Sunday, December 18, 2016

"The Eddys": Theatre Eddys' Top Theatrical Picks for 2016, San Francisco Bay Area


Theatre Eddys Presents
“The Eddys”

Our San Francisco Bay Area Top Theatre Productions, 2016

The Eddys: Ed Jones (Of Blessed Memory) & Eddie Reynolds
For Theatre Eddys, 2016 was a record-breaking, heart-breaking year.  Even as one half of the “Eddys” was on increasingly debilitating chemotherapy regimen before beginning ten weeks of hospice care, Eddie and Ed attended together a whopping 199 live theatre and opera productions,190 for which a full or mini review was posted on Theatre Eddys.  When Ed lost his seven-year cancer battle on November 20, Eddie did not attend or review any more plays in 2016 as part of his month of initial mourning.  Thus, this year’s list of “Eddys” does not consider and does not include any productions opening in the Bay Area after November 20, 2016.

Of the 191 productions that were plays and musicals (rather than operas), we rated 56 as “5 E” (our top rating), representing 24 different theatre companies.  This year, the most “5 E” ratings went to American Conservatory Theatre and TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (6 each), followed closely by San Francisco Playhouse (5) and SHN (5, all touring shows and not included in “The 2016 Eddys” which represent only Bay-Area-produced shows)

Choosing “Top Lists of the Year” is made complicated by so many outstanding productions in a region blessed with so many phenomenal companies of all sizes (over 300 stages in the SF Bay Area).  Even more distressing are all the outstanding productions we did not get to see and are thus not represented in the following lists. 

And now for “The Eddys.” Theatre Eddys take on the best of the best among the 191 we did see in 2016:

Theatre Eddys Top 10 Plays in 2015,
San Francisco Bay Area Productions

1.  Hamlet - William Shakespeare, Shotgun Players
Seven actors learn all parts. Five minutes before show, they draw lots from Yorick's skull to see which part they will perform that night.  5400 different possible combinations of actors and parts for this year-long production running in repertory with the rest of the season’s plays.

2.  The Nether - Jennifer Haley, San Francisco Playhouse
A young detective uncovers a disturbing brand of entertainment, a virtual wonderland with total sensory immersion which triggers a dark battle over technology and human desire. It is both serpentine crime drama and haunting sci-fi thriller. 

3.  Valley of the Heart - Luis Valdez, The Stage  in association with El Theatro Campesino
An epic story unfolds of the Yamaguchis and the Montanos, two immigrant families, struggle to provide a future for their American-born children. The families’ oldest children fall in love, and the emotional stakes are further heightened when Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, throwing both families into uncertainty. Issues of loyalty and patriotism provoke both rebellion and heroism.

4.  Chester Bailey - Joseph Dougherty, American Conservatory Theater
Long Island, 1945. A young man in a military hospital has no memory of being involved in a tragic accident that caused the loss of his eyes and hands. A psychiatrist is assigned the case and in turn is faced with his own demons in this world premiere psychological drama. 

5.  Anne Boleyn - Howard Brenton, Marin Theatre Company 
Henry wants a son, Anne, and a divorce—in that order. Not content to be just another one of Henry’s mistresses, the Anne seizes an opportunity for a legitimate marriage—and some sneaky Protestant reformations while she’s at it.

6.  Aubergine - Julia Cho, Berkeley Repertory Theatre
An estranged son that is a chef, a father who's terminally ill, a visiting Korean uncle, a girlfriend without an appetite, and a hospice nurse that is a refugee from a forgotten country - they all prove potent ingredients in this bittersweet and moving meditation on family, forgiveness, death, and the things that nourish us.

7.  Boeing Boeing - Mark Camoletti, The Stage
Bernard, an American architect in Paris, attempts to juggle three relationships with flight attendants, but it isn't long before his cunning deception is hurtled toward disaster as schedules change, flights are delayed, and chaos ensues.

8.  Uncle Vanya - Anton Chekhov, Dave Sikula (translator), Pear Theatre
A modern, natural translation. An elderly professor and his younger second wife, Yeléna, visit the rural estate that supports their urban lifestyle.  Vanya, brother of the Professor's late first wife, who has long managed the estate, and Astrov, the local Doctor, both fall under Yelena's spell, while bemoaning the ennui of their provincial existence.

