The Best and Worst of 2007

Plus, a plea for a moratorium on overproduced Shakespeare

BEST (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER):

Cal State Fullerton's production of Brecht's anti-war Mother Courage and Her Children. While far from perfect, it was still one of the few politically relevant pieces to be performed at a local theater. While OC theater is generally not a hotbed of social conscience, there's a war on, folks! Programming yet another insipid, "entertaining" distraction doesn't fucking cut it.

UC Irvine's Southern California premiere of Charles Mee's Frenchified Fetes de la Nuit, directed by Annie Loui, a series of multimedia images, jokey blackouts, philosophical speeches, movie dialogue, iconic music and dance numbers gathered together with the clichés of French culture and pitched into a blender, creating, in an elegant series of 46 scenes, a love letter to a place Mee clearly adores.

Donald Margulies' "poor theater" production of Shipwrecked! An Entertainment—The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told by Himself) at SCR was perfection itself. It was deftly directed by Bart DeLorenzo and acted by the wholly engaging threesome of Gregory Itzin, Melody Butiu and Michael Daniel Cassady (whose turn as de Rougemont's pet dog was unforgettable).

Chelsea Brannon's cherubic turn as the young Mary Magdalene in Three Trees Theatre's Magdalene was better than the production itself.

• I dug Julie Marie Myatt's shamefully underappreciated My Wandering Boy at SCR. Down the road, I believe this will be given more respect than it earned during its run. Any play that asks its audience to seriously think about the way they're living and consider the possibility of change is worthy of respect in my book.

• Cal State Fullerton's sharp revival of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Deadwas a joyous mind-fucking to behold. I can't wait to see what director Kevin Slay has next on his plate.

Cirque du Soleil's Corteo: The funeral of a clown becomes a meditation on the end of life. Flight is featured everywhere—angels flap their wings mid-air; there's a bicycle ride through the firmament; acrobats on trapeze; and a tiny woman floats above the crowd, transported via a mass of balloons. It's the usual Cirque mix of the beautiful and the bizarre, the commercial and the colorful, but this time with a melancholy, occasionally morbid, edge.

Slings & Arrows: Season 3 comes out on DVD. This brilliant Canadian comedy about a small theater director, who may or may not be completely nuts, taking over a large Shakespeare festival—and the ensuing joy, chaos and horror—will ring true to anyone who has ever been within spitting distance of a stage.

• A New Brain at Cal State Fullerton's Grand Central Theatre: You'd think the squashed confines of this small black box, with its leg-cramping seating, limited lighting and so-so sound system, would be the worst possible place to try to watch a show, but director Patrick Pearson and an absolutely flawless cast used every inch of the space, singing and dancing their hearts out. The budget looked to be about $5 and change, but it proved you don't need money for spectacle. My only regret is that I went on closing weekend and didn't get to spread the word. Consider this my mea culpa.

WORST

• A New Brain was stuck into the cruddy Grand Central space for two measly weekends, while the vastly inferior I Married Wyatt Earp got three weeks, Equity actors, more money and a much larger Cal State Fullerton stage. Pearson and his cast were robbed.

• After dragging the Laguna Playhouse kicking and screaming away from its community-theater roots and forcing it to go pro, executive director Rick Stein unceremoniously left . . . or was pushed out. His excellent production of Travels With My Aunt still roils around in my head after many years. You can keep track of what he's doing post-LBPH on his blog, rickstein.blogspot.com.

• It breaks my heart that so many local theaters are dependent on the box-office bonanza of overproduced musicals to keep their doors open.

• Theater bean-counters also rejoice every summer when the same-old-same-old Shakespeare productions are rehashed ad nauseam. May I suggest a moratorium on Romeo & Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream? Instead, can we get a decent production of King Lear? The Merchant of Venice? Hell . . . Troilus & Cressida? Coriolanus? Pericles? Antony and Cleopatra? Enrich our worlds, theaters . . . don't take us down the same well-trodden path.

• Movie trailers for plays? Running a theater myself, I understand the necessity to get butts in seats any way possible, but you can't fool a patron with a flashy theater promo: The stage is not "just like the movies" and shouldn't be treated as such. People will only be disappointed.

 
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