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Theater Review: 2009 Santa Monica & Surrounding Areas: Curtain Call For a Shining Year in Theater

From Venice’s Pacific Resident Theatre to the Santa Monica Playhouse, The Powerhouse, and City Garage, the live theatre scene was thriving locally in 2009, even amidst a recession. Though people were cutting back on their entertainment budgets last year, there were still several packed playhouses and sold out shows around town, a testament to the talent and tenacity of the local arts community. A trip to Hollywood wasn’t necessary for those in search of searing performances or a few good laughs – all that jazz was available right in our own beachy backyards.

My personal favorites appearing on local neighborhood stages last year were Our Town” at the Actors Gang, Adeline’s Play at the Powerhouse, and The Browning Version at Pacific Resident Theatre. Tim Robbins and his Culver City troupe brought Thornton Wilder’s classic story of townfolk in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, to gleaming new life at The Actors’ Gang. Director Justin Zsebe ensured that every horse clop and glass clink was performed live, eschewing recorded special effects for on-the-spot, human-generated sounds, a choice that would have pleased Wilder.

In Adeline’s Play, playwright Kit Steinkellner’s carefully crafted, love-will-conquer-all storyline won my heart. The Depression Era tale about a scrappy theatre group’s refusal to give up on their art in spite of hard times and emotional tumult hit home as the present day recession raged outside the theatre’s door. The Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble at the Powerhouse stuck a feather firmly in its cap with that  thoughtful production.

Bruce French left nary a dry eye in the house at Pacific Resident Theatre, where he played Andrew Crocker-Harris in a stunning revival of Terence Rattigan’s 1949 play, The Browning Version. An aging professor grappling with self-loathing, marital maliciousness and health problems, Crocker-Harris couldn’t have been more sympathetic than in the hands of the skilled French. Marilyn Fox directed with grace and Orson Bean had a supporting role in which he shone. There’s still time to catch it, so get thee to Venice.

The Santa Monica Playhouse did an end-of-year show that was a fun, lighthearted Shakespearean romp, Love in Bloom. The theatre’s artistic directors, Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie, created and starred in the show, showcasing their multi-faceted theatrical talents.

Venturing a bit outside the Santa Monica sphere, I took in several shows at the Ahmanson, including a stand-out production of August: Osage County.

Two other Mirror theatre writers, Beverly Cohn and Lynne Bronstein, likewise took in a slew of local theatre in 2009, including shows at City Garage, The Ruskin Group Theatre, Edgemar Center for The Arts, The Odyssey, The Electric Lodge and The Geffen Playhouse.

Beverly had a good time at The Geffen, enjoying Farragut North, the political sleaze-fest starring Star Trek leading man, Chris Pine, and Time Stands Still a new play by Donald Margulies. She  gave kudos to The Ruskin Group Theatre’s revival of John Patrick Shanley’s “Italian American Reconciliation” and also tipped her hat to Electric Lodge’s The Doctor Despite Himself, calling    director Gulu Monteiro’s modern adaptation of Moliere’s classic “a hilarious romp.” A visit to the Odyssey Theatre found Beverly praising a production of Bach At Leipzig.

Lynne also liked a Moliere rendering, City Garage’s The Bourgeois Gentilhomme, a  Frederique Michel-directed romp that she called “two hours of guilt-free enjoyable silliness.” Weighing in on Joel Daavid’s production of  The Miracle Worker, at Edgemar Center for the Arts, Lynne said  the stage production of the true story of Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, had three stand out performances: Erin Shaver, Julie Austin Felder and Carlie Nettles.

Though there isn’t enough space to talk about every stand-out show in the Santa Monica area last year, it’s safe to say that the local theatre scene is in good shape. We can’t wait for the countless curtains to open in 2010.

Contact Amy Lyons 

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