La Jolla Playhouse Presents SUMO in a Co-Production with Ma-Yi Theater Company

Playwright Lisa Sanaye Dring Shines a Light on the Ritual as Well as the Healing Aspects  that Embody this Art of Combat 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

(L-R) David Shih, Ryan Nebreja and Kris Bona. Photo by Rich Soublet II.

I believe that this past year and a half of theatre has been so varied and experimental, packed with new diverse works. Works that, at the absolute affirmation of sounding cheesy, have touched my heart in different ways. La Jolla Playhouse presented the world premiere of SUMO written by Lisa Sanaye Dring, in a co-production with New York-based Ma-Yi Theater Company. With the continued struggle in the performing arts, companies are looking into innovative ways to produce and present in order to lighten or bear the significant costs of putting on a show. This co-production between Ma-Yi and the Playhouse is going beyond costs and presentations as Ma-Yi's primary mission is to develop and produce new and innovative plays by Asian American writers. In the last 20 years, the company has produced New York-based playwrights. SUMO is part of a new initiative where the company now is "widening the net" to invite Asian American playwrights from all over the country as Producing Artistic Director of Ma-Yi and director of this show, Ralph B. Peña, shared in an interview for Performances Magazine which I will be referencing throughout this piece because it is sort of a roadmap to understanding this show better. And speaking of roadmaps, SUMO was part of the Playhouse's DNA series in 2021, and this to me is proof that the diverse stories are there and have always been there. Commissions are cool yet, looking into stories that are already out there, brings the true pulse of a community to the stage.

SUMO takes place in Tokyo at a dohyō which is a circle made of partially buried rice-straw bales and the wrestling ring where the action takes place and the men train. Akio (Scott Keiji Takeda) is a young 18-year-old student and the person who cleans, cooks and takes care of the sumo wrestlers. Akio observes, takes mental notes, and strives to be the best so that one day not too far away, he can be like one of the men who train there and even better. The place is run by Mitsuo (David Shih) the yokozuna (grand champion), who more often than not, takes advantage of his role and status. As Akio advances, so does his ego, compromising priorities and relationships. Life events along with true friends will aim to steer him back to his orbit. 

Kris Bona, Michael Hisamoto, and Ryan Nebreja play different roles but their main one is as part of the trio of Rikishi who guide the audience through sumo terminology, history, and plot happenings. They bring sighs of relief and tenderness between the heavier scenes. Earl T. Kim as “Shinta,” Miller Tai as “Fumio,” Adam Tran as “Ren,” and Viet Vo as “So,” the men who train at the dohyō and sumo celebrities bring different toned feelings to the mix that range from determination, to love, to frustration, and rage. 

This is a cast with all men, and I am not mad at it. Playwright Lisa Sanaye Dring writes about Japanese men through sumo, and through the training, the toughness, and how things should look like and be, also shines a light on their humanity. Sanaye Dring, who is half-Japanese, lost her mother in 2013 and a month after her death she traveled to Japan and saw a sumo match that was as revealing as it was healing. Combining this review with essay tints regarding Director of Artistic Development Gabriel Greene's interview piece on Performances Magazine, -the one mentioned in the beginning-, Lisa shares "I also find that America creates a space where Asian men have to prove their masculinity to even exist. I wanted to create a place that Asian men could just be men and be strong and not have to deal with the attacks upon their identity that inherently come with living in America.". A mindblowing statement that adds so much to the already multi-layered piece. 

The cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s world premiere of SUMO. Photo by Rich Soublet II.

Having the play written by Lisa and directed by Ralph brings a balanced contrast that lands. Taiko Drummer, Shih-wei Wu powerfully emphasizes the scenes throughout with Fabian Obispo's crisp sound design. Wilson Chin's set design of the dohyō along sliding doors that reveal different settings in the second story, while Shih-wei is at the top of the first with his back to the audience, a creative decision that made the experience even stronger. Hana Kim's projections add a depth and cinematic quality that transport the audience to the different settings in the story pre and post-match as well as a fantastic rendition of a karaoke bar, in great synch with Paul Whitaker's lighting design. Some of Kim's designs reminded me of Yayoi Kusama's pieces with the burst of different colors and patterns.

