We close the end of this decade with one critic’s ongoing top ten theatre list, typically not numbered, due to the commitment and hard work of so many talented Southern California theatre artists.
Miss Lily Gets Boned (Rogue Machine, Venice)
Bekah Brunstetter’s inventive drama is about a virginal woman (wonderfully offbeat Larisa Oleynik) whose faith is tested, just as a doctor tries to communicate with an elephant that has crushed a related character. Robin Larson’s staging, right down to a giant pachyderm puppet, enthralls.
Between Riverside and Crazy (Fountain Theatre, Hollywood)
This Pulitzer winner from Steven Adly Guirgis is most worthy of that honor. Director Guillermo Cienfuegos has carefully evinced both the crudeness, rage and desperation of the characters retired, recalcitrant NYPD officer Walter “Pops” Washington.
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (Garry Marshall Theatre, Toluca Lake)
Deidre Henry is nothing less than astonishing, as Billie Holiday. Her singing and acting are fully on display, as she commands the stage in Lanie Robertson’s performance-based play, which wrings the emotions out of the most jaded theatre patron.
Fefu and Her Friends (Odyssey Theatre, West Los Angeles)
Denise Blasor is to be commended for directing this early site-specific play by Maria Irene Fornes, who passed on last year at 88. Seeing these women in the year 1935, as they laugh with, battle against and share their secrets with each other, as the audience moves from room to room, is a remarkable theatre experience.
Daniel’s Husband (Fountain Theatre)
Michael McKeever’s play shines with humanity, as two men in a relationship, arguing over same sex marriage, are tragically separated by a sudden medical emergency, outdated laws and a strong-willed mother. Top notch Fountain vets Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings and Jenny O’Hara, directed expertly by Simon Levy, make this an emotional powerhouse of a production.
Elijah (Victory Theatre, Burbank)
Judith Leora puts a disparate group of characters in a TGI Fridays during a hurricane in rural Texas, just before an execution of a prisoner. As the characters learn that a relative of that same convict is among them, power alliances shift in this tense, enticing production directed by the Victory’s Maria Gobetti.
Neil Simon’s Musical Fools (Open Fist Theatre Co., Atwater Village)
A little known but utterly delightful gem from Simon, with a large cast, abetted by the music and lyrics of Phil Swann and director Ron West, brings a cascade of laughs in a fairy tale about a town cursed with the stupidest people on Earth.
On Beckett (Kirk Douglas Theatre, Center Theatre Group, Culver City)
Bill Irwin, the Clown Prince, entertains us with characters, stage business and historical analysis of the great Samuel Beckett. He holds the audience rapt, his recitation of lines as engrossing as his ability to bring laughter with the slightest movement or expression.
Cock (Beverly Hills Playhouse)
Brit Mike Bartlett has fashioned a nail biter of a love story about a bisexual man who not only is torn between a male and a female lover but also, suffers from self-hatred for his inability to clarify his own desires. Actor Caroline Gottlieb pulls out all the stops, dazzling whether she is shy, seductive or utterly furious with rage at the humiliation she must endure.
Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band (Musco Center, Chapman University, Orange)
With twenty Grammy noms and four wins, three Emmys and his own radio show on KCRW, Gordon Goodwin has taken the concept of contemporary big band and ascended to the heavens. His own stellar group, joined by the Chapman University Big Band, made for an ecstatic musical event.