David Dodd 2:33 a.m., May 19
Around the World in 80 Days is Lamb's Players Theatre's 300th production. Robert Smyth has been with the company since 1976, when it was a touring troupe based in El Cajon. He became producing director (under Lamb's founder, Steve Terrell) when they opened the National City theater in 1978. He became artistic director in 1981, and producing artistic director in 1985. I asked Robert not to name the greatest hits, or most popular, but the 12 productions he felt were most important for the company.
1.) Dr. Faustus (National City space, 1982). "People wondered why we would choose to do Elizabethan stuff; that was no way to build an audience. A tiny budget forced us to be spare and imaginative with Marlowe's 'bargain tale.' The cast came together beautifully."
[the other Smith here]: I want to add, this is one of my all-time favorite productions in San Diego. James Goffard played an eerily calm Mephistophilis, as if evil doesn't have to rush; evil has all day. James Webb, well over six-feet tall, played Dr. Faustus.
In the scene where Faustus is damned, Goffard circled his long brown robe around Webb and covered him. When Goffard un-circled it back, Webb had disappeared. Down a trap door, it turns out, but how the tall Webb escaped so fast remains such a magical memory that even the explanation doesn't seem plausible].
2.) The Miracle Worker (National City, 1983). The story of how Annie Sullivan, whose own eyesight was challenged, taught Helen Keller to see and express herself.
"The script has an old-fashioned quality. Lots and lots of dialogue. So we trimmed it to be tight, visceral, and very physical. For the first 15 minutes, we didn't use scenes, just the voices of the characters."
Annie Sullivan often used aggressive measures to teach Keller. "Deborah [Gilmour Smyth, who played Sullivan] and Carolyn Cadigan [Keller] willingly went to tough places physically
"That show got us more attention from the media: 'this company might actually be artists of real quality - not just a band of Christian hippies.'"
The performance began in total darkness for the first two minutes.Then a single light - a simple par can - made a slow rise, forming a small circle center-stage. Fingers, then a hand, reached into the circle. Meet Helen Keller.
3.) Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1989, 1990, 1993, 2000, 2007). "The one that did it. Lamb's first mega-hit. It allowed us to produce in other venues."
Joseph's usually done as a star vehicle/bauble. Lamb's took the story seriously - and kept the humor. No mean feat.
"We trimmed the cast down. Three actors for the 11 brothers required frantic costume changes. We played it both very funny and full of heart."
The Lamb's theater in National City was in-the-round and seated only 172. "We couldn't afford to produce only in that little space. The success of Joseph gave us the courage, the next year, to rent the Lyceum downtown."
Joseph opened at the Lyceum in 1990 and ran for six months. Lamb's went on to stage shows at the Lyceum for the next 17 years.
4.) The Foreigner (1988, 1991, 1996). Larry Shue wrote two of the funniest comedies of the early 80s: The Nerd andThe Foreigner (even his stage directions, which the audience never hears, can crack you up!). He died in a plane crash in 1985, age 39.
"What a lost treasure is Larry Shue! His humor's a gold mine. It's not just witty comedy. And he's not cynical. It's that all too rare combination: hilarious and satirical, but with real heart."
Lamb's produced Foreigner three times. "As a testament to the strength of the material, completely different casts made it work. Plus we had Tom Stephenson and Dave Heath playing the lead."
Three hundred productions! And that doesn't count Lamb's educational outreach programs. Numbers five through eight tomorrow.