Theatre Magic: Memorable Moments from 2023
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, Dec. 29, 2023
What a year for San Diego theatre! 2023, filled with many delightful theatre memories, has seen venerable and fresh companies alike refreshing classic favorites and challenging the status quo with avant-garde fare. These productions engaged us, changed us, reminded us of our childhoods, and exposed us to others' experiences. This is theatre magic - that feeling of connectedness that we all share after having a communal theatrical experience together. This year was filled with moments like these (I reviewed 78 productions in 2023!), but after reminiscing the past couple of weeks, I've selected a quartet of memorable moments that are worth amplifying one more delightful time as 2023 comes to a close:
1 List (as We Wrap '23) of 4 Memorable Moments:
Creative Direction - Exotic Deadly: Or the MSG Play, The Old Globe
Exotic Deadly... was one of those shows that caught me completely off guard. This new production at The Old Globe revealed not only Keiko Green's clever voice and style as a playwright, but also director Jesca Prudencio's highly creative staging. The performers in the show faced heavy demands, traversing not only Ami's cliche 90s suburban life, but also her categorical trip on a fantasy adventure rescue mission to save her family's legacy. Deeply artistic and entertaining at the same time, Exotic Deadly... offered a complete escape with pop culture references and parodies and bitingly witty critique that tackled everything from xenophobia to lack of media literacy. Masterfully, these elements managed to be both engaging and devastating at the same time. Read the full review.
Flapping wings - Birds of North America, Moxie Theatre
It is difficult to encapsulate the immersive experience that Moxie's Birds of North America fostered for audiences. Written by Anna Ouyong Moench and directed by Lisa Berger, the production starred Mike Sears and Farah Dinga as a disconnected father and daughter, so close but entirely too far away from one another. While their performances were visceral and compelling, it is equally important to acknowledge the scenic, lighting, and sound decisions made by the director and her production team (scenic designer Robin Sanford Roberts, lighting designer Joshua Heming, and sound designer Matt Lescault-Wood), which were, despite their perceived simplicity, dimensionally complex and wholly effective. The effect of bird sounds moving through and above the theatre cannot be overstated; every time this happened, it made me want to hold my breath. This standout production, and these moments in particular, were both unexpected and hypnotic. Read the full review.
Everything Sara Porkalob - Dragon Mama, Diversionary Theatre
I was blown away by the intricacy and nuance in Sara Porkalob's characterizations of every single character in her semi-biographical one woman play, Dragon Mama, staged at Diversionary Theatre. Porkalob used a wide array of flawless accents and character choices to introduce her family to us and to make each and every individual both human and worthy of love. I recall each of these choices from twisting a necklace to gripping backpack straps, to flicking ashes off of a cigarette butt. The second piece in a trilogy of plays, the solo production captured Maria's formative years as a queer, brown immigrant and her awakening into a hopeful sense of self. I found this production, under the direction of Andrew Russell, to be an absolute masterclass of characterization in Porkalob's able hands. Read the full review.
That rain scene - The Outsiders, La Jolla Playhouse
There are truly no words to describe the scene that catapults forth in my memory as the singularly most impactful theatrical moment of the year, the rumble scene in The Outsiders (now headed to the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Broadway, where it will begin previews March 16). This La Jolla Playhouse premiere captured my heart and my imagination. The aforementioned rumble scene, a testament to a thunderstorm tussle, was one of the more visually stimulating moments of the production, thanks to the unbridled physicality of the show's wildly talented dancers, unhinged fight choreography, and special effects design elements (Jeremy Chernick). Other highlights from the show included performances by Brody Grant as Ponyboy and Ryan Vasquez as Darrel, the transitional "Run Run Brother" scene, and the "Death's at my Door" scene, staged in a suspended church attic (scenic design by AMP featuring Tatiana Kahvegian) and moodily lit to capitalize on broken glass and wooden beams (lighting designer Isabella Byrd). With music and lyrics by Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance) and Justin Levine, book by Adam Rapp, and direction by Danya Taymor, The Outsiders was a gorgeous testament to the classic novel by S.E. Hinton. Read the full review.
Other special moments that also readily come to mind include the following honorable mentions, listed alphabetically by show title:
Talented tap lines at the top of the show - 42nd Street, Moonlight Amphitheatre (review here)
The parallel structure and prescient message - Babbitt, La Jolla Playhouse (review here)
Over-the-top intrigue and glamour - Destiny of Desire, The Old Globe (review here)
Tight transitions and beautiful blocking - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, North Coast Repertory Theatre (review here)
Deliciously unhinged drama - God of Carnage, Backyard Renaissance (review here)
Jesus and Judas - Jesus Christ Superstar, Moonlight Amphitheatre (review here)
Bring Him Home - Les Miserables, Broadway San Diego (review here)
Lufty's Direction of Hamill's Scandalous Story - The Little Fellow, Cygnet Theatre (review here)
High flying acrobatics - Passengers, The Old Globe (review here)
A visceral recounting of sexual assault - Ripped, Loud Fridge Theatre Group (review here)
Queens queening - Six, Broadway San Diego (review here)
Visual vibrancy via projections - Sumo, La Jolla Playhouse (review here)
The Will Blum + Emily Lopez duo - Sunday in the Park with George, CCAE Theatricals (review here)
Young Hunter unleashing his voice at the typewriter - The Untitled, Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical, La Jolla Playhouse (review here)
Ballpark soundscapes - Under a Baseball Sky, The Old Globe (review here)
The intent and impact of a moment - The XIXth, The Old Globe (review here)
Looking Ahead to 2024:
On a personal note, as I approach the top of the new year, I am thankful for the opportunities that I have had this year not only to be able to bear witness to so many incredible productions, but also to be able to create content for On The Craft (including my video series The Craft & The Community), San Diego Story, and San Diego Magazine, to be recognized at the 2023 San Diego Press Club Awards, to become a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, and to be elected Secretary of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle. Yet I have other news.
In addition to my work as a theatre journalist, I serve concurrently in the public education sector and am excited to share that I am pursuing my doctorate in Educational Leadership with an emphasis in Social Justice at UCSD and CSUSM.
In embarking on that adventure, I read a quote that relates to my experiences and belief structures: “Rather than merely providing readers and audiences with information, the press’ aim is, or ought to be, the development of morally literate citizens (Christians, Ferre & Fackler, 1993).” In reflecting on this quote, I drafted the following response: "As a journalist working in the realm of critical/editorial content, I am cognizant of my responsibility to use my words and platform as the spark for critical discussion about the world that we live in and the ways that this world is represented on the stage and in educational spaces. This oftentimes includes an interrogation of ways that the dominant hegemony maintains power over historically marginalized communities and individuals. I take this responsibility very seriously in my practice across disciplines by engaging in spaces in which these conversations are taking place, challenging structures of oppression and speaking up about the inclusion of the underrepresented, and focusing on agency and voice for those who we are making decisions for/about (without their knowledge and consent, and oftentimes without their best interests in mind). We, in education as well as in our capacity as members of the press, must challenge this continued legitimizing of structural inequities."
I share this because, just as I am resolute in my responsibility to do justice to the crafts of education, journalism, and the arts, I acknowledge that giving my best to this work means flexing my energies in a variety of capacities. Knowing that my work as a critic, educator, and human will continue to be enhanced by my efforts in diverse arenas, I expect that I will reduce the number of shows that I see in the next three years as I navigate my doctoral studies. I see this move not as a disservice to the community and the work we are doing, but as an opportunity to serve it - conserving energy, if you will, to burn more brightly in a different way.
I look forward to leveraging my learnings and personal and professional growth in 2024 and beyond.