Monday, December 17, 2018

"The Eddys": Theatre Eddys' Top Bay Area Play, Musicals & Solo Show of 2018"

Theatre Eddys Presents
“The Eddys 2018”

Theatre Eddys’
 San Francisco Bay Area Top Theatre Productions, 2018

This year, Theatre Eddys attended and reviewed 125 shows locally along with nine shows in Ashland, Oregon at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. 

Of the 125 local productions that were plays, musicals, and solo performances, a top “5 E” rating was awarded to productions of 26 different companies.  The most “5 E” ratings for locally produced shows (versus touring productions) went this year to TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, a company that had a particularly stellar year with seven 5 E’s, the most by far ever awarded by this reviewer in one year to one company.

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 I did not get to see and are thus not represented in the following lists – this year particularly so because I was traveling outside the Bay Area for a total of more than three months. 

In 2018, one production in two parts stood out as so extraordinarily significant in so many dimensions to receive a one-time designation of

Most Outstanding Bay Area Production of the Year 2018:

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes
Part One: Millennium Approaches
Part Two: Perestroika
Tony Kushner

Into our current, uncertain, and troubling atmosphere of 2018, Berkeley Repertory Company opened in April its production of Part One: Millennium Approaches and Part Two: Perestroika of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America in a production whose messages once again spoke truths relevant to our current circumstances. And, the production did so in ways magnificently stunning in every respect. Visually, aurally, intellectually, emotionally – no matter the dimension – Tony Taccone directed an Angels that soared to the heavens and back, plunging us into the depths of a hell that plagued the plays’ years of 1985-1990 but
leaving us with a message more relevant today than ever: 

“We are not going away ... More Life, the great work begins.”

And now for “The Eddys.” Theatre Eddys selects as the best of the best among the 125 local productions seen in 2018:

Theatre Eddys Top 10 Plays in 2018,

San Francisco Bay Area Productions

1.  OsloJ.T. Rogers, Marin Theatre Company
How a series of secret talks between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat were initiated in 1993 and how they proceeded is the subject of one of the most celebrated plays of the new century, Oslo by J.T. Rogers. Marin Theatre Company opened its 2018-19 season with a West Coast premiere of the 2017 Tony-winning Best Play in a tension-filled production that in every respect imaginable was stunning, engrossing, and eye-opening while at the same time was genuinely heart-warming and continually surprising with its laugh-aloud humor.

2.  Detroit ’67 -- Dominique Morisseau, Aurora Theatre
Directed with uncanny timing, bold touches, and much humanity by Darryl V. Jones, Aurora Theatre Company's Detroit ’67 (by Dominque Morisseau) rocked with Motown sounds that soothed and soared, teased with humor both rich and raw, and shook to the core with historical events serious and shattering. And all along, Mr. Jones and the incredibly talented cast ensured that we knew and remembered that headline-grabbing, street-filled events like the Detroit riots are in the end really about the individuals who were safe and happy one day in their homes -- until suddenly they were not.

3.  The Resting Place -- Ashlin Halfnight, Magic Theatre (World Premiere)
Live theater has the potential to bring together a group of strangers to experience an event that will impact each of our separate lives in ways we never dreamed upon entering. In a gripping, heart-pounding, and emotionally arresting world premiere, Magic Theatre presented Ashlin Halfnight’s The Resting Place – a play that forces us to ask ourselves, “What would we do if our son or brother committed a heinous crime?”

4.  Sweat – Lynn Nottage, American Conservatory Theatre
For San Franciscans still scratching their heads and wondering how in the world Donald Trump was able to win the last election (and why he seems still to be so popular in so many places other than San Francisco), all they needed to do is spend an evening at the American Conservatory Theatre back in October. After witnessing the stories so grippingly, honestly, and heartbreakingly relayed in Lynn Nottage’s new play, Sweat, (the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama), who could not exit the theatre without saying, “Now I know why”?

