Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
It was a good year for new and newish plays in Orange County theaters, as a handful of producing entities rolled the die on new works, never-before-seen works on OC, or rarely seen works that might as well be new, including STAGEStheatre, Theatre Out, South Coast Rep, the Chance and, of course, OC's own new-play festival, OC Centric. But Tom Bruno's choice to mount Salinas-based writer Michel Roddy's play about the notorious Bracero program, which shed light on a remarkably underexposed slice of California history, was arguably the most important. At a time when immigration and migrant workers have been so politicized, bellowed about and shamelessly manipulated for political gain, it was refreshing to encounter a work that reminded us that the battles of today are inextricably linked to what has come before.
Funk Freaks are more than a hipster attempt at nostalgia. For the DJs who pack the dance floor at Original Mike's every last Friday of the month, it's a lifestyle. Since 2007, they've built their reps on endless crate digging, online scouring and dealing with record collectors around the world for the next song that's destined to slap you silly. In the past few years, their brand has gone international, with chapters sprouting up and pledging allegiance to the mothership by spinning and sharing shit that YouTube doesn't have, that Shazam can't identify and that Pandora will never stream. Traveling and connecting with like-minded DJs, the crew's name is showing up not only in the usual musical hotspots—San Francisco, LA, Austin, Chicago and New York City—but also in Russia, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, places where international DJs proudly wave the Funk Freaks banner. Crowds come from all over SoCal, drawn to this crop of OC and IE-bred funk connoisseurs for their boogie and modern soul selections, as well as live performances from the old-school pioneers of the genre.
Readers' Choice: DJ Johnny Knight
Dan Donohue's manic, riveting Francis Henshall, the updated Harlequin in Richard Bean's riotous mash-up of Carlos Goldini's 18th century commedia dell'arte work, The Servant of Two Masters, was the engine that drove One Man, Two Guvnors at South Coast Repertory. A tour de force of razor-sharp comic timing, improvisation and chaotic wizardry—all of it impeccably orchestrated by Donohue and director David Ivers—the performance channeled the frenetic brilliance of the Marx Brothers into a performance that was so good our theater critic actually PAID to see it again.
It wasn't the biggest part in STAGEStheatre's ensemble-oriented Dog Sees God, but Erica Jackson's turn as the world-weary pyromaniac in Bert Royal's meditation on the kids from Peanuts grown into confused, questioning teenagers was a highlight in a show that contained many. Jackson played the Lucy Van Pelt character, but rather than going the easy route and masking her character's deep-rooted issues in an aura of bluster and crabbiness that any self-respecting Peanuts fan would instantly recognize, Jackson imbued her character with empathy, nuance and the unshakable feeling that this faux Lucy desperately wanted to be something other than who she was, but she just didn't quite know how to get there.
The Chance Theater has long since emerged as the best storefront theater to emerge out of Orange County since South Coast Repertory, but with this production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning show of desperate, hungry actors attempting to get cast in the background of a Broadway play, it staked a claim as one of Southern California's top professional companies. There wasn't a weak link in the fantastic cast assembled by director Oanh Nguyen. That, coupled with a stellar five-person live band and Hazel Clarke's choreography resulted in a Chorus Line that clicked on every level, revealing this musical for what it truly is: a sublimely well-crafted, real play.
Readers’ Choice: Wicked
All musicals are plays, but not all plays are musicals. Yet this one wins for both. Discuss amongst yourselves.
Readers’ Choice: KAOS Rocky Horror, the Frida Cinema