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On Theater: Directors Serna and Takakuwa rose above the field in 2016

This is the third and final column in a year-end series reviewing 2016 in local theater.

Directing probably is the least understood facet of theater. The acting, set and costume designs and sound effects are all there on stage to be enjoyed and, if it comes to that, criticized. But how does one judge the work of a director?

Quite possibly by his or her track record. When one director has turned out a series of memorable productions, it becomes obvious that he or she is highly skilled in the craft of theater. Two such individuals are called forth now for special curtain calls.

They are two people whose directorial skills have enhanced theatrical productions far and wide, but particularly in Costa Mesa, where each is headquartered. They are Michael Serna and Hisa Takakuwa, my selections for man and woman of the year in theater for 2016.

Serna has directed six shows at the Costa Mesa Playhouse, where he is on the theater's board of directors, probably his magnum opus being "God of Carnage" in 2014. He also staged the theater's productions of "True West," "Proof," "The Odd Couple" and "A Behanding in Spokane."

This year, Serna mounted a riveting production of John Steinbeck's classic Depression-era drama "Of Mice and Men." This column noted that "director Michael Serna captures the fears and frustrations of Steinbeck's downward-spinning tale of two itinerant ranch hands." Serna also designed the impressive setting.

Of his "God of Carnage," this publication declared, "Community theater simply doesn't get any better." His "Proof" was declared "a must-see, even if you've already witnessed one or two other versions."

Takakuwa, director of South Coast Repertory's Theater Conservatory for the past 11 years, mounts a youth show each summer with the same production values one might experience at a professional theater, such as SCR.

She instructs her young students on the understanding of the craft of acting, rather than the show itself. This usually pays lofty dividends. This was certainly true in 2016, when her production of "Beauty and the Beast" earned sustained applause.

Takakuwa sold toys on the street for 14 Decembers as a cast member of SCR's annual holiday show, "A Christmas Carol." She's now assistant director of that immensely popular fable, which recently completed its 37th staging at the theater.

Serna and Takakuwa have brought Costa Mesa audiences to their feet on numerous occasions. They are worthy additions to my hall of fame in the theatrical community as man and woman of the year in theater for 2016.

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TOM TITUS reviews local theater.

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