5.  Skeleton Crew -- Dominique Morisseau, Marin Theatre and TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Jade King Carroll directed a magnificent cast with an ability to take everyday life in a factory where lives are potentially falling apart and show how there are moments the day is still boring; moments, somehow funny; and moments totally lonely and scary. Taking the brilliant script of Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew, he, the cast, and the creative team gave in this shared, regional premiere production both the Marin Theatre and TheatreWorks Silicon Valley audiences a realistic, thought-provoking, and emotional glimpse of what Detroit and many other cities and towns of America endured during what we now call the Great Recession of 2007.

6.  Timon of AthensWilliam Shakespeare, Cutting Ball Theatre
Rare it is to hear of a local staging of Timon of Athens. In my own thirty-five or so annual visits to Ashland, I have only seen it once. Not only to be able to see a live production but to have the opportunity to see one that was so timely and wondrously conceived as the edgy, electric, and eye-popping version by Cutting Ball Theater was a gift earlier in this year to the Bay Area audiences of all ages.

7.  Reel to Reel -- John Kolvenbach, Magic Theatre (World Premiere)
A play that is meant to be heard and not just seen, John Kolvenbach’s Reel to Reel is an aural delight, several laughs every of its eighty minutes, and yes, sigh-producing with its heart-touching story of a marriage so ordinary to be nothing short of extraordinary.  Receiving its world premiere at Magic Theatre, Reel to Reel was wondrously directed by the playwright himself.

8.  You Mean to Do Me Harm -- Christopher Chen, San Francisco Playhouse
Bill English masterfully directed the San Francisco Playhouse main-stage production of last year’s Sandbox Series world premiere of You Mean to Do Me Harm with a tantalizing edge bordering somewhere between a who-done-it mystery, a spy thriller, and a psychological drama. If ever I have seen a play recently that my immediate reaction was “I need to see this one again,” it was this one!

 9.  All the Way -- Robert Schenkkan, Palo Alto Players
In the Palo Alto Players’ magnificently produced, regional premiere of Robert Schenkkan’s 2014 Tony winning Best Play, All the Way, we as an audience were challenged to ask ourselves if questionable tactics of a nation’s leader are ever acceptable if the desired outcomes match our own sense of social and economic justice. Is this in fact “the way things are done,” and is it in fact ‘the ends’ that truly matter and not so much ‘the means’? 

10.  fairview, Jackie Sibblies Drury, Berkeley Repertory Theatre (Joint World  Premiere with Soho Rep)
All was predictable in what we (i.e., the mostly white, as usual, theatre audience at Berkeley Repertory Theatre) expected from the kind of family comedy fairview appeared at first to be (i.e., one about a modern-day, black family in the U.S.). That is, all was going as we expected until it definitely was not; and then the joint world premiere between the Rep and Soho Rep of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s fairview took us into territories not yet crossed by many, if any, prior premieres on this or any other American Stage.

Five Theatre Eddys Honorable Mention Plays in 2018

(In Alphabetical Order of the Producing Company)

--> A Doll’s House, Part 2, Lucas Hnath, Berkeley Repertory Company

--> Making God Laugh, Sean Grennan, City Lights Theater Company

--> Still at Risk, Tim Pinckney, New Conservatory Theatre Center

--> The Road to Mecca, Athol Fugard, Pear Theatre

--> Finks, Joe Gilford, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

Theatre Eddys Top 10 Musicals in 2018,

San Francisco Bay Area Productions

1.  Soft Power. David Henry Hwang (Play & Lyrics); Jeanine Tesori (Music & Additional Lyrics).  Curran Theatre
David Henry Hwang’s (play and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori’s (music and additional lyrics) Soft Power is a category-busting “play within a musical.” Beginning as a politically charged comedy, Soft Power suddenly explodes into a full-blown musical, complete with a twenty-two-person orchestra. That the rib-tickling play opens in early November 2016 in the U.S. and then jumps one hundred years into the future to become a fiftieth anniversary, full staging of Soft Power, “the world’s most beloved musical” (produced in now globally dominant China) is just one of the many brilliant, unexpected delights of this new musical that opened in June on San Francisco’s Curran Theatre stage.

