Mark Chalon Smith’s Theater Picks

Professional productions, alphabetically by title:

“Great Day in the Morning” (South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, March). Although set in turn-of-the-century America, Thomas Babe’s play has resonance today, echoing the moral and ethical uncertainty that has spawned such white-collar crooks as Charles H. Keating Jr. and Michael Milken. Solid acting, an SCR trademark, and sobering direction by David Emmes marked this production.

“Much Ado About Nothing” (Shakespeare Orange County, Orange, July). Thomas F. Bradac’s fledgling troupe showed its potential with this vividly acted, detailed staging of William Shakespeare’s winking comedy about battling lovers. The production offered its share of farce but also paid attention to the subtleties of Shakespeare’s wit.

“So Many Words” (South Coast Repertory, April). A chance meeting on a plane between a writer and a beautiful, determined woman leads to an often provocative dialogue about emotions and life. At times Roger Rueff’s play, directed by Mark Rucker, settled into the mundane and predictable, but mostly it raised questions relevant to anyone who has judged himself and his relationships critically.


Small and community productions, alphabetically:

“Much Ado About Nothing” (Long Beach Playhouse, August). It was a good year for this comedy. The Long Beach cast wasn’t quite as capable as Shakespeare Orange County’s, but it still brought much zest to the comic goings-on without ignoring the pleasure of Shakespeare’s language.

“Nunsense” (Fullerton Civic Light Opera, May). Dan Goggin’s musical comedy about a quintet of nuns bumbling through a fund-raiser had a chumminess about it that welcomed the audience in--and made it all the easier to read between the lines and enjoy the good-natured goosing of Catholic dogma.

“What the Butler Saw” (Laguna Playhouse, Laguna Beach, October). Joe Orton may not have the bite for contemporary audiences that he had in the ‘60s, but his satires can still amuse and compel us with their blackness and bile. This production was typically broad (does anyone ever approach Orton differently?), and that was wearing at times. Nonetheless, the grinning, mad cast was able to tap into the playwright’s subversive streak.


Campus, alphabetically:

“The Grapes of Wrath” (Cal State Fullerton, March). This staging featured a large student cast that portrayed John Steinbeck’s melodramatic but always moving characters with finesse and an inventive set and lighting design that evoked the grim mood of the Great Depression.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” (Cal State Fullerton, October). Gretchen Kanne’s controlled direction and another strong stage design helped distinguish this production of Tennessee Williams’ drama.