hands.”

Aaron Feldman’s so connected that when he sits by the pool and the beer runs out, he whines: “No one has texted me in, like, AN HOUR!” He lives in Brentwood, his father’s a big-time ...

North Coast Rep stages James Goldman’s Lion in Winter

“We all have knives. It’s 1183, and we’re all barbarians!”

Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, their sons Richard I and King John: mighty names, each exuding historical import. Henry II dressed like a commoner and ruled, at one point, from Scotland to the Pyrenees. His ...

Over, Under, Through

In about ten seconds, often less, she became the person she portrayed.

The Old Globe staged Tracy Lett’s August: Osage County and did a masterful job. Also at the Globe, Adrian Noble turned Shakespeare’s The Tempest into a musical with “wood notes wild.” The La Jolla Playhouse ...

The Death Ship Returns to Baja and Salvation

The Death Ship Comes Alive When the crew of the San Diego heard they were finally going home, relief erupted. “They thought they might have a few more days to live,” writes Father Antonio Ascensión, ...

Bitter Cold and Scurvy Dog Vizcaíno’s Ships

Toward the Freezing North As Sebastian Vizcaíno’s expedition prepared to leave San Diego Bay, a member of the crew struggled to board a launch. Stiff-legged, barely able to walk, he stumbled, struggled to stand up, ...

Rewind the Clock to the Ghosts of Seasons Past

He’s nostalgic for something that’s gone, not hopeful for what could be.

Jacob Marley’s isn’t the only Ghost of Christmas Past. Everyone probably has a few. They may not arrive in chains, shaking a bony finger at the void, and whispering “beware.” In fact, they may be ...

Rock the Cynics

Superstar despairs about the spirit of Christmas getting lost in the tinsel of commercialism.

‘What’s buzz? Tell me what’s a-happening!” “When do we arrive in Jerusalem?” “Will no one stay awake with me?” “Did Mohammed move a mountain, or was that just PR?” “Did you mean to die like ...

Wrestling Angels

People as disparate as Mormons in Utah and ex–drag queens in Brooklyn make connections.

When a close friend died from AIDS, Tony Kushner dreamed about an angel “crashing through someone’s bedroom ceiling.” It wasn’t an archangel — a Gabriel or a Michael — or a chubby Disney cherub plucking ...

Exploring San Diego Bay

Long-ago San Diego

Fifty years after Columbus first set sail, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo discovered “a sheltered port and a very good one” on the California coast. Guarded by a steep promontory, dark green with vegetation, a channel doglegged ...

X-Ray Eyes

As the others battle with despair, Anne’s vitality — and radiant optimism — can irk most of all.

During OnStage Playhouse’s intermissions, the houselights come up, but the actors remain in character onstage. As audience members talk among themselves or scan text messages, the characters play cards and do small tasks in whispers. ...

Vizcaíno Meets Storms, Natives, and, Finally, San Diego

Lost and Found Onboard the flagship San Diego, Sebastían Vizcaíno hadn’t seen the Santo Tomás in 41 days. Before his expedition left Acapulco to chart the California coast in 1602, the old Santo Tomás had ...

Senior Moments

They strategize like young soldiers, forgetting that they’re almost immobile.

Back in the ’60s, Robert Anderson wrote a one-act called I’m Herbert. Depending on how old you are, it could be a comedy or a tragedy. In the play, a man and a woman, senior ...

A Search for Water on the Sea

Long-ago San Diego

Water Everywhere Sebastián Vizcaíno began charting the California coast on May 5, 1602. Three ships crossed the Gulf of California, from Mazatlán to Cabo de San José. After several tries, they finally cleared the cape ...

Wordplay

The most burdened character in the commedia, the servant, is the freest actor on the stage.

Carlo Goldoni (1707–1793) deserves better than he usually gets. He wrote tragedies, tragicomedies, and comedies — first in Italian, later in French — and helped inject vitality into a flagging commedia dell’arte tradition. Though quite ...

