Theatre Seen a look back at 2016

I am grateful that I’ve been able to see as much theatre as I have this year – 39 shows!  The San Francisco Bay Area is an amazing place to be for theatre.  For every show I saw there were five I wasn’t able to make it to see.  There were some shows I saw this year that particularly landed with me and have made lasting impressions.  So as a look-back, here are my highlights.

I was so touched by Pear Avenue’s production of The Mountaintop that I spent a while in the car sobbing, before I could pull myself together.  I went home and blogged about it, because I couldn’t contain the emotions.

With Ex Nihilo’s Terra Incognita (episodes 1, 2, & 3), I can be accused of not being impartial since I ended up performing in the last three episodes, but in all honesty there was part of me that was sad I wasn’t getting to watch it unfold with the audience.  These episodes about the three sisters on their otherworldly road trip were special and fun and sometimes very touching and poetic.  Bridgette Dutta Portman, Jennifer Lynne Roberts, and Elizabeth Flanagan used the premise of their story and the nature of radio plays imaginatively; they balanced moments of outright silliness with other moments sprung from and grounded in grief, love, fear, and acceptance.  Supported by the sound design by Jason Jeremy it was magical.  If you missed it, you really did miss a terrific experience.

I enjoyed the way Stuart Bousel (director) pulled forward the vulnerability and the love in Custom Made’s Six Degrees of Separation. It made the situation compelling and upped the stakes, which allowed the journey – especially for Ouisa and Paul – to have a poignancy I found satisfying and unexpected.  Genevieve Perdue, Matt Weimer, Khary L. Moye, Sam Bertken, and Alisha Ehrlich each had very powerful and touching performances.   Each of them memorable months later.

Cal Shakes’ Othello was controversial for some, and I understand why, but I loved it.  I felt that the disruption of the play added something exciting and occasionally uncomfortable – but necessarily uncomfortable – to the experience.  Not for everyone, but I loved it.  Aside from the disruptions and the unusual structure, I also found the performances to be great.  One of the best Iagos I’ve seen and one of the most assured, comfortable portrayals of Othello, coupled with an easy, natural, charismatic Desdemona.  I could have been watching any number of young couples I’ve known.  I understood things in the script that I’d never seen or grasped before.

Hurt Village produced by Ubuntu Theatre, I thought was brilliant.  The performances were passionate and intense and at times heartbreaking.  I was drawn to Cookie, her life, her story, her mother.

The Permanent Collection put so much out there front and center that needs to be talked about with regard to bias, privilege, institutional racism in areas that we don’t usually talk about it – art museums, corporate offices, and other white collar spaces liberal white intellectuals take for granted.  There were Mamet-esque moments that reminded me of Oleana in the exchanges between the two leads.  (Did he, didn’t he?) In my opinion more interestingly executed.  The three women, though in supporting roles, were stand outs as well for how three dimensional they were written and how much presence the actors gave them.  Similarly Emmitt & Ava used fresh grief and anguish to strip away social graces and expose micro-aggressions and underlying prejudices.  The entire situation was tense and didn’t let the audience off the hook, which I liked.  I thought the cast did an excellent job and deserved a bigger house to perform for.

On the Hill:  I Am Alex Nieto was powerful because it was so raw and unpolished.  It was a community gathering both on and off stage; everyone in the theatre had personal stories that connected them, if not directly then through shared realities or the desire to share a world where incidents like Alex’s don’t happen.   The young people who were involved in creating and performing the work were compelling and empowered.  I’m grateful to have been there.

By far my favorite show of the year, was Awakening at Breadbox.  I’ve gushed, embarrassingly, to anyone who will listen about how much I loved it.  The book was a powerful experience for me in my preteens, giving my nascent feminism a hook by which I would anchor myself for years to come.  Everything about the production made my heart sing and weep.  The script, the set, the costumes, the acting, the directing – goodness the directing. I have never wanted a play to be produced again and again everywhere as much as I want this one to be done.

Dogeaters at the Magic, Bagyo at Theatre First, and Paradise Street at Exit, enchanted me with their scale, poetry, and breadth of storytelling.  Dear Master at Aurora and Word for Word’s All Aunt Hagar’s Children brought the literary form to dramatic performance; both effectively and with terrific design.  In all four of these I learned a lot, while I was engaged and entertained and moved.

I look forward to more in 2017.

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