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Stories by Jeff Smith

The decision resonates like few in Shakespeare

Caught between avenging “high wrongs” or choosing the “rarer action” of virtue

Prospero has every reason to be furious. When he was Duke of Milan, he was a passive ruler, one who would much rather study “white magic” than enact an edict. Then, twelve years before Shakespeare’s ...

The Squirrels has the makings

But it plays more like notes for a second draft

The ancient philosopher Epicurus said, “Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.” Scurius is the patriarch of the squirrels on his tree. He’s a Gray squirrel and lives square in ...

A mind overthrown

You could almost call the play Inside of Our Heads

During its early scenes, a play makes a kind of pact with the audience: “Here is tonight’s theatrical world.” It could be cartoony absurd or Victorian Gingerbread Age ornate. But this is default mode, how ...

The tangled -isms of Native Gardens

Each year sees several plays about two couples who begin amicably and end up as flying body parts

Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall" contains a character who repeats the line “good fences make good neighbors” like it's a kind of mantra. Karen Zacharias’ Native Gardens begs to differ. Most of the 90-minute comedy ...

Cherchez la femme in Afghanistan

Both on stage and in the story, the women are directed

When they first meet, Mariam can’t stand young Laila. With good reason: in her early 30s, Mariam’s the dutiful wife of Rasheed, an abusive control freak. To him, she’s lower than a house cat. Now ...

Controlled chaos

The dashes become madder, the hand-offs quicker, and the stage becomes a whirling kaleidoscope.

Noises from backstage during a performance — i.e. “noises off” — are one of the great bugaboos of live theater. They could be anything: flubbed costume changes, microphone left on, missing prop. They yank us ...

The Wanderers: a play that unfolds like a book

It even has “Chapters.” “Marriage,” “Children,” “Boredom,” “Destruction.”

A divorced friend on a collision course with #2 confessed: “I don’t choose well. Maybe someone should pick ex- #3 for me, like an arranged marriage.” Anna Ziegler’s The Wanderers, in a world premiere at ...

Plays and actors to look out for in San Diego

Not overwhelmed, but definitely whelmed

Director in demand — Christopher Ashley 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 ...

It’s true what they say about Hamilton

Faster and deeper

Art can alter life, literally. In 2015, the Treasury Department planned to take Alexander Hamilton’s portrait off the ten-dollar bill. The indefatigable Founding Father was too controversial (he came close to advocating dictatorship and a ...

San Diego Hamilton worshipers get theirs

Worship it

Hamilton, the Musical is coming! Hamilton is almost here! Beginning January 9, and ending January 28, the most decorated Broadway show in eons will run at the San Diego Civic Theatre. Lin-Manuel Miranda, genius, based ...

The most dazzling show ever staged at the La Jolla Playhouse

Summer — disco in a jiff

"Toot, ahhhhh, beep-beep... Toot-toot, ahhhhh, beep-beep.” People of a certain age will recognize Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” from its first few notes. These may also conjure visions of glitter balls and strobe effects — timed ...

InnerMission's Falling: rarely happy

Autistics lack internal brain map

InnerMission Theatres’ starkly realistic, deeply moving production of Deanna Jent’s Falling closes this Saturday. It deserves a much longer run. About halfway into the 80-minute piece, teenaged Lisa Martin tells her mother, Tami, she wants ...

Taste? Nuance? — Too last century

Hand to God will make you squirm

In this era of manic video games and computer graphics, everything is all in. Used to be, when someone fell in a movie, they’d clear the window, or whatever, free-fall for a spell, and you’d ...

Characters crave spotlight but throw away lines

Cygnet reacting to local theater belting-out?

Mark Twain wrote: “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” Matthew Lopez’s Legend of Georgia McBride is a stencil-thin, though often ...

African-American experience starts off with the Odyssey

Intrepid Theater stages one of the most important plays of our era

Suzan-Lori Parks loathes safe theater. The “insidious, schmaltz-laden mode of expression threatens to cover us all, like Vesuvius, in our sleep.” She writes “don’t be afraid to show your ass” plays to “defend dramatic literature ...

The torture of being Korean

Defector from the North, goose father from the South

Much of Hansol Jung’s Wild Goose Dreams takes place in a cyberspace Babel. Throngs of voices, mantras of zeroes and ones, and pop-up ads scream for attention, pinball off each other, and drift away. If ...

Ethel Tulloch Banks: union leader and healer

Strong woman in the "jungle days" of the San Diego post office

Ethel Tulloch Banks believed in miracles. For years she fought for miraculous changes at her workplace — and may have lived one herself. Tulloch was a clerk at the San Diego Post Office. In January ...

