On Theater: Revealing the man and woman of the year

Editor's note: This is the last column in a three-part series reviewing the year 2010 in local theater.


One is an acclaimed professional actor, the other a skilled director of community theater productions. Both are at the top of their game.

His talent has been on view at South Coast Repertory for the past several years. Hers is most visible at the Newport Theater Arts Center, although she also helmed the show judged tops among an outstanding field this year at the Huntington Beach Playhouse.

These two exponents of excellence on the stage and in the director's chair are Dakin Matthews and Gigi Fusco Meese, the Daily Pilot's man and woman of the year in theater for 2010.

Dakin Matthews has become an exceptionally familiar figure on the SCR stage, playing Polonius in "Hamlet," Alfred Hitchcock in "Hitchcock Blonde," Andrew Undershaft in "Major Barbara," Arnolphe in "The School for Wives," as well as John Tarleton in this year's "Misalliance." His most memorable achievement came in 1993 when he portrayed C.S. Lewis in the emotionally draining, fact-based "Shadowlands."

Of his most recent performance in "Misalliance," this column observed, "The always forceful Dakin Matthews devours the stage as the garment mogul who's read just about everything (he incessantly advises others to "read" this or that author) and draws on a fountain of energy that decries his age."

Matthews' talent isn't limited to the theater, however. He pops up in a number of movies, most currently in the remake of "True Grit," where he is labeled "wonderful" in the Los Angeles Times. He's been seen on TV's "Desperate Housewives" and "The King of Queens," as well. Moviegoers have glimpsed him in 25 pictures including 'Nuts," "And the Band Played On" and "Clean and Sober."

Matthews, however, is most at home in Shakespearean theater. He has portrayed Casca in "Julius Caesar," Baptista in "The Taming of the Shrew," Sir Toby Belch in "Twelfth Night," Falstaff in "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and the title role in "King Lear," among others. He appeared in his own adaptation of the Tony Award-winning "Henry IV," winning awards both for acting and adaptation.

Matthews was a founding member of John Houseman's Acting Company and a Julliard drama instructor. He's also an award-winning playwright and translator, a stage director and a Shakespeare scholar.

Gigi Fusco Meese saw two of her directorial projects reach No. 1 in local theater this year. A week after her staging of "Moonlight and Magnolias" topped a particularly formidable list at the Huntington Beach Playhouse in our sister paper, the Huntington Beach Independent, her production of "A Few Good Men" was likewise honored at the Newport Theater Arts Center in this column.

Meese harbored few qualms about taking on a predominantly male cast in "A Few Good Men." She'd previously pulled it off with "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial," also at the arts center, and "Mister Roberts."

Meese's directorial talents also have helped shape plays such as "The Sunshine Boys," "The Odd Couple" and "Over the River and Through the Woods." Lest you assume she only directs high-quality scripts, be aware that she also has farcical comedies such as "Goodnight, Mrs. Puffin," "Bedroom Farce" and the most recent arts center chuckler, "Killjoy," on her resume.

Meese is not confined to Newport Beach or the immediate area. For many seasons, she was the executive director-producer of the Long Beach Playhouse and she also serves as director of public and community theater relations for Musical Theater West.

Among the trophies on her shelf are the 2006 Arts Professional of the Year award from the Long Beach Arts Council, three Ethel Case acting awards from the Long Beach Playhouse and a Bobbi Award from the Huntington Beach Playhouse.

Dakin Matthews and Gigi Fusco Meese have elevated local theater — on a professional and community level, respectively — over an extended period of years, and two of their finest achievements were on view at local theaters during 2010. They are worthy recipients of the Daily Pilot's man and woman of the year in theater accolades.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

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