From Another Zero's -Best of 2023- in San Diego Theatre

This year was graced by immersive experiences, bold production risks, and creative takes. 

by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Here we are again!... another year, another bunch of theatre experiences :)

This year marked, let's say, the first "normal" year after the pandemic, in which theaters found new normalcy by providing production after production, where the risk factor stood out along with creativity, and some montages of classic productions that allowed us to either revive them or get to know what has been talked about so much.

As always in these pieces, numbers are key. According to the record of this blog, your blog, I had the opportunity to see around 75 productions, of which I reviewed 63... wow.

This has also been a great year for the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle with the start of several new initiatives, and the surprises won't stop there as we will have our great list at the Craig Noel Awards in February.

And well, just two days away from welcoming 2024, this is what I consider to be the best of what I saw in San Diego theater this year. 


La Lucha
- La Jolla Playhouse-
Optika Moderna 
A beautiful homage to Mexican culture through the art form of Lucha Libre. An immersive experience that at parts is with a blindfold, got audiences to exercise their senses and in my case, face my fears...This was authentic, creative, and absolutely breathtaking. David Reynoso has that effect with his pieces. 

NEAT - A Co-Production Between Loud Fridge Theatre Group and Scripps Ranch Theatre
Kandace Crystal did her stage comeback in style with this moving piece that combined beautiful choreography and amazing portrayals. 

Like I wrote in the headline for this view "raw, in-your-face piece full of truth". We definitely need more API stories on the stage and playwright Keiko Green NAILED it with this work that is weird, funny, satiric, and to the point.

Dragon Mama
- Diversionary Theatre 
Sara Porkalob is a performance superstar who takes over the stage with amazing comedic ability, fantastic vocals and truly moving interpretations. Written by Porkalob, Dragon Mama is part of a trilogy that goes into generational trauma and the intent of coping. We hope to see more of Sara and her wonderful work in San Diego.

Is it Thursday Yet? -
La Jolla Playhouse
Created and choreographed by Jenn Freeman and Sonya Tayeh. 'Thursday is a multidisciplinary piece, contemporary dance-heavy with a moving interpretation from Jenn who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at age 33. The ways audiences are brought in and educated throughout the piece which also includes music and singing, makes it a unique, moving experience that lingers long after leaving the theatre. 

August: Osage County - Backyard Renaissance
A true histrionic masterclass that brought a heavy, complex plot to the stage in a strong, suspenseful, and cathartic way. The casting brought some of San Diego's best and that made it even more powerful. 

Kagitingan Blindspot Collective
A truly moving, historic piece, carefully crafted and staged, respecting the dramaturgy and the language. 

Good People - 
Oceanside Theatre Company
Aside from the story that has seen several productions, this one, was my first. This piece was "The Little Engine That Could". All the performances are on point and definitely hit the head on the nail, context-wise. Susan Clausen's portrayal of Margie was one of the best performances of the year without a doubt. 

Birds of North America
MOXIE Theatre
The San Diego premiere of this play with only two actors. Many emotions running high and a magnificent sound design by Matt Lescault-Wood, as well as the beautiful set design by Robin Sanford Roberts.

God of Carnage
Backyard Renaissance
An amazing 90 minutes of pure hilarious adrenalin. The cool part of this production too, was the histrionic spouse swap as the actors are married in real life. 

The Ferryman
- New Village Arts
Here, the great merit is recognized for carrying out this titanic production with a cast of many actors and a detailed set design by Doug Cumming, creating an ecosystem for the actors and allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the daily life of the Carney family.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
North Coast REP 
An amazing histrionic take on the classic having more than one Jekyll and more than one Hyde. Each actor gave a stellar performance under the direction of Shana Wride. Playing with the wardrobe, Elisa Benzoni had the same patterns but different styling. It was mind-blowing. 

Present Laughter
- Cygnet Theatre
A wonderful comedic and vaudeville-ish piece where Sean Murray as Garry, Melissa Fernandes as his assistant Monica Reed, Drew Bradford as Fred the butler, and Shana Wride as Liz, made up for a wonderful evening at the theatre.

The Glass Menagerie - Diversionary Theatre
A creative take on the classic where just four characters make for an intense portrayal with an array of feelings. It was my last play of the year and what a wonderful way to end. 