God Blessed and the Devil Cursed Vizcaino’s Crews

Of Miracles and Grave Misfortunes It had to be a miracle! As Sebastián Vizcaíno’s three ships neared the bay at Cabo de San José, a fog curtained the shoreline, and the ships separated beyond hailing ...

Nudging Recollections

They dance, sing, rehearse scenes, and breathe fantasies of Broadway.

The title of Matthew Lopez’s comedy-drama sounds unfinished. Hear Somewhere, and you expect “a place for us” to follow. And why not keep going: “Peace and quiet and oooo-pen air [kick it up!] WAITS for ...

Edward II at Diversionary; The Marvelous Wonderettes at Moonlight

In the movie Braveheart, Patrick McGoohan plays silver-bearded, steely-eyed Edward “Longshanks.” A mere aside of his could kill — or a fit of anger, as when he heaves his son’s male lover out a castle ...

Across the Vermilion Sea

Three ships nodded with the tide in Acapulco Bay. The San Diego, Santo Tomás, and Tres Reyes were light draft vessels, able to anchor in shallow waters. Each had been careened — flopped on its ...

Assault the Place of Peace

By rights, we should call San Diego “San Miguel,” after the archangel who evicted Lucifer and his minions from heaven. At his first landfall in Upper California — September 28, 1542 — Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo ...

Sam Woodhouse Picks the All-Time Best of the Rep

The San Diego Repertory Theatre has entered its 36th season. It has produced 265 shows. I asked Sam Woodhouse, cofounder, to talk about the ones where the Rep or he, personally, made a leap forward ...

Assault on a Galleon

Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo never received full credit for exploring the Pacific Coast, complained historian Henry R. Wagner. In 1602, 60 years later, Sebastián Vizcaino sailed north, covered the same territory, and “arbitrarily changed” Cabrillo’s findings. ...

Hairspray at Moonlight, Grace at Ion

In his youth, John Waters watched the Buddy Deane Show, Baltimore’s version of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, on WJZ-TV. For years, both programs had white teenagers only. Deane called his “the Committee.” They were “the ...

Engaging Shaw at the Old Globe

“George Bernard Shaw” may have been his best fictional creation. The cantankerous genius loved to rant, like a spoiled brat, and turn conventions upside down. He renounced capitalism, organized religion, and social injustice, along with ...

The Who's Tommy Unleashed at the Rep

You may remember him as Tonex (pronounced “To-nay”). The young mega-talent, who won a Craig Noel Award for Dreamgirls in 2008, changed his name. He’s now B. Slade. His skills have changed a bit, too. ...

Rosa/Luisa: The California Whirlwind, Part Two

“Strange things are happening to this land,” said Luisa Moreno in 1949. “Yes, tragically the unmistakable signs are before us…who really love America. And it is we who must sound the alarm, for the workers ...

The Tempest at Old Globe; Poster Boys at Diversionary

Since The Tempest opened in 1611, people have wondered where Shakespeare located its strange, enchanted isle. Prospero’s enemies are returning to Naples from a wedding at Tunis. A storm blasts them onto the rocks of ...

An Unimportant Day

Ancient history tells of kings or wheat contracts, says the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. But what about daily life in Babylon or Greece? Or, more recently, Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire? Wilder chose ...

The California Whirlwind, Part One

She thought she’d finally found a home. For two decades, Luisa Moreno abandoned her private life and championed the rights of workers. She zigzagged around the country, protesting, organizing, and negotiating for labor unions: garment ...

My Name Is Asher Lev at North Coast Rep

"How can evil and ugliness make a gift of beauty?" When he was six, Asher Lev began noticing the contours and textures of the world. He became alert to shadings of color, to the degrees ...

A Dram of Drummhicit at La Jolla Playhouse

According to Arthur Kopit and Anton Dudley’s new play, Drummhicit — pronounced drum-hkkkt — is a single-malt Scotch. It’ll curl your nose and lacquer your teeth but is not ready for prime time. Neither is ...

Tracy Letts's August: Osage County at the Old Globe

In the dead of summer, temperatures in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, reach triple digits, with the humidity not far behind. The town, 60 miles north of Tulsa, near the Kansas border, lies along Tornado Alley. But in ...