Top 2021 San Diego Theatre Picks -From Another Zero-

Six titles, honorable mentions, and what is peeking my curiosity for 2022

by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

In this now Omicron era and God knows what Greek letter is next, some companies around the country have announced cancellations and postponements due to the new variant, I urge everyone to support their local theatres, be safe, and follow the guidelines so we can continue navigating these waves while enjoying great works.

Revisiting the beginning of 2021 where the world was still shaky and planning for a possible reopening and then made it happen. Broadway waited but the little guys started as soon as the green lights went on. Companies Off-Broadway and non-profit theatres who furloughed more than half their staff and were dark for over 18 months, bravely started the waive and I feel we need to talk about it more and continue to mention it.

San Diego started going back to live shows around June-July. The Old Globe took the leap and welcomed back audiences with a series of outdoor concerts that eased them back in. It is so fun to now remember and revisit the feelings during these reopenings, seeing actors back onstage working, and theatre staff as well. So, props to The Globe for this creative and entertaining way to have us sit next to strangers again and cheer on these intimate settings with Carmen Cusack and Eden Espinosa (sadly, I missed Solea Pfeiffer who kicked off the series).

Talk about a From Another Zero with these reopenings! A reset for sure but as we always say around here, you cannot just restart From zero... it has to be From ANOTHER zero. Anyway, here are the top picks:

1) WhitchlandBackyard Renaissance Theatre. 
This was a game-changer starting off the experience at the very entrance of the venue and having audiences sign a waiver that involved spirits who may be leaving with you, fun scares, and weird happenings outside the premises. A solid cast and also fun scares during the performance. Whitchland brought the breath and life back into our souls by having us literally grasp the live show and theatregoing experience in this original way.

2) The Drowning Girls- Onstage Playhouse.
This was my first time ever at Onstage. I always appreciate a dive into the Artistic Director's process to pick a show for a season and James P. Darvas did just that not only by directing the piece but by sharing a video on the company's website, explaining why he decided to stage it. And hello? three talented actresses in full-on wedding dress attire inside tubs splashing around the whole performance centered on murder and true events. The creativity, the resolving, and the educating... yes, please!

3) The Mineola Twins- MOXIE Theatre.
MOXIE KILLED IT with online showings throughout the shutdown and welcomed back audiences with a hilarious piece with solid twin sister drama. The set design, the ensemble, seeing new faces like Phillip Magin and Desireé Clarke wrapped in Samantha Ginn's masterful portrayal of the twins, made this comeback a win.
4) Azul- Diversionary Theatre.
What an absolute joy this was. Full of tenderness and love. An accurate picture of the different meanings that involve migrating to the US and dealing not only with your culture shock but your kids being American and Americanized while still figuring out their identity and heritage. Just beautiful. 
Also... their last week of performances offered a streaming opportunity, something that is difficult to put together with rights, costs, unions, and all that -not fun at all stuff, but worth considering during these challenging and uncertain times.

5) Ben Butler- North Coast Repertory Theatre.
I love me a good solid historical chapter. Especially the not-so-talked-about ones. North Coast does it again with a wonderful set design, spot-on casting and amazing portrayals.
6) The Garden- La Jolla Playhouse.
The set design of a practically working garden made it all worth it here. The surprise factor and the storytelling from a Black woman's perspective filled part of the large void in this type of narrative that has to be represented more. A diverse take, a cast with women, directed by women, and a creative team with mostly women. Cannot get better than that.

Honorable Mentions
2021 welcomed me to the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and I appreciated the art form even more. It got me to see pieces from companies I had not seen before as well as an added enjoyment of my colleague's work, camaraderie, and words. I praise all the companies and their continuous effort to keep this community going. Making theatre is no easy task, here are my honorable mentions for what I got to see in 2021.
Hair marked the comeback for The Globe using their outdoor theatre for a non-Shakespeare show that had not been done in decades. This adaptation had a wonderful, very capable, and prepared young cast. I did not know how I would feel about this version and I was pleasantly surprised. Andrew Polec who played tribe leader, Berger, migrated to the Christmas favorite Grinch as the green meanie, bringing the show to a new artistic level as did the cast changes adding a more diverse and fresher feel.

I had a wonderful Instagram Live with Andrew about that and you can catch it here.
A very much needed and titanic effort of curating these new works into a hybrid model of in-person and online readings. A+ with a glowing star. Many works come from these readings and I cannot wait to see more of them fully produced onstage. I always say the pieces are already there, it is just a matter of looking for them. Not necessarily commissioning them. Yes, I said it. Read it again.
Even though it was not a full on-stage production it was a creative, original way to present the reading of a wonderful, solid piece.

I also have to say that I absolutely loved Dancing Lessons at North Coast Rep. I understand it is a piece that has been produced many times all around. I had never seen it before and I enjoyed it a lot. Did not have the opportunity to write about it but it does deserve its mention.

What is peeking my interest -at the top of my head- for 2022?

-Sapience by Diana Burbano. MOXIE Theatre will be partnering with TuYo Theatre to present this world premiere. After reading the play and having this vision in my brain, I cannot wait to see how they resolve it onstage.

-Trouble in Mind by Alice Childress and El Borracho by Tony Meneses at The Old Globe. Trouble in Mind is one of my favorite plays. I saw it at MOXIE in 2015 and it was directed by Delicia Turner-Sonnenberg who is directing it here too. I wonder what creative takes she will have this time around and at this venue. Very curious. Borracho (drunk) just by the title alone has me wondering, I love Eddie Torres' work and I am very eager to see what this work will bring to the theatre table.

-Everybody's Talking About Jamie at The Ahmanson. Aghhh Let us see how January plays out and hopefully this will continue to be on the schedule. I have been following this musical since its rehearsals in London all the way to the movie on Amazon (that left me meh) so I cannot wait for the North American Premiere of the Hit West End Musical.

What did you see in 2021? what were your favorites?

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