(888) 277-4253

Jean Lowerison’s “Best of Theater” list in 2014

An embarrassment of riches in San Diego theater this year makes naming the “best” in any category an exercise in impossibility (or coin tossing). So get ready for a long column.

I. Plays

We saw a long list of terrific and diverse productions this year. Among my favorites: Sarah Ruhl’s “The Clean House” at New Village Arts, Moxie’s “Enron” and “Jade Heart,” New Fortune’s “Henry V” and San Diego Repertory/La Jolla Playhouse’s site-specific “El Henry,” a post-apocalyptic “Henry IV, Part 1.”

Ion gave us the creepy “Bug” and the scary/weird “Edgar & Annabel/Far Away” duo, and North Coast Repertory offered both a fascinating imagined conversation between C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud in “Freud’s Last Session” and a sparkling adaptation of Molière in “The School For Lies.”

San Diego Repertory explored artist Mark Rothko in the fascinating “Red,” and “Honky,” with all its profane squirm- and nervous laugh-inducing qualities, made us shudder and giggle at our own racist attitudes. Lamb’s Players offered a rollicking “Twelfth Night,” and Scripps Ranch amused us with “The Liar,” David Ives’ “translaptation” of a play by Pierre Corneille.

II. Direction of a Play

Many directors did outstanding jobs. Among them: Claudio Raygoza (“The Clean House”), Delicia Turner Sonnenberg (“Crumbs From The Table Of Joy,” “A Discourse On The Wonders Of The Invisible World” and “Jade Heart”), Andrew Paul for North Coast Rep’s “The School For Lies,” Sam Woodhouse for “Honky” and “El Henry.”

III. Actress in a Play

Local actresses took advantage of the many delicious characters they got to play. Samantha Ginn made us laugh as she twirled her way to Miss Firecracker at New Village Arts; Hannah Logan (in ion’s “Bug”) unwittingly hooked up with a guy who sees bugs everywhere; Linda Libby broke our hearts as a tour guide sliding into Alzheimer’s in Mo’olelo’s “Milvotchkee, Visconsin, and Jessica John sparkled at North Coast Repertory in David Ives’ Moliere rewrite “The School For Lies.” And Dana Hooley was stunning in Sledgehammer_’s production of Beckett’s “Happy Days” at the 10th Avenue Arts Center.

IV. Actor in a Play

The men got their chances, too. Some of my favorite performances: John Vickery, both imperious and vulnerable as artist Mark Rothko, and Jason Maddy, who goes from cowed to confident as Rothko’s assistant in San Diego Repertory’s “Red;” Ruff Yeager, terrific in two Intrepid productions: “I Hate Hamlet” and “Much Ado About Nothing;” Max Macke as Jeffrey Skilling and Eddie Yaroch as Andy Fastow in Moxie’s “Enron,” and Richard Baird, excellent in two plays: as misanthrope Frank in North Coast Rep’s “The School For Lies” and as Henry V in the debut play of his new company, New Fortune Theatre.

V. Musicals

The best musicals were Lamb’s “Les Misérables,” San Diego Musical Theatre’s “Next To Normal,” Moonlight’s “Mary Poppins” and “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” La Jolla Playhouse’s “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” and Coronado Playhouse’s smashing “Chicago.”

VI. Director of a Musical

Robert Smyth (“Les Misérables”) and Scott Schwartz (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) both brilliantly directed massive and complex shows.

Not to be forgotten are Nick DeGruccio (“Next To Normal” at San Diego Musical Theatre) and Kim Strassburger (“Passion” at ion) and Chrissy Burns (“Chicago” at Coronado Playhouse) who excellently directed smaller but equally difficult shows.

VII. Actor in a Musical

I won’t soon forget these performances: Brandon Joel Maier as Jean Valjean in Lamb’s Player’s spectacular “Les Misérables;” Patrick Page as Frollo in La Jolla Playhouse’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame;” David Guthrie as lawyer Billy Flynn in Coronado Playhouse’s “Chicago,” or Jamie Torcellini as both Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” and Patsy in “Monty Python’s Spamalot” at Moonlight.

VIII. Actress in a Musical

The ladies did well in musicals, too: Jessica Bernard aced everybody’s favorite nanny Mary Poppins and Hilary Maiberger learned to say “the rain in Spain...” properly and with panache, both at Moonlight; Sandy Campbell played a young lady with a nervous disorder in ion theatre’s “Passion;” and Bets Malone and Lindsay Joan were outstanding as a bipolar mother and her teenage daughter in San Diego Musical Theatre’s “Next To Normal,” and Kelsey Venter was unforgettable as Fantine in Lamb’s Players’ “Les Misérables.”

IX. Set Design

Of the many fine scenic designs, these were extraordinary: Natalie Khuen’s stunning, geometric set for Moxie’s “Jade Heart;” Marty Burnett’s wonderfully appointed set (and those fabulous props!) for North Coast Rep’s “Freud’s Last Session;” Brian Redfern’s beautiful set for “The Clean House” at New Village Arts; Alexander Dodge’s towering cathedral set for La Jolla Playhouse’s “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame,” and Ian Wallace, for the site-specific, outdoor “El Henry” set for La Jolla Playhouse and San Diego Repertory.

X. Student Production

San Diego’s theatrical training grounds – local universities – gave us several excellent productions. UCSD offered a fine “Golden Boy,” the USD/Globe partnership a lovely production of the rarely seen “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” and SDSU theater and music departments did a stunning concert version of “Les Misérables.”

XI. Solo Show

Two outstanding solo shows demonstrated mastery of the craft, versatility, and in one case even piano virtuosity. Mona Golabek’s “The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” the harrowing true story of Golabek’s Vienna-born mother, pianist Lisa Jura, who was put on the Kindertransport in 1938 to escape the war and sent to London at the age of 14. Her story – and Mona’s playing – were extraordinary.

James Leaming played 32 characters from the classic holiday film “It’s A Wonderful Life” in his engaging one-man recreation of the beloved story at North Coast Repertory Theatre.

XXII. Out of Town

Several plays were notable up north: David Suchet playing Vatican politics in “The Last Confession” at the Ahmanson; Angela Lin and Sharon Leal as two tentative lesbians in “Stop Kiss” at Pasadena Playhouse (directed by Mo’oelo’s founder Seema Sueko); South Coast Repertory’s riveting “Venus In Fur.”

In Anaheim, Chance Theater offered “Lysistrata Jones,” a hoot of a musical about basketball (yes, you read it right), and in West Hollywood, Zephyr Theatre’s “Doctor Anonymous” detailed the sad history of gay conversion therapy.

Phew! These are a few of my favorites of 2014. If you’re still reading, thanks. Be proud of your city’s fine theatrical community – and resolve to support it next year.