2.  A Walk on the Moon.  Pamela Gray (Book); Paul Scott Goodman (Music & Lyrics with Additional Lyrics by Pamela Gray), American Conservatory Theatre  (World Premiere)
In the summer of '69 just as a man is about to walk on the moon, a Jewish family of four do what New York and New Jersey Jewish families had been doing for several decades – escape the heat of the City and head to tiny cabins in the Catskills for fun with friends in the so-called Borscht Belt. Pamela Gray captures their own exploratory, scary, and transformative first steps into new territories of life in her A Walk on the Moon -- a visually, musically, and emotionally exuberant slice-of-summer-life that had its world premiere at American Conservatory Theatre this past June.

3.  Man of La Mancha. Dale Wasserman (Book); Mitch Leigh (Music); Joe Darion (Lyrics).  Custom Made Theatre
“How lovely life would seem if every man could weave a dream to keep him from despair.”  It is that message that made Custom Made’s funny, touching, and impactful January 2018 production of Man of La Mancha so timely and relevant for an audience in which many are surely wondering how do we keep hope alive and remain to any degree optimistic when daily Tweets, threats, and executive edicts seem to be undoing everything that many of us believe to be sacred.

4.  Me and My Girl.  Noel Gray (Music); Douglas Furber & L. Arthur Rose (Book & Lyrics); Stephen Fry (Book Revisions); Mike Ockrent (Further Book Contributions).  42nd Street Moon
The music of Noel Gray and the lyrics of Douglas Furber & L. Arthur Rose have made this 1937 musical an audience favorite since it debuted in London; and even though it took one year short of fifty to make it to Broadway, once there, it remained three years.  At 42nd Street Moon, every number of Me and My Girl seemed better than the one previous, with the stellar voices truly outstanding to a person -- maybe the best show (among many memorable shows) that 42nd Street Moon has done in years!

5.  The Bridges of Madison County.  Marsha Norman (Book); Jason Robert Brown (Music & Lyrics).  Based on the Novel by Robert James Waller.  TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Anyone who came in April to TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s The Bridges of Madison County fearing the evening could drip with sappiness certainly left thinking anything but. The soaring score with haunting melodies that linger long after final curtain call combined with a director, creative team, and cast who together wove a story that captured and held full attention, stirred many, sometimes conflicting emotions that were to be deeply felt and long remembered.

6.  West Side Story.  Arthur Laurents (Book); Leonard Bernstein (Music);
Stephen Sondheim (Lyrics).  Hillbarn Theatre
Among the myriad of inspired choices Director Erica Wyman Abrahamson made for the Hillbarn September production of West Side Story was the casting of Ana Paula Malagón as Maria and of Jeffrey Brian Adams as Tony. Never was there any doubt of the immediate, magnetic attraction between the two – each initially glowing in innocence and naivete when it comes to love and each pulled in locked eyes to the other in a bond that even a brother’s murder cannot break.  With a cast of thirty and an orchestra of fourteen, Hillbarn Theatre proved that the sixty-plus-year-old musical is as current, relevant, and impactful today as it was in 1957. 

7.  Mary Poppins.  Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman (Music & Lyrics); Julian Fellowes (Book) with Additional Songs/Lyrics by George Stiles & Anthony Drewe.  Based on the Stories of P.L. Travers and the Film by Walt Disney.  San Francisco Playhouse
In an eye-popping, toe-tapping, big-smile-producing Mary Poppins that also has an edgier, darker undertone than most of its predecessors, San Francisco Playhouse places under the Bay Area’s holiday tree a gift that should enchant both fans and newcomers to this fifty-five-year-old favorite (a production that can still be seen through January 12, 2019).