Evidently, the creative elements are key, especially in a piece like this that is culturally specific. Mariko Ohigashi's costume design and Albert “Albee” Alvarado's wig design illustrate ranks, importance, and meaning. The approach to showing a mostly American audience the sumo art form is complex, and as director Ralph B. Peña shared "this idea of “authenticity” is such a multifaceted discussion". As a non-Japanese, non-Asian person, I believe that as an introduction, it was pretty well done and aimed to stay true by having experts such as Chelsea Pace in the intimacy staging and fight director and Cultural and Martial Arts Consultant James Yaegashi. As a person who also picks up on random things that other people don't, there is this creaking sound that comes out while the actors are walking barefoot on the rubber mat that makes the ring. That sound to me, made it even more real. Call me weird.

Lastly, I will round it out with another quote from Lisa: "I think art can be very beautiful when you’re reaching into the other with humility and compassion. But the problem is that it’s been done carelessly and with colonizing motivations/implications in the past. That is not the intent here and we are trying to represent this community with care. I'm hopeful that this piece will add more grammar to the language that we are trying to build, to ask, “How do we tell stories with each other respectfully and in a way that is healthy and empowering for our culture and for the people we're representing, given the constraints of the form?” 

I want to add that the search for replication, or lack of essentializing, is important when a play is rooted in a mass cultural trauma. Historically, we in the AAPI theatre community are usually invited to tell stories from our home lands when it teaches about a massive traumatic event. This piece is doing something different in that we aren’t proving our humanity by demonstrating our cultural pain. We are leading with our strength.". 

Hopefully, works like this, co-produced with this dynamic, will open the door to bringing more pieces that can be told respectfully and with care in a healthy way. 

When a piece is made with true intention, rooted at the heart, it resonates regardless of race, culture, or geography. 

SUMO resonated with me. 

Currently playing until October 22. For performance dates and times please CLICK HERE.

San Diego Musical Theatre Opens The Addams Family

 In a Charmingly Sassy and Funny Night 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Addams Family. Photo by Mark Holmes

The Addams Family Musical, currently playing at San Diego Musical Theatre in Convoy, offered an evening filled with cuteness, fun, and a generous dose of sass. Under the direction of Carlos Mendoza and choreography by Aaron Pomeroy, this production brings the beloved characters to life with a talented cast and I think the most diverse, along with a creative team that makes an enjoyable theatre experience for the whole family.

The plot encompasses the family we know and love that about a year ago, received another adaptation with the Netflix Series Wednesday and curiously so, has this character in common with the musical as the Addams face how the firstborn is growing up.

Mauricio Mendoza's portrayal of Gomez Addams is nothing short of hilarious. His comedic timing and delivery add a dynamic energy to the show, keeping the audience engaged and entertained throughout. Erika Marie Weisz as Morticia Addams, captures the character's sensual poker face with finesse and also adds a dose of comedic flare that rounds out the performance. Debbie Nicastro as the Grandma is naughty with a great deal of sass and a dose of fun cracks that even though brief, are hilariously solid.

Lena Ceja delivers a strong portrayal as Wednesday Addams, balancing the character's dark and rebellious nature with a touch of vulnerability and a potent voice that hits the high notes through songs like Pulled (my personal fave) and Crazier Than You. At times the intensity was a tad extra, I believe it was due to it being opening night and that throughout the performances, Ceja will also find the middle ground in these details and it will land where it needs to. A.J. Gange as Pugsley Addams is a perfect match for Lena, as the younger brother creating a delightful dynamic between the two siblings. Jackson Marcy brings humor to the stage as Lurch, surprising the audiences with fits of laughter.

