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Plays and actors to look out for in San Diego

Not overwhelmed, but definitely whelmed

The Roustabouts' Margin of Error - Image by Daren Scott
The Roustabouts' Margin of Error

Director in demand — Christopher Ashley

Place

La Jolla Playhouse

2910 La Jolla Village Drive, San Diego

Christopher Ashley won Tony for best director of a musical, Come From Away.

The La Jolla Playhouse’s artistic director Christopher Ashley won the 2017 Tony Award for best director of a musical, the playhouse’s Broadway hit Come From Away. So, what’s he up to lately? He has directed the Canadian touring production of Come From Away and will direct the film version. He has begun rehearsals for the Playhouse’s Jimmy Buffet musical, Escape to Margaritaville, on Broadway (previews begin February 16). In late May/early June he will launch the playhouse’s new season with the world premiere of Robert Askins’s The Squirrels, about an epic battle between the fat and sassy Gray Squirrels vs. the hungry Fox Squirrels, “and the animal instincts driving us all” (Atkins’s wacko Hand to God played at the Rep last year). Later in the season he will direct the world premiere musical Diana — about Lady Di — with the Tony Award–winning team for Memphis, Joe DiPietro and David Bryan. And how have you filled your day?

Falling, an InnerMission Productions play

Beachtown

Place

San Diego Repertory Theatre

79 Horton Plaza, San Diego

Herbert Siguenza and Rachel Grossman have written “the most interactive, immersive show in Rep history,” based on the play Beertown, by dog and pony dc (an intentionally non-capitalized theater company in our nation’s capital).

Sean Fanning's set for Silent Sky

Beachtown, a small local community, wants to fill a time capsule with objects that best represent the values “of this beautiful place we call home.” At the town’s Time Capsule Celebration, along with live music and dessert from the community potluck, “Beachtonians” ­— the Rep audience — will debate which objects to include. What are Beachtown’s — San Diego’s — values held in common? The Celebration aims to break down barriers and “discover our shared dreams for the future.” The nightly debates promise to be “democracy in action.” Or, more likely the case, a dismantling of same.

Kevin Antenhill — among the few locals who writes his own compositions

Uncle Vanya

Place

Old Globe Theatre

1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego

An upcoming production looks really promising: the Old Globe’s revival of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Two main reasons: it’s a great play rarely done (San Diego must be allergic to Chekhov), and Richard Nelson has translated it with Richard Pevar and Larissa Volmkhonsky, noted for their translations of Russian works). Nelson also directs. He’s a major theatrical talent, known for his strong opinions. Some of his plays are: Goodnight Children Everywhere, Two Shakespearean Actors, James Joyce’s The Dead (a musical), and Some Americans Abroad. Vanya’s like a shake-out-the-dust interlude amid ongoing torpor. All people do at Professor Sebrayakov’s country estate is get older and complain about it. Then the celebrated academic shows up with his much younger wife. He wants to sell the estate, and the interlude prompts heated self-assessment. Opening night, February 15.

Roustabouts

Phil Johnson, Ruff Yeager, and Will Cooper formed Roustabouts last year because “San Diego had no home for new plays,” says Johnson. “People were excited about new works — but from New York.” The Roustabouts did two productions in 2017: Margin of Error, a drama by Will Cooper, and Withering Heights, by Omri Schein and Phil Johnson. Both earned favorable reviews. So, what’s it like to start a new company in San Diego? Johnson: “We fledgling producers had a steep learning curve. We weren’t overwhelmed, but were definitely ‘whelmed,’ and often. We lost actors, jumped hoops for the IRS, and had to learn about 500 new skill sets. If only we could exist in more than one dimension and have 48 hours in a day.…”

For 2018, Roustabouts will continue its Reading Series of classics and new works by local authors (plus a concert of Sondheim’s Anyone Can Whistle). They will also stage Johnson and Marnie Freedman’s A Jewish Joke, a “drama about comedy” and the blacklists of the ’50s, and Ruff Yeager’s Romeo, Romeo and Juliet, which asks: “What happens when you add another Romeo to Shakespeare’s immortal couple?” Shows in April and June at the Lyceum Theatre (downtown) and Diversionary Theatre (University Heights).