R-E-S-P-E-C-T - LAMB'S Players
Definitely, the musical in its world premiere was a great achievement for this company, giving voice to all those artists from the '60s and 70s, as well as addressing the acts of segregation and racism in the United States during those times. Great projections and memorable moments.
Another recognition for merit with this production that brought to life Georges Seurat's famous painting through its passages of creation. The stars of this production, in addition to the performances, were the costume design by Janet Pitcher, the lighting by Michelle Miles, and the projections by Patrick Gates.

The Outsiders
- La Jolla Playhouse
This world premiere, which is now heading to Broadway, is based on S.E. Hinton's novel. It is a well-rounded production with impressive choreography, special effects, and performances. To the extent that Angelina Jolie's children came to San Diego and urged the actress to participate in fundraising for the production of this musical on the great white way.

Tarzan, The Stage Musical
- Moonlight Theatre
Moonlight definitely brought it to 2023. It takes a titanic effort to produce a musical of this magnitude. There are some hybrid production elements like costume rentals but you have to do what you can to make it work. You cannot go wrong with Phil Collins's music. The interpretations, singing, and acrobatics were amazing.

In the weird, original, and unique categories, this musical was visually stunning with Wilson Chin's set design as well as great portrayals and dynamic rhythm throughout the piece. 


Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations - Broadway San Diego
Just at the beginning of 2023, we were already singing and dancing with this musical that features several classics from the great group, The Temptations. It is a musical that tells the origin of the group, their path to success, and very often how egos and disagreements get in the way. A great show with incredible choreography and voices. The interesting thing about this show was that several of the understudies stepped in due to COVID, and it was truly amazing.

Mary Zimmerman's The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci - The Old Globe
I think this play wasn't anyone's favorite, hahaha. Personally, I found the concept fascinating, and the abstract nature of the quasi-nonexistent plot seemed creative and innovative to me. From the beautiful set design by Scott Bradley to the acrobatics of the actors, this piece definitely left its mark on my theatrical year.


Rafael Goldstein
 as Jake in SharonThis man took over the stage and the story with high-caliber histrionic chops and blew audiences away. The role of Jake is not an easy one and the way Keiko Green develops her characters is not easy either. It was amazing.

Amalia Alarcón Morris
as Valeria in El Huracán. A play that addresses dementia and its impact on life and loved ones. Alarcón complements Valeria with different layers in a great performance with a wonderful Cuban accent. It was authentic and raw at the same time.

Monique Gaffney
as Yetunde in THE HIGH TABLE. In the world of African elders, the destiny of a "non-conventional" family is debated. Gaffney brings the feeling and passion that made this piece a memorable experience.

James Sutorius
as Firs in The Cherry Orchard. In the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Sean Penn's character shares a powerful phrase that goes "Beautiful things don't ask for attention"... Sutorious's performance in 'Orchard was just that...beautiful.

MJ Seiber
's portrayal of the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley in The Little Fellow is a standout performance, -I believe one of his best-demonstrating superb acting abilities. Particularly noteworthy are the scenes he shares with his real-life wife, Keiko Green, which showcase a true master class in acting—alive, strong, and emotionally impactful.

Katee Drysdale as Bella in Lost in Yonkers totally makes the play with her raw interpretation that filled the room with emotion and empathy. 

Honorable mentions

The Turn of the Screw. In their company debut as Chalk Circle Collective, Megan Carmitchel and Michael Cusimano deliver an intense, creepy evening full of mixed sound effects live while trying to solve a mystery not of this world.
The use of the small space, the lighting, and the passion made for an original experience with cathartic interpretations.

Singin' in the Rain. New Village Arts. What is lovely and very refreshing to see with these productions, is the promising talent. All very young, truly professional, and prepared. Emma Nossal is a force not to be reckoned with from the fierce tap dancing to the grace, and the beautiful singing, everything is just amazing making a great pair with Anthony Michael Vacio who is charming and enchanting. Hats down to co-choreographers Katie Banville and Jenna Ingrassia-Knox who guided joy to watch tap sequences between Don and sidekick Cosmo aka Xavier J. Bush. 

Underground. An immersive Musical Mashup. Blindspot Collective in Collaboration with Coronado Playhouse brought the bar and the use of all the space to the experience that even though it needs tweaking, the creativity, effort, and just going for it, deserves to be on this list. 

Edit: Catch the shows we discussed in the SDTCC podcast: Downstage co-hosted by David Coddon and yours truly.

No comments:

Post a Comment