The Addams Family at San Diego Musical Theatre

The supporting cast, including Ryan Burtanog as Uncle Fester, Carson Inouye as Wednesday's love interest Lucas Beineke, Alexis Grenier as Alice Beineke, and Ryan Fahey as Mal Beineke brings their unique energy and talent to the production, adding depth to the overall performance, along with the ensemble of ancestors: Grace “Jack” Amador, Laura Bueno, Christine Gillilan, DarRand Hall, Carissa Hamann, Katey Kon-derik-Oducayen, Sarah Pierce, Luis Sherlinee, Nick Siljander, Jaxon Smith, and Eli Wood that create a vibrant and engaging world on stage. 

The set design by Mathys Hebert, lighting design by Michelle Miles, sound design by Brandon Boomizad, and costume design by Chong Mi Land all contribute to the immersive experience. The practical set with moving pieces adapted to the small space as well as the attention to detail in the costumes, transports the audience into the quirky Addams Family mansion, while the lighting and sound design effectively enhance the mood and atmosphere of each scene.

Under the musical direction of Richard Dueñez Morrison, the show's score and songs are brought to life enhancing the storytelling and adding an extra layer of entertainment.

SDMT's The Addams Family Musical is a fun and sassy production that is sure to entertain audiences of all ages. With a talented cast, creative direction, and a hefty dose of Spanish which adds amazing flare, this show offers a good time at the theatre. Currently playing until October 29th, for more information on performance dates and times please click HERE

Major San Diego Theatre Companies Join San Diego Black Artist Collective to Invest in San Diego Talent

 At the First-Ever Audition Lab on Sunday, October 8th beginning at 10 AM at MOXIE Theatre

  • The San Diego Black Artist Collective wants to address the lack of diversity in the local performance artist community by providing a source of information for Black performers and other historically ignored and underrepresented artists to develop their craft.

  • Participants can expect to learn the basics of the audition process, how best to prepare, self-tapes, resumes, headshots, and emergency materials, participate in a mock dance call

  • Moderated panel discussion featuring representatives from The Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse, Diversionary Theatre, MOXIE Theatre, and San Diego Musical Theatre  

Press Release 
The San Diego Black Artist Collective is proud to announce The Audition Lab, an event aimed at fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion in the local theater community. Hosted at MOXIE Theatre on October 8, 2023, this groundbreaking initiative seeks to address historical inequalities within American theater by investing in the San Diego area Talent of Color. The Audition Lab aims to attract Black performers of all experience levels to provide a fresh perspective on industry techniques and current practices, a space for feedback and questions to improve one's skills, and ultimately, a communal space for networking and connection.

The history of American theater is deeply intertwined with issues of class, race, colorism, and colonialism. From the painful legacy of minstrel shows in the 19th century to the continued lack of diversity on Broadway, theater has often mirrored and perpetuated the societal disparities that persist today. However, it also provides a unique platform to challenge these inequities, allowing artists and audiences to engage with the complex fabric of American society.

The Audition Lab represents a significant step toward addressing two recurring issues:

  • From Predominantly White Theatre Companies: "We don't know of/have any Black actors."
  • From Black and Brown Actors: "We don't know where to begin or how to start."

This event strives to bridge these gaps by providing mentorship and training opportunities for aspiring actors from underrepresented communities. By breaking down historical barriers, such as paywall-protected information and training usually gained from pursuing acting in higher education institutions or pricey individual classes, The Audition Lab aims to create a more inclusive and representative theatrical landscape in San Diego and beyond. 

The event will feature:

  • Audition Workshops: Led by experienced professionals in the field, these workshops will provide invaluable insights and training for actors from underrepresented communities looking to refine their audition skills.

  • Networking Opportunities: Participants will have the chance to connect with established theater professionals and gain access to invaluable industry insights and resources.

  • Panel Discussions: Engage in thought-provoking conversations about the past, present, and future of diversity in American theater, led by experts in the field.