InnerMission Productions

Place

Diversionary Theatre

4545 Park Boulevard, San Diego

InnerMission Productions has emerged as a fearless, feisty company. They occupy one of the smallest spaces in town (Diversionary Theatre’s “black box” seats 49) and have been filling it with quality shows: among them one of last year’s best: Deanna Jent’s Falling, about parents with a child “on the spectrum.” For next season, InnerMission has landed the rights to Sarah Ruhl’s Melancholy Play (2002). This is a coup. Many say the contemporary farce is a good introduction to her funny, surrealistic, often brilliant work. San Diego has already had productions of her Eurydice, In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play, and Dead Man’s Cell Phone. Her latest: How to Transcend a Happy Marriage. About Melancholy Play, a critic wrote: “You worry that bad things happen to good people? Here really strange things happen to all people.” Some, like Frank, turn into an almond. Others break into song with no motivation. And all check themselves in mirrors to make sure they haven’t become an almond since last they looked.

Designer in demand — Sean Fanning

Last year, Sean Fanning designed 14 sets for local productions. “That’s a busy season,” he says, “even for me.” Though it’s tough for him to choose, did he have favorites? “I loved everything about the process and outcome of Bad Jews and On the Twentieth Century at Cygnet, and putting together woman-centered productions such as The Diary of Anne Frank at Moxie, Silent Sky at Lamb’s Players, and Black Pearl Sings at the Rep.” Future projects include Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music at Cygnet and Herbert Siguenza and Rachel Grossman’s Beachtown at the San Diego Rep. “I’ll find myself in tech for about a show per month, which is a great pace. But don’t be fooled. Since every design starts at least three to four months prior to opening, at any given time I’ll be working at different stages on three or four shows at the same time.”

Does he foresee another 14 sets for 2018? “Probably not. But then again, I thought I’d only have 12 shows out of 12 months last year and you know, at the last minute, sometimes you take an extra gig or two.”

Soundman — Kevin Antenhill

Sound designs are often like playing the tuba. They should be more felt than heard. Ask any stagehand/technician. They’ll tell you that sound designer Kevin Anthenill is one of the heroes of local theater. His recent work includes scoring The Last Wife for Cygnet and soundwork for San Diego Musical Theatre’s The Full Monty. He may be among the few local sound designers who, when applicable, writes his own compositions. He wrote scores for Man in the Moon Marigolds, When the Rain Stops Falling, and Bad Jews at Cygnet; and Disgraced and Sex with Strangers at the Rep. This is original music, not sampling and collaging of existing material. His most recent: an original score for Cygnet’s The Last Wife. Along with music created for a specific production, he is renowned for well-produced tracks that blend seamlessly with the shows he works on.

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The Roustabouts' Margin of Error - Image by Daren Scott
The Roustabouts' Margin of Error

Director in demand — Christopher Ashley

Place

La Jolla Playhouse

2910 La Jolla Village Drive, San Diego

Christopher Ashley won Tony for best director of a musical, Come From Away.

The La Jolla Playhouse’s artistic director Christopher Ashley won the 2017 Tony Award for best director of a musical, the playhouse’s Broadway hit Come From Away. So, what’s he up to lately? He has directed the Canadian touring production of Come From Away and will direct the film version. He has begun rehearsals for the Playhouse’s Jimmy Buffet musical, Escape to Margaritaville, on Broadway (previews begin February 16). In late May/early June he will launch the playhouse’s new season with the world premiere of Robert Askins’s The Squirrels, about an epic battle between the fat and sassy Gray Squirrels vs. the hungry Fox Squirrels, “and the animal instincts driving us all” (Atkins’s wacko Hand to God played at the Rep last year). Later in the season he will direct the world premiere musical Diana — about Lady Di — with the Tony Award–winning team for Memphis, Joe DiPietro and David Bryan. And how have you filled your day?

Falling, an InnerMission Productions play

Beachtown

Place

San Diego Repertory Theatre

79 Horton Plaza, San Diego

Herbert Siguenza and Rachel Grossman have written “the most interactive, immersive show in Rep history,” based on the play Beertown, by dog and pony dc (an intentionally non-capitalized theater company in our nation’s capital).

Sean Fanning's set for Silent Sky

Beachtown, a small local community, wants to fill a time capsule with objects that best represent the values “of this beautiful place we call home.” At the town’s Time Capsule Celebration, along with live music and dessert from the community potluck, “Beachtonians” ­— the Rep audience — will debate which objects to include. What are Beachtown’s — San Diego’s — values held in common? The Celebration aims to break down barriers and “discover our shared dreams for the future.” The nightly debates promise to be “democracy in action.” Or, more likely the case, a dismantling of same.

