These shows must close this Sunday, November 2 — aka “Black Sunday,” given their high quality.
The Royale, Old Globe Theatre
One of the year’s best directed shows is so well done you’d think Marco Ramirez wrote it specifically for the Old Globe’s in-the-round, White Theatre. Jay “The Sport” Johnson, modeled after the legendary African-American boxer Jack Johnson, battles opponents, a racist society, and demons within. They all appear in a finale at once strikingly original and deeply moving. Director Rachel Chavkin has turned a slender script into a ritualized conjuration of an era we should not forget. The fully-committed cast claps, stomps the floor, shouts “ha,” and pounds a pulse-like rhythm throughout the intermissionless one-act. And thanks to excellent lighting and sound effects, the various fights take place as much in your mind as on the stage. Robert Christopher Riley slowly unpeels Johnson’s epic mask, and the amazing Montego Glover, as his sister Nina, shadows him like a second self he cannot shake.
She-Rantulas From Outer Space, Diversionary Theatre
Phil Johnson and Ruff Yeager have revised their “fartire” (a combination, they say, of farce and satire) of B-horror movies of the Fifties. The changes have improved the already funny shenanigans at Tarrytown, USA, in 1957, where people are disappearing with haunting alacrity and Betty’s daughter Suzie (Tony Houck) is growing what? – coffee brown, spikey Tarantula legs?- and scheming on all who come their way. And all the while Betty (Phil Johnson) tries to maintain the squeaky clean veneer of a traditional Fifties housewife (aka the pristine ancestors of the Stepford Wives). Fred Harlow, Andy Collins, and Melinda Gilb all contribute in multiple roles, and make costume – and wig – changes in a flash.
True West and Fool for Love, Cygnet Theatre
Written three years apart (1980 and 1983), Sam Shepard’s two plays are like sides of the same coin (and, he wrote, about being “two-sided”). True West begins as “naturalistic,” then devolves, as do the identities of Austin and Lee. The brothers begin as opposites, apparently. As their rivalry escalates, each snake-dances into the other’s psyche. Fool for Love is, and is not, set in a motel at the edge of the Mojave. Much of it happens in the minds of Eddie and May and their father’s ghost, sitting in a corner sipping whiskey. As in The Royale, it also takes place in yours, as notions of what is real collide with phantoms and demons in some ways even more real. The titles suggest a collective comment on the plays. What is “true” and who, if there is one, is the “fool”? Or, maybe more to the point, who isn’t?
Les Miserables, Lamb’s Players
One of the finest all-locally produced, staged, and performed shows in San Diego theater history. It’s been extended several times and there’ve been some cast changes (Randall Dodge, who had to leave, is back as Javert) but from all I’ve heard, it’s grown and grown. It must close this Sunday. Were this the best of all possible theater towns, Lamb’s smash hit could probably run for years.