9.  Red Velvet - Lolita Chakrabarti, San Francisco Playhouse
London, 1833. No black man has ever starred on a British stage—not even as Othello—until tonight. Ira Aldridge, a young black American, breaks more than the color barrier as he battles the entrenched social and theatrical norms of his day, going on to become a living legend.

10.  Wild Boy - Oliver Goldstick, Dragon Productions Theatre Company 
Based on the memoir Not Even Wrong, the play tells two stories - that of Paul and Jennifer Collins, who learn that their toddler may be autistic, and that of Peter “the Wild Boy,” an 18th century boy found mute and feral in the woods by King George I.


Five Honorable Mention Plays in 2016
(In No Particular Order)

--> The Diary of Anne Frank - Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett,y Wendy Kesselman, Palo Alto Players
--> Gem of the Ocean - August Wilson, Marin Theatre Company 
--> Treasure Island - Mary Zimmerman, Robert Louis Stevenson, Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Lookingglass Theatre Company
--> Outside Mullingar - John Patrick Shanley, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
--> Dominion - Alan Olejniczak, At Last Theatre

Theatre Eddys Top 10 Musicals in 2016,
San Francisco Bay Area Productions

1.  City of Angels - Cy Coleman, David Zippel, Larry Gelbart, San Francisco Playhouse
This jazz musical weaves together two plots, the "real" world of a writer trying to turn his book into a screenplay, and the "reel" world of the fictional 1940's Hollywood alter-ego detective who sidles through a netherworld of vicious thugs and femmes fatales.

2.  The Unfortunates - Jon Beavers, Kristoffer Diaz, Casey Lee Hurt, Ian Merrigan & Ramiz Monsef, American Conservatory Theater
The darkly comic musical is based on an old blues song, St. James Infirmary, and explores a world of memory and myth-making in which courage is tested in magical ways. Big Joe, a stalwart, tough-talking soldier with oversized hands, journeys through a murky dream world in which he confronts a series of enemies and risks everything to save his arm.

3.  The Wild Party - Andrew Lippa, Ray of Light Theatre
A seductive musical follows a pair of jealous lovers throwing the party to end all parties. Based on Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 narrative poem.

4.  Chess - Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Tim Rice, Custom Made Theatre Company
Cold War-era chess tournament pits two men—an American grandmaster and a Soviet grandmaster—against each other along with their fight over a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other.

5.  The Boys from Syracuse - Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, George Abbott, 42nd Street Moon 
Based on Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors, two sets of twins create havoc in Ancient Ephesus. Mistaken identities, chases, magic spells, courtesans, and a mysterious seer add to the general insanity. 

6.  Miss Saigon - Claude-Michel Schonberg, Richard Maltby, Jr., Alain Boubill, Broadway by the Bay
Based on Giacomo Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly, the musical similarly tells the tragic tale of a doomed romance involving an Asian woman abandoned by her American lover. The setting is the 1970s Saigon during the Vietnam War.

7.  Life of the Party - Andrew Lippa, David Babani, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley 
A four-person musical revue of Lippa's works stars the singing composer himself.

8.  The Most Happy Fella - Frank Loesser, 42nd Street Moon
Based on Sidney Howard’s play They Knew What They Wanted, this romantic musical tells of unlikely love that blossoms between an older Napa Valley Italian winery owner and a down-on-her-luck waitress from San Francisco.

9.  Disney’s The Little Mermaid - Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Glenn Slater, Doug Wright, Palo Alto Players
In a magical kingdom beneath the sea, the beautiful young mermaid, Ariel, longs to leave her ocean home to live in the world above.

10.  Oklahoma! - Richard Rogers, Oscar Hammerstein IIl, Broadway by the Bay
Set in a Western Indian territory just after the turn of the century, the high-spirited rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys provides the background against which Curly, a handsome cowboy, and Laurey, a winsome farm girl, play out their love story.

Three Honorable Mention Musicals in 2016
(In No Particular Order)

--> Sweet Charity - Neil Simon, Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields, Hillbarn Theatre 
--> American Idiot - Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong, Michael Mayer, City Lights Theater Company 
--> Bridges: A New Musical - Cheryl L. Davis, Douglas J. Cohen, Elizabeth McKoy, Berkeley Playhouse

Theatre Eddys Top 5 Solo Shows in 2016,
San Francisco Bay Area Productions

1.  Buyer and Cellar - Jonathan Tolins, New Conservatory Theatre Center 
An underemployed Los Angeles actor goes to work in Barbra Streisand’s Malibu basement.