Kevin Antenhill — among the few locals who writes his own compositions

Uncle Vanya

Place

Old Globe Theatre

1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego

An upcoming production looks really promising: the Old Globe’s revival of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Two main reasons: it’s a great play rarely done (San Diego must be allergic to Chekhov), and Richard Nelson has translated it with Richard Pevar and Larissa Volmkhonsky, noted for their translations of Russian works). Nelson also directs. He’s a major theatrical talent, known for his strong opinions. Some of his plays are: Goodnight Children Everywhere, Two Shakespearean Actors, James Joyce’s The Dead (a musical), and Some Americans Abroad. Vanya’s like a shake-out-the-dust interlude amid ongoing torpor. All people do at Professor Sebrayakov’s country estate is get older and complain about it. Then the celebrated academic shows up with his much younger wife. He wants to sell the estate, and the interlude prompts heated self-assessment. Opening night, February 15.

Roustabouts

Phil Johnson, Ruff Yeager, and Will Cooper formed Roustabouts last year because “San Diego had no home for new plays,” says Johnson. “People were excited about new works — but from New York.” The Roustabouts did two productions in 2017: Margin of Error, a drama by Will Cooper, and Withering Heights, by Omri Schein and Phil Johnson. Both earned favorable reviews. So, what’s it like to start a new company in San Diego? Johnson: “We fledgling producers had a steep learning curve. We weren’t overwhelmed, but were definitely ‘whelmed,’ and often. We lost actors, jumped hoops for the IRS, and had to learn about 500 new skill sets. If only we could exist in more than one dimension and have 48 hours in a day.…”

For 2018, Roustabouts will continue its Reading Series of classics and new works by local authors (plus a concert of Sondheim’s Anyone Can Whistle). They will also stage Johnson and Marnie Freedman’s A Jewish Joke, a “drama about comedy” and the blacklists of the ’50s, and Ruff Yeager’s Romeo, Romeo and Juliet, which asks: “What happens when you add another Romeo to Shakespeare’s immortal couple?” Shows in April and June at the Lyceum Theatre (downtown) and Diversionary Theatre (University Heights).

InnerMission Productions

Place

Diversionary Theatre

4545 Park Boulevard, San Diego

InnerMission Productions has emerged as a fearless, feisty company. They occupy one of the smallest spaces in town (Diversionary Theatre’s “black box” seats 49) and have been filling it with quality shows: among them one of last year’s best: Deanna Jent’s Falling, about parents with a child “on the spectrum.” For next season, InnerMission has landed the rights to Sarah Ruhl’s Melancholy Play (2002). This is a coup. Many say the contemporary farce is a good introduction to her funny, surrealistic, often brilliant work. San Diego has already had productions of her Eurydice, In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play, and Dead Man’s Cell Phone. Her latest: How to Transcend a Happy Marriage. About Melancholy Play, a critic wrote: “You worry that bad things happen to good people? Here really strange things happen to all people.” Some, like Frank, turn into an almond. Others break into song with no motivation. And all check themselves in mirrors to make sure they haven’t become an almond since last they looked.

Designer in demand — Sean Fanning

Last year, Sean Fanning designed 14 sets for local productions. “That’s a busy season,” he says, “even for me.” Though it’s tough for him to choose, did he have favorites? “I loved everything about the process and outcome of Bad Jews and On the Twentieth Century at Cygnet, and putting together woman-centered productions such as The Diary of Anne Frank at Moxie, Silent Sky at Lamb’s Players, and Black Pearl Sings at the Rep.” Future projects include Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music at Cygnet and Herbert Siguenza and Rachel Grossman’s Beachtown at the San Diego Rep. “I’ll find myself in tech for about a show per month, which is a great pace. But don’t be fooled. Since every design starts at least three to four months prior to opening, at any given time I’ll be working at different stages on three or four shows at the same time.”

Does he foresee another 14 sets for 2018? “Probably not. But then again, I thought I’d only have 12 shows out of 12 months last year and you know, at the last minute, sometimes you take an extra gig or two.”

Soundman — Kevin Antenhill

Sound designs are often like playing the tuba. They should be more felt than heard. Ask any stagehand/technician. They’ll tell you that sound designer Kevin Anthenill is one of the heroes of local theater. His recent work includes scoring The Last Wife for Cygnet and soundwork for San Diego Musical Theatre’s The Full Monty. He may be among the few local sound designers who, when applicable, writes his own compositions. He wrote scores for Man in the Moon Marigolds, When the Rain Stops Falling, and Bad Jews at Cygnet; and Disgraced and Sex with Strangers at the Rep. This is original music, not sampling and collaging of existing material. His most recent: an original score for Cygnet’s The Last Wife. Along with music created for a specific production, he is renowned for well-produced tracks that blend seamlessly with the shows he works on.

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