San Diego outdoors: Aida, animal tracks, rugby, SUP with dogs, 1800s Old Town, waterski and wakeboard
Indoors: WWI San Diego, complete history of theater, Christopher Plummer, pickles, Van Gogh-Gaughin, Martina McBride
11:50 a.m., June 28
A gun went off a year ago, when the Old Town Theatre became available. Cygnet Theatre, which signed a ten-year lease with the state, had 12 months to bring the space up to code, renovate, and stage its first show. Last weekend Cygnet cut the ribbon and opened with a lush, though a tad wordy, new version of Charles Dickens's Christmas Carol. The one-year achievement's amazing, and would be even if the economy were coming up roses. Plus, the familiar story's a tough choice for a shakedown cruise. It calls for a full integration of design elements and a flexible cast in multiple roles. The strengths of the production, along with Jim Chovick's Scrooge (who could curmudge more but whose awakening's a gem), are its visuals. Unlike at Cygnet's Rolando space, now director Sean Murray has a much larger canvas: a tall ceiling and deeper stage (and a trap door) to work with. Murray utilizes all with abundant theatricality and arresting pictorials: as when Amanda Cooley-Davis's Ghost of Christmas Past rises from the basement, of Sean Fanning's appropriately grim Victorian set, as a cold, white icicle. Matthew Novotny's spooky shadows, gobo branches, and slender cones of light are always a plus, as are Tom Christ's animations on the tall rear doors. The cast has many local favorites - Craig Huisenga, Annie Hinton, Manny Fernandes, Paul Kruse - and new faces (in a role that often jerks tears with a crowbar, Max Oilman-Williams's Tiny Tim is just right). The book, also by Murray, honors Dickens's narrative almost to a fault, but it is more than serviceable. It could use a trim in the back and down the sides, and now that the dust of a year's renovation has cleared, Murray may have time to crop it.