2.  East 14th - Don Reed, The Marsh
Don grow up on East 14th in Oakland in the 70s in this coming-of-age story. At one end of 14th lived his strict mother and step-father (Jehovah's Witnesses), and at the other end lived his father, a loving and accepting pimp.

3.  Colette Uncensored - Zack Rogow, Lorri Holt, The Marsh
A one-woman show based on Colette’s life and work. She was a writer, a pioneer for social change, and a lover. Colette wrote the books that the movies Gigi and Cheri were based on, as well as fifty other works. In addition, Colette blazed trails in many areas, from women’s empowerment, to respect for nature, to sexual liberation.

4.  Satchmo at the Waldorf - Terry Teachout, A.C.T. 
A biographical one-man show features a collision between two jazz titans, Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis as well as manger Mr. Glaser and various mobsters.

5.  Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin - Irving Berlin, Hershey Felder, TheatreWorks
Pianist Hershey Felder brings to life Berlin's story from the depths of anti-Semitism in Czarist Russia to New York's Lower East Side and ultimately all of America. Features the composer's most popular and enduring songs as well as little known gems.

And From The Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
The Shows “Theatre Eddys”
Would Love to See on a Bay Area Stage Sometime Soon

Plays from the 2016 Fringe:

1.  Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally -Kevin Armento, One Year Lease Theatre Company
From the unique advantage of a cell phone, a riveting, screen-by-screen, word-for-word accounting is laid bare of an initially innocent-enough, later totally illicit relationship between a high school math teacher and a fifteen-year-old student.

2.  Verge of Strife - Nick Baldock, Arsalan Sattari
A beautifully moving, naughtily funny, and totally provides an engaging glimpse of the too-short life of the English Edwardian poet, Rupert Brooke. Often employing the sonnets and letters of the man himself, the script and the direction positions the young poet as an Apollo -- the sun god and keeper of poetry, music, and truth (his of course).

3.  Letters to Windsor House - Louise Mothersole, Rebecca Biscuit, Sh!t Theatre and Camden People’s Theatre
In a transitioning neighborhood where homeless camps are next to million-pound condos, the roomies live in one of the remaining, run-down council houses (public housing) built almost fifty years prior. Their abode is crammed packed with boxes of mail they receive daily from former residents long gone – mail they have felt obligated to keep in case the rightful owners some day show up looking for it.

4.  5 Guys Chillin' - Peter Darney, King’s Head Theatre
Graphic, gripping, and frank verbatim drama exposing the gay chem-sex chill-out scene. From surgeons to students, guys that love it and lost guys longing to be loved. Made from interviews with guys found on Grindr. 

5.  Hamlet in Bed - Michael Laurence, Richard Jordan Productions & Brian Long Productions
Michael’s passion for playing Hamlet is only out-matched by his drive to find out who the mother is that abandoned him at birth. A man uses whatever deception necessary to get the woman he perceives to be his mother onto a rehearsal stage with him – she as Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, and he of course as the famed son.

Musicals from the 2016 Fringe:

1.  Stop the Train - Rick Guard, Phil Rice, More to Life Productions Ltd
Can a musical about a bomb-vested terrorist threatening to end it all for hostages on a commuter train actually be funny, uplifting, and in the end, a totally feel-good experience?  The answer is a resounding yes!

2.  Glasgow Girls - David Greig, Kielty Brothers, Cora Bissett, Patricia Panther & MC Soom T, Pachamama Productions
Based on the true story, the musical tells the story of seven feisty teenagers whose lives change forever when their school friend and her asylum-seeking family are forcibly taken from their home to be deported. They are galvanized to fight for her life, taking on the government and succeeding where others failed, capturing the imagination of the media and inspiring a whole community.

3.  Adam and Eve and Steve - Chandler Warren, Wayne Moore, Max Emerson Productions and Elva Corrie
The story of Adam and Eve is interrupted when the Devil adds Steve to the mix to create fun, mischief, and mayhem.