Betty the Loon never had a dream with a happy ending

Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds — always popular with teenagers

Mr. Goodman and his colleagues at the local high school are convinced Beatrice Hunsdorfer is insane. Every time she calls the school, she’s either too syrupy-calm or tongue-ablaze raving. Does she love her daughters — ...

Hamlet — infinite tragedy

Grantham Coleman flaps his arms chicken-wing, he bobble-heads

You could say that Shakespeare’s Hamlet wakes up in the ultimate actor’s nightmare. He’s thrust onstage with no training. He’ll perform without rehearsals, or even peeking at the text. He must find out the play ...

Kill Local brings savagery to La Jolla Playhouse

This family all kills

Mat Smart’s Kill Local opens way up in a high-rise either under construction or in development-limbo. Yellow “Caution” tape demarcates where windows will be, or should have been. Same with a ladder and orange wheelbarrow ...

Maid Marian has Errol Flynn's DNA

Ken Ludwig's Robin Hood shows friendly little warp

It’s difficult to characterize Ken Ludwig’s Robin Hood, now in its world premiere at the Old Globe. It isn’t the 1938 swashbuckling movie, The Adventures of Robin Hood, where elongated shadows of Errol Flynn and ...

At the Old Place makes Chekhov seem operatic

La Jolla Playhouse's string of premieres

The La Jolla Playhouse is doing whole seasons with only world premieres. From musicals (artistic director Christopher Ashley won a Tony Award for his direction of the Playhouse’s Come From Away) to drama (Rebecca Taichman ...

Guys and Dolls — high-brow and low-brow

Old Globe takes over from colleges and high schools

Frank Loesser (1910–1969) grew up in such a refined household, he had to rebel. His family spoke elegant sentences, and his older brother was a classical pianist. So Loesser chose the wilder side. He cultivated ...

Breath of kings

No gaudy excesses or cartooned foppery in this King Richard

"Not all the water in the rough rude sea/ Can wash the balm from an anointed king./ The breath of worldly men cannot depose/ The deputy elected by the Lord.” Richard of Bordeaux became King ...

Songs appear like far-off islands in Escape to Margaritaville

Rachel slams the same door on Tully that he’s been slamming on his conquests.

Times change. When Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” came out in 1977, the singer couldn’t find his salt shaker for said beverage. One might have thought, Poor dude, it won’t be the same. Today, the health-conscious would ...

Opposing views of American history, from Jim Crow to the Harlem Renaissance and Civil Rights

The Delaney Sisters don’t like to be called “African-Americans.”

New Village Arts’ Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years is one of that company’s best shows in its 16 seasons. Sarah L. “Sadie” and Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany don’t like to be called ...

PigPen’s doozy about the end of the world

Chaos or wife?

The Old Globe’s multileveled set for The Old Man and the Old Moon — pilings, planks, and wooden boxes — suggests an ancient wharf. Downstage footlights and roughhewn boards say a 19th-century theater. As the ...

Silent Sky: Henrietta Leavitt goes beyond the Milky Way

Harvard Observatory at Lamb's Players

Sean Fanning has done it again. The Designer of the Year for 2016 converted Lamb’s Players’ stage into the Harvard Observatory. Laura Gunderson’s Silent Sky begins early in the 20th Century. Harvard has the state-of-the-art ...

Into the Beautiful North has a little Oz

Stop the bandits

If Tres Camarones (“three shrimp”) actually existed, the small fishing village would be about 35 miles south of Mazatlan on the Gulf of California. According to Into the Beautiful North — Karen Zacharias’s new play ...

Hounded by thugs

Old Globe’s Red Velvet has one strong scene

Lolita Chakrabarti wrote a mediocre play about an important subject. The Old Globe Theatre’s puzzling, under-rehearsed opening night was no help. There are great reasons why our Calvin Manson named his company the Ira Aldridge ...

See the elephant and all its meanings before Abundance closes

From wide-eyed dreams to unthinkable terrors

Last call Backyard Renaissance’s fine production of Beth Henley’s Abundance must close this Sunday. The play begins in the late 1860s. Bess and Macon, mail order brides, come to the wild Wyoming Territory to wed ...

Farce reigns On the 20th Century train

Cygnet puts the loco in locomotive

Theatrical wizard David Belasco (1853–1931) was a major link between 19th- and 20th-century theater. Instead of deep-fried, scenery-chomping acting, he demanded a more naturalistic style and detailed sets famous for their “tidiness.” He banished footlights ...

Write Out Loud presents Read-Imagine-Create finalists

Wide-open choices free students from narrow responses.

I want to plug a project that’s dear to my heart. Founded in 2007, Write Out Loud has a commitment “to inspire, challenge, and entertain by reading short stories aloud for a live audience.” Their ...