8.  Elton John + Tim Rice’s AIDA.  Elton John (Music); Tim Rice (Lyrics); Linda Wolverton, Robert Falls & David Henry Hwang (Book).  Broadway by the Bay.
In 2000, a star-studded team of Elton John (music), Tim Rice (lyrics) along with Linda Wolverton, Robert Falls, and David Henry Hwang (book) took the Verdi opera AIDA and transformed it into a four-plus-year run on Broadway with music that had that distinct Elton John, rock-and-ballad style.  Broadway by the Bay -- under the masterfully conceived and beautifully inspired direction of Jason Jeffrey -- opened its own version in November that was a big-stage, big-sounding Elton John + Tim Rice’s AIDA that looked and felt Great White Way in every respect.

9.  Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  John Cameron Mitchell (Book); Stephen Trask (Music & Lyrics).  The Stage
In full fury on the compact floor arena of San Jose’s The Stage, Hedwig and the Angry Inch exploded this past summer. Bay Area favorites Keith Pinto and Ashley Garlick played gender-fluid Hedwig and her back-up singing husband, Yitzhak, a former drag queen, as they each took John Cameron Mitchell’s book and Stephen Trask’s music/lyrics and brought their own electric, ecstatic, and erotic interpretations to this 1998 Off-Broadway, 2014 Broadway hit.

10.  Jesus Christ Superstar.  Andrew Lloyd Webber (Music); Tim Rice (Lyrics).  Ray of Light Theatre
In a moment of history where young women are stepping forth to be the leadership voices of  #metoo, Black Lives Matter, #NeverAgain, and Time’s Up, Ray of Light Theatre once again proved that this is the Bay Area company that puts on the musical stage what most other companies would never risk, probably not even consider. Giving the female voice to the hero, the lover, the villain, the zealots, the government leaders, and even the angry mobs of Jesus Christ Superstar brought a new strength, relevance, and insight into this age-old story. We soon forgot that we were looking at something from the past and instead were peering into a new reality where young women are forcibly taking their place as the movers and shakers of our future’s history.

Five Theatre Eddys Honorable Mention Musicals in 2018
(In Alphabetical Order of the Producing Company)

--> The People in the Picture, Iris Rainer Dart (Book & Lyrics); Mike Stoller & Artie Butler (Music), 3 Below Theatres and Lounge

--> Head Over Heels, The Go-Gos (Songs); Jeff Whitty (Book); James Magruder (Adapter of Book).  Inspired by The Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney.  Curran Theatre  (World Premiere)

--> Pippin, Stephen Schwartz (Music & Lyrics); Roger O. Hirson (Book), Los Altos Stage Company

--> Tuck Everlasting, Chris Miller (Music); Nathan Tysen (Lyrics); Claudia Shear & Tim Federle (Book).  Based on the Novel by Natalie Babbitt.  TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

--> Weightless, The Kilbanes (Music, Lyrics & Book).  Z Space  (World Premiere)

Theatre Eddys Top 5 Solo Shows in 2018,

San Francisco Bay Area Productions

1.  Hold These Truths, Jeanne Sakata, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
A child of Japanese internees herself, playwright Jeanne Sakata ran across a story so incredible for its audacious and persistent gumption of one man’s stand against the wartime edict – Order 9066 signed by President Franklin Roosevelt – that her resulting play, Hold These Truths, could be at first glance thought to be a work of pure fiction. But the story that Hold These Truths tells of one young Japanese American -- born and bred in Seattle, Washington – is very much true, as the playwright herself learned in interviewing Gordon Hirabayashi before his death in 2012. 

2.  A Fatal Step, Jill Vice, The Marsh
The sixty minutes of The Marsh's A Fatal Step were so packed in the spring with characters, twists and turns as well as screen-worthy moments of drama that in the end, it was difficult to believe that all that could be done in just one hour. The length is perfect as is Jill Vice’s satirical, but loving homage to the femme fatale.