  • Community Building: Foster a sense of belonging and collaboration within San Diego's vibrant theater community.

To conclude the momentous day, representatives from some of  San Diego’s leading major theatre companies including Jacole Kitchen (La Jolla Playhouse), Kian Kline-Chilton (Diversionary Theatre), Jill Townsend (San Diego Musical Theatre), Kim Heil (The Old Globe), Desireé Clarke (MOXIE Theatre) with more participants to be announced, will participate in a moderated panel discussion and Q&A about their vision for the future of San Diego Theatre, how they’re investing in diversity efforts on and off stage, as well as demystifying their casting processes. 

The Audition Lab is open to actors of all experience levels, from beginners to seasoned performers, and aims to create a supportive and inclusive environment for all attendees. 

As an artist, it can be challenging to hone one's skills. Together, we can begin to address the root causes of underrepresentation in San Diego theatre, invest in the cultivation of local talent in our communities, and work towards a more equitable and inclusive future for the performing arts as a whole.

For more information about The Audition Lab, please visit or contact and

THE AUDITION LAB is Sunday, October 8th beginning at 10 AM at MOXIE Theatre. 

No registration is required; participants can attend as few or as many workshops as they wish. 

This is a free event with a suggested donation of $20

Interested participants seeking to have their headshot taken should bring $50 to pay the photographer. 

The scheduled list of workshops includes:

10AM Audition Basics

11AM - Disney Live Presentation

12 Noon - Lunch Break

1PM Monologues

2:30 Singing/Musical Theatre

4 PM Dance Call

5:30 PM Moderated Panel

6:30 PM Optional closing mixer


Our mission is to facilitate a foundation of support and resources that provides a sense of community, a safe haven, and a sanctuary for artist development. we are committed to supporting Black artists in San Diego in producing work that is unapologetic, authentic, and healing to the Black experience across the diaspora.

Alaudin Ullah Creatively Meshes Stand-Up Comedy with Theatre While Sharing Touching Life Stories in

 Dishwasher Dreams, Playing in the Round at The Old Globe 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Alaudin Ullah and Avirodh Sharma. Photo by Rich Soublet.
Dishwasher Dreams, an autobiographical solo show written by Alaudin Ullah, recently made its West Coast premiere at The Old Globe, offering a heartfelt and entertaining glimpse into the author's upbringing as a Muslim in Spanish Harlem with Bangladesh-born parents. Under the direction of Chay Yew and accompanied by Avirodh Sharma's captivating music, this production creatively combines stand-up comedy and theatrical storytelling, resulting in a truly unique and enjoyable experience.

All the creative elements for this show are cohesive and make sense. Yu Shibagaki's scenic design is bare, focusing on a platform/stage for Alaudin to tell his story, accompanied by a fitting platform sort of diagonally placed for Avirodh to play the tabla and emphasize key moments. These two have a tacit support/stage camaraderie, and complement that is very sweet and reflects their artistic partnership.

Alaudin Ullah and Avirodh Sharma. Photo by Rich Soublet.

You can see Alaudin Ullah's vision for this piece, from the concept to the writing, to the staging, it just comes through. The intimate atmosphere in the round created by Chay Yew's direction draws the audience into the world of Ullah's memories allowing a flow between comedic moments and emotional reflections, while Anshuman Bhatia's lighting design skillfully sets the different moods. In stand-up, there is usually a stool with a bottle of water or a drink. Here there is a chair that Alaudin plays around with accommodating the experience in the round by facing all audiences yet, there is no water or drink. This is probably a direction note and also reflects Yew's careful but stern style. 

This experience embraces stand-up meets theatre with an artist who not only shares his upbringing but also rounds it out by giving the audience an ending and not just leaving it in the struggle. He takes you with him not only through the life journey but through the maturity and how appreciation comes with age contrasting how we usually take things for granted while younger. This is an immigrant story that is raw and relatable. Alaudin at the beginning of his career changed his name to "Aladdin" so it would be easier and more recognizable... trust me when I say I CAN relate...