Frontier life shreds

Moxie Theatre's Abundance is a dime novel in reverse

In the latter half of the 19th Century, larger-than-life characters such as Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill (for whom Slue-Foot Sue just wasn’t good enough) filled the pages of dime novels and pulp-fiction magazines. They ...

Come From Away hits Broadway

The reviews are in: from favorable to mixed to negative

The La Jolla Playhouse’s Come From Away opened last Sunday at Broadway’s Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th Street. The Irene Sankoff/David Hein musical tells the upbeat story of over 6700 airline passengers stranded in ...

Diversionary double feature must close

Last call for Lisa Kron's Well and 2.5 Minute Ride

Diversionary Theatre’s Lisa Kron double feature must close this Sunday (March 19). Though written eight years apart (2.5 Minute Ride premiered in 1996, Well in 2004), the pieces have a common theme: how to portray ...

Implications of The Blameless

World premiere of comedy about gun violence avoids the pain

Youth and gun violence: the topic’s so unthinkable, a saint’s empathy couldn’t reach its bottomless agony. Nick Gandiello’s world premiere of The Blameless uses a multi-genre approach to the subject. But it’s several drafts and ...

Anonymous and Alpha

San Diego Rep stages Sex with Strangers

When he learns the cabin has no wi-fi, he shouts, “I can’t get online. People will think I’m dead!”

Dracula is rather a fearless fellow

My acting bucket list: Ruff Yeager

Actor, writer, director, and cofounder of the Roustabouts, a new theater company: Ruff Yeager Titus, Titus Andronicus, by William Shakespeare. “First, you need to understand that I’m not a fan of the horror genre or ...

Insalubrious karma

Lisa Kron’s Well and 2.5 Minute Ride in repertory at the Diversionary

Lisa Kron’s mother Ann has been chronically ill for decades. So why can’t she get better? Come on. Other people do. They have ailments for years then suddenly heal and move on with their lives. ...

Fear of a black-man label

Blue Door closing, but not without revelation

LAST CALL. Moxie Theatre’s excellent production of Tanya Barfield’s Blue Door must close this Sunday. It’s said Moxie is a “women-centered” theater. That’s not completely true. Here’s an exception. In Leo Tolstoy’s novella The Death ...

An Iliad's epic-ness must stop

New Village Arts' production to close Sunday

Last call: Theater in January and February usually begins in slow motion. Not this season. One show must close this Sunday. Two have been reprieved. An Iliad at New Village Arts. Homer’s epic poem in ...

Moxie’s Blue Door confronts evil spirits

Soul family

Moxie Theatre is conjuring African-American history from Tanya Barfield’s healing nightmare Blue Door. When you enter Moxie’s intimate space, you won’t see a door or the color blue. Instead, five pale gray, diaphanous panels stretch ...

An Iliad at New Village Arts

Broomstick as spear, trench coat as armor

She enters through the loading-dock doors at New Village Arts. Behind her, cars gleam under parking-lot lights and music drifts in from a nearby nightspot. She wears a strange coffee-brown helmet and sweat-soaked military togs, ...

Freaky Friday at La Jolla Playhouse

There may be monsters under the bed after all

It may be critic-proof. Bridget Carpenter’s (book), Tom Kitt’s (music), and Brian Yorkey’s (lyrics) new musical comedy is undemanding and thoroughly predictable — even if you haven’t read Mary Rogers’s 1972 novel, seen the 1976 ...

Theater moves at human speed

Go see a show!

San Diego has an international reputation for quality theater. And far too many locals aren’t aware of it. In the past 25 years, we’ve sent at least 45 shows to Broadway. We average around two ...

Congrats, thespians

San Diego Theater Critics Circle awards for 2016

The San Diego Theater Critics Circle held its 12th annual awards ceremony on February 4. Congratulations to the winners, the nominees, and the entire community of theater artists for one heck of a year. Designer ...

San Diego theater awareness month

Awards for it and a whole week of it in February

Craig Noel Awards A reminder: The San Diego Theater Critics Circle will hold its annual awards ceremony on Monday, February 6, at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation at 404 Euclid Street, in Lincoln Park. ...

Bad Jews at Cygnet Theatre

They try to shred each other

The title screams for attention. And through most of Joshua Harmon’s 90-minute comedy/drama, two cousins scream at each other. To each, the other deserves the play’s title. Liam Haber says his cousin Daphna has a ...

New Fortune Theatre risks epic revenge with Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Scandalous discords

At the beginning of Shakespeare’s soaring tragedy, Marc Antony tells Cleopatra: “Now, for the love of Love and her soft hours, let’s not confound the time with conference harsh. There’s not a minute of our ...

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