3.  Our Great Tchaikovsky.  Hershey Felder (Book); Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Music).  TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (World Premiere)
The musical chameleon Hershey Felder, who has transformed himself at the keyboard body and soul from Bernstein to Beethoven to Berlin and has at least annually for the past several years taken the Bay Area by storm, returned in January to TheatreWorks Silicon Valley in maybe his most emotionally gripping portrayal yet, that of Piotr Ilyich (anglicized to Peter Ilich) Tchaikovsky – a portrayal he both singly writes and performs entitled Our Great Tchaikovsky.

4.  Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name?  Irma Herrera, The Marsh
Public interest lawyer and Bay Area social justice activist, Irma Herrera, has spent much of her life educating friends, teachers, and colleagues how to pronounce correctly her name. Along the way, she has learned first-hand how engrained social prejudice is against people of darker skin, even among people who would be shocked if told they had such prejudice. In her highly entertaining, highly eye-opening solo show Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name at The Marsh, San Francisco, this past autumn, Irma Herrera walked us through the years of her life using a map of ‘name’ incidents as her guideposts.

5.  The Obligation, Roger Grunwald, The Mitzvah Project in association with Playground and Potrero Stage
Roger Grunwald, himself the son of a Holocaust survivor, is dedicating much of his creative talents and his time to ensure the collective memory of what happened does not continue to fade until hardly anyone in future generations remembers “a world gone mad.” Taking a story he first told in a short play, The Mitzvah, and turning it into a fuller, one-man show in which he stars, Mr. Grunwald returned to the Potrero Stage in order for the Mitzvah Project in association with Playground once again to stage the 2017, much-lauded, world premiere, The Obligation.


- Angels in America: Pictured, Francesca Faridany & Randy Harrison; photo by Ken Levin
- Oslo: ;Pictured, J Paul Nicolas, Ashkon Davaran, Ryan Tasker, Brian Herndon & Paris Hunter Paul photo by Kevin Berne
- The Resting Place: Pictured, James Carpenter and Cast; photo by Kevin Berne
- Sweat: Pictured, The Cast; photo by Kevin Berne
- Skeleton Crew: Pictured, Margo Hall, Lance Gardner & Christian Thompson; photo by Kevin Berne
- Timon of Athens: Pictured, David Sinaiko & Cast; photo by Liz Olson
- Reel to Reel: Pictured, Will Marchetti & Carla Spindt, photo by Julie Haber
- You Mean to Do Me Harm: Pictured, Katie Rubin, Jomar Tagatac, Charisse Loriaux & Cassidy Brown; photo by Ken Levin
- All the Way: Pictured, The Cast; photo by Joyce Goldschmid
- Fairview: Pictured, Natalie Venetia Belcon, Monique Robinson & Charles Browing, photo by Kevin Berne and Berkeley Repertory Company
- Soft Power:  Pictured, Conrad Ricamora & Ensemble Members; photo by Craig Schwartz Photography
- A Walk on the Moon: Pictured, The Cast; photo by Kevin Berne
- Man of La Mancha: Pictured, Edward Hightower; photo by Jay Yamada
- Me and My Girl: Pictured, Keith Pinto and Melissa WolfKlain; photo by Ben Krantz Studio
- West Side Story: Pictured, Jeffrey Brian Adams & Ana Paula Malagón; photo: Mark and Tracy Photography
- Mary Poppins: Pictured, El Beh; photo by Jessica Palopoli
- Elton John + Tim Rice’s AIDA: Pictured, Raquel Nicole Jeté and Shaun Leslie Thomas; photo by Mark & Tracy Photography
- Hedwig and the Angry Inch: Pictured, Keith Pinto; photo by Dave Lepori
- Jesus Christ Superstar: Pictured, Janelle Lasalle with Apostles; photo by Ray of Light
- Hold These Truths: Pictured, Joel de la Fuente; photo, Kevin Berne
- A Fatal Step: Pictured, Jill Vice: photo by Jill Vice
- Our Great Tchaikovsky, Pictured, Hershey Felder; photo by Hershey Felder Presents
- Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name?: Pictured, Irma Herrera; photo by Chuck Revell
- The Obligation: Pictured, Roger Grunwald; photo by Leo Correa

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