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Stories by Jeff Smith

Moon Over Buffalo: to perform farce well

"Like living in an asylum on the guards' day off."

Ken Ludwig’s farce Moon Over Buffalo takes place backstage at the Erlanger Theatre in 1953. For the North Coast Rep, Marty Burnett’s set is so authentic, it could have been transported by time machine from ...

A hard sit

You can escape Nazis, but you can’t escape family

Sometimes novelists tell a story backward, from finish to start. In theater, “reverse chronology” is rare. Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, one of the few successes, begins after the end of an affair and backpedals seven years ...

The cast could do much more

Doug’s ghost practically taunts Mike with forgiveness

Clint Black, country music star, produced his sixth studio album in 1995. Looking for Christmas explores the feelings the holidays generate, from standing “Under the Mistletoe,” to the wise, self-deprecating, “Slow as Christmas”: “Every Christmas ...

Shock space

Nora and Torvald end up on the bare wooden floor.

Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2 begins where Henrik Ibsen’s masterpiece A Doll’s House ends. After 15 years on her own in the world, Nora Helmer returns to the door she slammed on her ...

Pessimistic, paralyzed, and sexy

By comparison, happiness looks like a sweaty pig.

Act one, scene two, of Hamlet begins with jubilation. King Claudius and Queen Gertrude celebrate their marriage. Rhinish wine spills from gleaming goblets. Bright colors swirl around the stage. Over in a corner — usually ...

Dickens for a day

Drood became the first Broadway musical using audience participation for the ending.

Young Charles Dickens worked as a law clerk. He delivered documents and ran errands and was bored beyond tears. He wanted to be a court stenographer – record an entire trial verbatim – but it ...

Not so black-and-white

“Actually is about rape, but also The Title IX system which some accuse of making snap judgements.”

A friend compares history – i.e. what actually happened – to the Big Bang. He’s studied the JFK assassination for decades and says he can put three shooters in position: one in the Book Depository, ...

Trauma so intense

If she ever falls in love, her mate will die in a hundred days.

In “Hungry Heart,” Bruce Springstein sings: “We fell in love, I knew it had to end.” Wait! Hold up there, Boss. Zero to 60 and back, like that? What about love is love and not ...

Call it the Hamilton Effect

Contemporary slang and F-bombs feel too linguistically liberated

“I am a revolution!” shouts Mary Woolley in Bryna Turner’s Bull in a China Shop, based on the famous teacher, activist, and President of Mount Holyoke College. She wants to convert the college from a ...

The Heart of Rock & Roll goes flat line

“They have not only crammed the songs into a formulaic story, they have Broadway-ized the music.”

The Heart of Rock & Roll goes flat line

What is this, a rough draft?

It skips back and forth in time and parses out bits of conflicting information.

What is this, a rough draft?

Self-absorbed black hole of a tyrant

“When he comes back, will I be ready?”

Self-absorbed black hole of a tyrant

Reigning from below

Instead of a heartfelt hug, Inna fires a hard right cross to Reina’s chin.

Martyna Majok’s ambitious Queens plays like a prospector who has found a giant gold nugget in the wilderness. Problem is: the prospector hasn’t a wagon big enough to carry it out, or an axe to ...

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 ...

San Diego Reader 2018 arts issue

Movies, theater, artsy spots, special nonprofits, textiles, classical music, dance, Rotten Tomatoes

No better musical experience of its kind in the world (!) Opera, symphony, Mainly Mozart, L.J Music Society, Bach Collegium, ProArte Voices. By Garrett Harris Used T-shirts, medical gauze, old hankies — The faction of ...

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 ...

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