Jan 9, 2020
by Jeanie K. Smith , San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
I was able to see over 40 productions this year, even with being out of the country for two months— that included some amazing shows that truly challenged my search for superlatives to describe their excellence. I also witnessed again the depth of the artistic community across the County, the tremendous efforts by all involved to create enjoyable and memorable entertainment. The North Bay theatre tribe continues to thrive, delivering to all of us lovers of live performance many fine options, from the newest, cutting edge contemporary works to revisited classics and bold musicals.
In celebration of this County-wide quality, I hereby offer up my purely subjective list of the finest of the fine, the shows that remain large in my mind, that have stayed with me over many months’ time. There is undoubtedly a great number of terrific shows that I wasn’t able to see, so this is by no means an exhaustive list — merely a sampling of the tremendous bounty out there.
Do yourself a favor and make 2020 the year you discover some of these terrific companies, right where you live. Theater deserves your attention in this age of screen-device entertainment — its real-life magic makes all the difference.
To Kill a Mockingbird - 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa (May)
With all the controversy about Aaron Sorkin’s new adaptation of the book (currently playing Broadway), it was timely and satisfying to see Christopher Sergel’s adaptation in such an excellent staging. I've seen other productions of Sergel's adaptation, but none succeeded to the extent that this production did—a triumph, a definite cut above the others, combining thoughtful understanding of the book and script with effective staging and stirring original music to deliver Harper Lee's timeless message—hopefully for new generations as well as my own. (https://www.talkinbroadway.com/page/regional/sanfran/s1991.html
Faceless - 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa (May)
A surprising treat in 6SP’s studio theater, this featured fine acting and an intriguing new play for our times by Selina Fillinger, concerning the prosecution of a young woman suspected of colluding with Arab terrorists. Touching on so many topics, the play throws into doubt almost everything previously thought, and even has lead characters questioning their own beliefs. Tour de force performances from David L. Yen and .Ilana Niernberger anchored a solid cast in a worthwhile play.(I didn’t review this one myself, so I’m linking to colleague Cari Lynn Pace's review: https://aisleseatreview.com/2019/05/an-aisle-seat-theater-review-pick-faceless-brings-feisty-focus-to-courtroom-drama-by-cari-lynn-pace
A Chorus Line - Transcendence Theatre Company, Glen Ellen (June)
Just when you thoughtTTC couldn’t get any better, they took a risk, deviating from their tried-and-true revue format in order to present their first "book" musical.The production fulfilled a dream of the group’s founders Amy Miller,Brad Surosky, and Stephan Stubbins, who always wanted to mount their favorite musical of all time, and do it as onlyTTC can do it. That meant pulling out all the stops with a tremendous cast, nimble orchestra, and fresh staging and choreography, with truly memorable results, a fantastic performance full of delights. Miller directed, adding intriguing touches that enhanced understanding of a long-familiar narrative, and the performers delivered their A-games. Showing they know how to do it, TTC is aiming for another book musical hit in 2020 withChicago. (https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/review-a-chorus-line-transcendence-theatre-jack-london-state-park-glen-ellen )
Drumming with Anubis - Left Edge Theatre, Santa Rosa (Jun)
The Men’s Movement is alive and well in local playwright David Templeton’s newest play that premiered to the delight of theatre-goers. A strong cast, a hefty dose of humor and a dash of poignancy made for a quirky and thoroughly enjoyable evening’s performance, engaging our funny bones as well as our thoughts on gender and culture. (https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/review-drumming-with-anubis-at-left-edge-theatre-santa-rosa-by-david-templeton )
Little Shop of Horrors - Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma (Sep)
The musical that put Howard Ashman and Alan Menken on the musical theatre map got a superb staging at Cinnabar as the season opener— a truly refreshing, entertaining and superior production of this zany and lovable show. A multi-talented cast led by Michael McGurk as our favorite nerd Seymour dispensed hilarity and mayhem for sheer fun. (https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/review-little-shop-of-horrors-presented-by-cinnabar-theater-by-jeanie-smith)
Eureka Day - Spreckels Theatre Company, Rohnert Park (Sep)
What a stunner this was— Brilliant is the word that popped into my head at the end of this show. Absolutely brilliant, timely, prescient, smart, and utterly captivating, it’s also touching, heart-wrenching, and even unsettling in its unsparing observations of current times and the vagaries of social interactions. Spreckels’ production featured a terrific cast and crisp staging to match, and was a powerful season opener. (https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/review-eureka-day-presented-by-spreckels-theatre-company-by-jeanie-smith)
Merman's Apprentice - Sonoma Arts Live, Sonoma (Oct)
Nurturing a new musical is hard work, placing unusual demands on performers and production team as changes to script and blocking can happen nightly right up to opening— but it’s also thrilling to see the challenge pay off in audience reception and joyful applause. SAL did themselves proud with this latest venture, pulling out all the stops with a strong cast (anchored by Dani Innocenti-Beem and Emma Sutherland in the leads) and excellent production values for the premiere of a brand new musical right in our own region.This was the first full staging, and included visits from the writers, adding to the challenge and excitement. Kudos all around! (https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/review-mermans-apprentice-presented-by-sonoma-arts-live-by-jeanie-k-smith)
Luna Gale - Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma (Oct)
This outstanding production included a thoughtful concept by a talented director, an affecting script by American playwright Rebecca Gilman, creative production elements and a solid cast, making for a riveting, engaging evening of theatre. Gilman tackles thorny issues in her plays, but what may seem very specific at first ends up being universal in the ethical questions that arise. Young parents land in bureaucratic hot water when they bring their ill baby to the ER, and a social worker, alert to signs of possible neglect, determines they are drug users and takes charge of the baby. The aftermath and unintended consequences raised compelling questions and challenged preconceptions. I urged audience to see this one— did you? Send me your comments. (https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/review-luna-gale-presented-by-cinnabar-theater-by-jeanie-smith)
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley - Spreckels Theatre Company, Rohnert Park (Dec)
How many ways can I say “delightful” and “charming,” or “funny” and “sweet”? All those and all their synonyms applied to this wonderful production, a true holiday delight with a clever imagined sequel toPride and Prejudice. A terrific cast and sprightly staging brightened up the intimate Condiotti theater, for a thoroughly entertaining show that put us all in a joyful seasonal mood. (https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/sonoma-county-theatre-review-miss-bennet-christmas-at-pemberley)
Escanaba in Da Moonlight - Left Edge Theatre, Santa Rosa (Dec)
A total surprise and laugh-out-loud treat from start to finish, this slight bit of a play gave an ensemble of excellent actresses a great opportunity to show off their comic skills, landing all the humor in the wild and wacky comedy from actor-turned-playwright Jeff Daniels. It’s raucous, a little raunchy, and filled with nonstop hilarity, including one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen onstage. I haven’t laughed so hard in the theatre in a long time. (https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/review-escanaba-in-da-moonlight-at-left-edge-theatre)
The Seafarer - Main Stage West, Sebastopol (Dec)
Lamentable and laughable plot, devilish and hapless characters, it may not seem like a holiday show at first, but Irish playwright Conor McPherson concocts a darkly comic tale designed to stop us in our tracks and invite consideration of the season’s deeper meaning. Evoking laughter and somber thought in equal measure, the play shone brightly in an exceptional staging with a superb ensemble, providing a welcome change of scene for the holidays. (https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/review-the-seafarer-presented-by-main-stage-west)
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