2013 IN THE REARVIEW
A year of stand-out new work from
Hwang, Gionfriddo, Hunter and more
Though attendance was down, the rewards for theatergoing in 2013 were up and that is primarily due to being in the right place for good writing. And, the work leaned towards the new, with world premieres by David Henry Hwang and Samuel D. Hunter, and relatively recent work by Gina Gionfriddo, Stephen Adly Gurgis, and Joanna Murray-Smith.
For Hwang, it was Chinglish at South Coast Repertory following a run at Berkeley Rep and before its presentation in China. Also premiering at SCR was Samuel D. Hunter's The Whale, directed by Martin Benson and anchored by a heart-breaking performance by Matthew Arkin, matched by Helen Sadler as his bitter, dares-you-to-like-her daughter. It was indeed a daring turn for Sadler, which gets more impressive in hindsight, especially having seen her not long before in A Noise Within's Cymbeline
I was in lonely company liking Murray-Smith's Gift. The 24 area theater critics worthy of Bitter-Lemons rankings averaged a 55% Bitter rating. This outsider found that the play's "healthy mix of similarities and differences have the couples seeing reflections and inversions of themselves in each other, and the attraction of opposites quickly takes hold." That, rather than a melodramatic plot and often windy philosophizing, was what made this intriguing.
The Geffen produced the American premiere of The Gift, as it had Murray-Smith's earlier, more popular, but for me less interesting Female of the Species and it was also the site for Gionfriddo's Rapture, Blister, Burn, which I also found to be "an engaging comedy of ideas." It was also an opportunity to reconnect with the production's lead, Amy Brenneman, who phoned in an update to her earlier interview during one of her commutes to the theater.
And, leave it to Antaeus Theatre Company to field a pair of alternating casts that both demanded attention. Only managed to see one, which had Anne Gee Byrd, making the most of a great part for a woman of years, as Mrs. Warren and Rebecca Mozo as her daughter. Robin Larsen did the directing and the production earned its share of nods and noms at year's end.
PREMIERE: 'THE WHALE' by Samuel D. Hunter | South Coast Repertory
DIRECTOR: TEA ALAGIC 'The Brothers Size' | The Old Globe
FEMALE LEAD: ANNE GEE BYRD 'Mrs. Warren's Profession' | Antaeus Theatre Company
MALE LEAD: MATTHEW ARKIN 'The Whale' | South Coast Repertory
FEATURED FEMALE: HELEN SADLER 'The Whale' | South Coast Repertory
SET DESIGN: ROBERT BRILL 'His Girl Friday' | La Jolla Playhouse
Aesop in Rancho Cucamonga / Mainstreet Theatre Company
Backbeat / Ahmanson Theatre
Boeing Boeing / La Mirada Theatre
The Brothers Size / The Old Globe
Chinglish / South Coast Repertory
Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune / Sidewalk Studio Theatre
The Gift / Geffen Playhouse
His Girl Friday / La Jolla Playhouse
The Motherfucker with the Hat / South Coast Repertory
Mrs. Warren's Profession / Antaeus Theatre Company
Nora / Pacific Resident Theatre
Pygmalion / The Old Globe
Rabbit Hole / La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
Rapture, Blister, Burn / Geffen Playhouse
War Horse / Segerstrom Center
The Whale / South Coast Repertory
Wild in Wichita / Bilingual Center for the Arts