There are various phrases in the piece that made an impact. One, in particular, involves "safe art". Dishwasher Dreams is not safe art and that is a good thing. We need more pieces like this that show different sides of the world, that are both entertaining and emotionally resonant. Ullah will have you leaving the theater with a renewed appreciation for the power of storytelling.

The cherry on top: This production has an all-Asian American design and stage management team.

Currently playing until October 15. For showtimes and tickets please click HERE

The Book of Mormon- National Tour Comes Back to San Diego

As Part of Broadway San Diego's 46th Season 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

The Book of Mormon N.A Tour. Photo by Julieta Cervantes

The Book of Mormon, a musical that has been a sensation, captivating audiences for years, and what I consider to be part of "the new era of musicals" winner of nine Tony Awards® including Best Musical, continues to shine with its recent national tour with its stop in San Diego at the Civic Theatre for Broadway San Diego's 46th season.

The plot follows the journey of two young Mormon missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, sent to a remote village in Uganda. The musical skillfully combines satire, wit, and heartfelt moments to explore themes of faith, friendship, and personal growth. As the story unfolds, it cleverly navigates through humorous scenarios, thought-provoking messages, and catchy musical numbers like "Hello!", "Turn it Off", and "I Believe", amongst others. The type of humor portrayed combined with the subject matter, might not be for everyone but, you cannot argue with the creativity of Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, responsible for co-writing the book, lyrics, and music, along with Trey Parker and Casey Nicolaw who also co-direct.

Sam McLellan, Keke Nesbitt, Sam-Nackman in The Book of Mormon. N.A tour.Photo Julieta-Cervantes

In this production, Sam McLellan is captivating as Elder Price, capturing the character's ambition and vulnerability with depth and precision. Sam Nackman made his national tour debut right as the hilarious and charismatic Elder Cunningham bringing infectious energy and comedic timing that keeps the audience engaged throughout.

Keke Nesbitt's presence in the role of Nabulungi is a true delight. Her wonderful voice is a standout, effortlessly hitting the high notes and conveying the emotions of her character. The name Nabulungi is part of a bit throughout the whole performance where people will be laughing nonstop. The cast delivers an exceptional performance, showcasing their talent and dedication. From Glen Kelly's sophisticated choreography -including a hilarious tap sequence-, to the high notes in the songs, coated by Brian Ronan's precise sound design, every aspect of the production is meticulously executed. The entire ensemble works together seamlessly, creating a cohesive and electrifying experience for the audience.

Scott Pask's set design travels well to create in each venue the signature elements as well as colors of the Mormon church and its counterpart in Uganda for the missionary's quarters, and plenty of attention to detail for a scene at the airport, along with a dream sequence recreation that is superb. Brian MacDevitt's lighting design is key, highlighting all the special moments and leaving audiences gasping while accompanying stellar songs in the show and choreography.

Even after years of debuting, The Book of Mormon remains as relevant and entertaining as ever. It is a smartly written script, filled with sharp humor and poignant moments, showcasing why it has become a timeless hit. The musical's ability to balance satire and heart is a testament to its enduring appeal.

Sam McLellan and company in The Book of Mormon N.A-tour.Photo Julieta Cervantes 
Currently running until September 24 at the Civic Theatre as part of Broadway San Diego's season. For performance times and tickets please go to

There is a lottery! 

A limited number of tickets will be available at $25 each. Enter directly through the Broadway San Diego App. 

Entries for each performance will be available from 10 AM to 3 PM the day prior to the performance. Entrants will be notified if they are selected via email at random for a limited number of tickets priced at $25 each. If you are selected as a winner, you have 60 minutes to pay for your tickets. Seats are assigned at the discretion of the Ticket Office and cannot be transferred to other people or performances.