.Theater: Theater roundup

The best productions of 2016

By Charles Brousse

Here we go again. Time for the year’s “Top 10” list.

Why 10? I don’t have the slightest idea, except that it’s a nice round number that somebody, somewhere, chose and eventually the herd followed. Anyway, concerns over turning an art form into a horse race have led me to resist, even though various editors have given what at times were strong hints that they would be mighty pleased if I joined the crowd. “People like lists” is the reason usually given.

music in the park san jose
music in the park san jose

Faced with that incontrovertible assertion, after much soul searching and without any pressure from my current editor, I’ve decided to capitulate. Forthwith, in reverse order, are my 2016 Top 10. All but one (Bad Jews, No. 5, a beautiful production that was outside my usual beat) were reviewed in the Pacific Sun.

10. You Never Can Tell, by George Bernard Shaw; produced by Orinda’s California Shakespeare Theater (Sun review, Aug. 17): One of Shaw’s lesser-known comedies, this was an enormous crowd-pleaser. Cal Shakes provided wonderful costumes, sets, music and a cast who seemed to be having as much fun pleasing us as we were in watching them.

9. Our Enemies, by Yussef El Guindi; produced by San Francisco’s Golden Thread Productions (Sun review, Nov. 9): Explored the problem of self-identity: If you’re a hyphenated American (in this case, a Muslim Arab-American), who are you? And who will you allow to speak in your name? It’s provocative material, skillfully handled.

8. Pride and Prejudice—the Musical, score and lyrics by Rita Abrams, book by Josie Brown; produced by Independent Actors of Marin (Sun review, Oct. 5): Jane Austen’s classic novel, adapted for musical theater, comes out with a fresh luster that clings close to the original, but adds the pleasure of Abrams’ catchy songs and a dance or two.

7. City of Angels, score by Cy Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel, book by Larry Gelbart; produced by San Francisco Playhouse (Sun review, July 27). A sophisticated script, superb cast, a great band and inspired production values made this a rare treat. There were also some serious issues buried inside what was essentially an entertaining noir.

6. Master Harold … and the Boys, by Athol Fugard; produced by Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company (Sun review, June 29). Fugard brought South Africa’s apartheid policies to the world stage, and I think this is the finest example of his work. Aurora’s production, sensitively directed by Timothy Near, gave us an insider’s view of race relations in the regime’s final days.

5. Bad Jews, by Joshua Harmon; produced by Santa Rosa’s ambitious Left Edge Theatre: A “comedy” that raised family dysfunction, Jewish style, into the realm of high art. Wonderfully staged and acted, the sold-out opening night audience sat transfixed for a full hour and 40 minutes before leaping to its feet to cheer and applaud—a response that I heard was repeated throughout the run.

4. West Side Story, score by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents; produced by the Mountain Play Association in Sidney B. Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre (Sun review, May 25). Whatever the weather, afternoons were never brighter on Mt. Tam than they were for this year’s Mountain Play. Everything came together, from performances to sound quality—a positive omen for the event’s future.

3. Gem of the Ocean, by August Wilson; produced by the Marin Theatre Company (Sun review, Jan. 27). A play of ideas and atmosphere, the production was distinguished by the magnificent performance of Margo Hall as the matriarch in a house full of unforgettable characters. Lovingly staged by Daniel Alexander Jones.

2. August: Osage County, by Tracy Letts; produced by the Marin Theatre Company (Sun review, Sept. 21). It’s becoming clear that Letts’ play is becoming an American classic. Tightly directed by Jasson Minadakis, the MTC production’s only fault was a multi-level girdered set that would have been fine if the actors were monkeys.

1. She Loves Me, score by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, book by Joe Masteroff; produced by the San Francisco Playhouse (Sun review, Dec. 14). This irresistibly charming musical by a team (sans Masteroff) that also gave us Fiddler on the Roof  is the only pick of the Top 10 still running. Playhouse co-founders Susi Damilano and Bill English went all out to make it a joyous holiday show, and they succeeded.

So there you have it. Happy New Year!


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