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Theater Review: “Beachtown"

“Beachtown” plays through April 15, 2018, at San Diego Repertory Theatre’s Lyceum Space, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown.
Photo credit:
Daren Scott

And now for something completely different.

San Diego Repertory’s Playwright-in-Residence Herbert Siguenza has teamed with Rachel Grossman, artistic director of dog & pony dc theater company, for something San Diego hasn’t seen recently: immersive theater, the kind that invites the audience to “write” the play by becoming part of the action.

“Beachtown,” based on dog & pony ’s “Beertown,” is loosely based on Imperial Beach and specifically tailored to San Diego.

This is a world premiere for Siguenza, whose grant (from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) has just been renewed, giving the Rep and San Diego three more years of his talent and dedication.

“Beachtown” takes the audience to a city council meeting for the city’s 100th Anniversary Time Capsule Celebration. The town has a time capsule with ten items in it. Three are permanent; seven are not. Every ten years, there’s a vote to replace one of the “ephemeral” items with a new one that “better represents who we are now.” That’s what this meeting is about.

In the lobby, you can meet the mayor and other city officials or read about Beachtown in the program. Once in the “meeting hall” (the Rep Space), you can nibble on desserts the patrons have been invited to bring for all to enjoy.

The meeting is moderated by Mayor and surf dude Steve Novak (Jason Heil), who wastes a lot of audience time with the flag salute, the Beachtown song, and a (silent) invocation before getting down to the business at hand.

The mayor notes in passing that the town has never seemed more polarized, but that Beachtown believes in inclusiveness, whereupon journalist Damon Haynes (Antonio T.J. Johnson) jumps up and tells everybody he disagrees and they should all read his newspaper “Patriot.”

Then officious and obviously ambitious Councilman Benny Ramos-Leibowitz, chair of the Time Capsule Committee, and self-important Archivist Susan Suhiro (Lee Ann Kim) are introduced. They ceremoniously unveil the time capsule and describe each item, noting why each was originally placed there. The townspeople (the audience) vote for an ombudsman to verify that the vote count is accurate.

After that, the discussion starts about which of the seven ephemera should be replaced, and with what.

Three other residents – who seem to come to these meetings often – are Bob Ruby (William BJ Robinson), a musician who contributes keyboards and vocals; Donna Fry stand-in Donna French (Marci Wuebben), who adds the environmentalist perspective, and Gloria Ramirez (Sandra Ruiz), who brings obvious dedication to the city.

Audience participation is encouraged, but most of the talkers the night I saw the show were cast members.

After an unnecessary intermission, a community artist is introduced. This night it was singer Paulina, who fronted a guitar duo nicely.

Then the vote is taken.

“Beachtown” is not riveting theater, but it provides a mildly interesting break from the usual fare, and reinforces an important concept: the people who run your life as a Beachtonian are people just like you. Perhaps “Beachtown” will inspire at least some audience members to get more involved in this governmental enterprise we call democracy.

The details

“Beachtown” plays through April 15, 2018, at San Diego Repertory Theatre’s Lyceum Space, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

When: Previews begin March 22. Opens March 28. 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. (Some exceptions; check with theater.) Through April 15.