I have seen 50 productions in 2018 since I relocated to the North Bay region. Some have been extraordinary, fine testaments to the magic and power of live theatre; but every one of them has demonstrated the centuries-old urge to create portrayals of stories and share them with others. Theatre, even the most humble effort, is shamanistic, saying let me show you something about what it is to be human, encouraging empathy with and reflection on the human condition. Comic or serious or the modern mix of both, theatre of all stripes is alive and well and thriving in the many venues in our greater Bay Area, and the North Bay is no exception.
This Top Ten list is my way to give a shout-out to productions I saw that moved me, made me think about them and their stories long after the house lights came up, shows that sparkled with a special energy and dynamism. Certainly, I saw other shows that were also excellent, that had much to commend them– the North Bay is blessed with so many dedicated theatre groups creating enjoyable entertainment. And of course I wasn’t able to see ALL the offerings in our generously endowed region– undoubtedly I missed some good ones. For whatever reasons, these ten rose to the top in my estimation– thus the list.
They’re listed not in any ranking, but chronologically as I saw them. If you saw any of these shows, you’ll no doubt agree with their inclusion here; and if you didn’t see one or more of them, I hope the list encourages you to check out our North Bay venues for future shows in 2019, and possibly expand your horizons when seeking an evening’s entertainment.
Links are included for your convenience– the title of show links to my original review; and the company name links to their website.
In a class by itself:
Transcendence Theatre Company – Glen Ellen & Santa Rosa – Review 1; Review 2
This first shout-out is for an amazing company that stands alone, only about 8 years old, that just keeps getting better and better, and continually produces fabulous entertainment. TTC hires top-notch triple threat performers from Broadway and locally to spend their summers at the Jack London State Park regaling us with innovative arrangements of musical theatre standards mixed with pop and lesser-known numbers, all for singular, stellar effect. In recent years they’ve added a holiday show in December, that never fails to launch the season with feeling and flair. There’s nothing like this company anywhere else that I know of– the arrangements are fresh and surprising, the talent superb, and the constructed revues combine laughter, romance, inspiration, and a generous uplifting dose of positivity. This year seemed to reach even higher peaks of excellence, with a team of artists both on and off stage that raised the performance bar even for themselves. May TTC ever shine…
The Top Ten:
The Tin Woman – Ross Valley Players, Ross (May)
Toss together a strong cast, a sweetly humorous and affecting play, and intelligent, capable direction, and you have a hit show at RVP. American playwright Sean Grennan’s play has serious themes at its core, including the sudden death of an adult child and a subsequent heart transplant. But it’s also seasoned with appropriate and realistic humor, just the right spice to alleviate the heaviness. This production was a superb rendering of the sweet and the poignant, a surprising touch to the heart.
Peter Pan – Spreckels Theatre Company, Rohnert Park (May)
This was a most wonderful, magical and memorable journey to Neverland. Spreckels Theatre Company pulled out all the stops for this one, and it came together beautifully, with a terrific cast, dynamite scenic visuals, and creative staging. This stellar production gave us the full, uncut version, including all delightful dances and reprises. The title role, played by a spunky, golden-voiced Sarah Wintermeyer, has seldom been performed better, to my eye and ear. Thankfully, Peter was matched by a host of first-rate actors in other roles and ensemble, making for an excellent and thoroughly satisfying performance.
Always … Patsy Cline – Sonoma Arts Live, Sonoma (July)
Celebrity tribute shows are always tricky, as audiences will inevitably compare the imitation with the original, and too often the imitation fails to deliver the desired satisfaction of the remembered icon. Sonoma Arts Live made the gamble pay off in a wonderfully entertaining and engaging tribute to the much-loved and memorable Cline. Top-notch talents, excellent music, and attractive production elements added up to a captivating and poignant stroll through the country star’s songbook. Danielle DeBow as Cline clearly did her homework in bringing this country legend to life. DeBow captured the signature vocal inflections and the demeanor to evoke admiration and awaken cherished memories with skillful song renditions. Her version of “Crazy” generated obvious approval and thankful applause both before and after. There are over 25 songs in the show, covering nearly all of Cline’s chart-topping hits—a veritable feast for her fans.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Spreckels Theatre Company,
Rohnert Park (September)
When 15-year-old Christopher is discovered kneeling over the body of a dog killed with a gardening fork, it’s easy for others to assume he had something to do with the death, especially as his responses to questioning are oddly literal and unhelpful. And he screams when anyone touches him. So begins one of the most heralded plays of recent years, presented by Spreckels Theatre Company in its area premiere. This is a challenging and ambitious piece, given its technological and physical demands. STC gave it excellent, admirable justice, especially owing to a talented ensemble led by the remarkable Elijah Pinkham as young Christopher. Kudos to STC, the creative team, and an impressive cast for rising to the challenge of this theatrical undertaking.
Hello, Dolly! – Sonoma Arts Live, Sonoma (October)
The list of performers who have played Dolly reads like a Who’s Who of female stars of stage and screen in any given decade. Now, you must add actress Dani Innocenti Beem, who thoroughly deserves to be named in that stellar company for the absolutely terrific performance she gave in the title role of the show presented by Sonoma Arts Live. Beem’s adept comic skills, particularly her wise-cracking, dry humor, combined with her classic Broadway-style belt, added up to a brilliant portrayal of the iconic Dolly Levi, the widowed matchmaker from Yonkers. Happily, her star turn was ably supported by a talented and enthusiastic cast of seasoned locals who know how to strut their stuff and deliver first-class entertainment. A well-deserved standing ovation for a classic musical.
The Great God Pan – Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma (October)
Jamie seems to have it all, until he’s contacted by a childhood friend he hasn’t seen in 25 years, who shares unsettling news. Frank has decided to prosecute his father for sexual abuse inflicted on him as a child—he also wonders if Jamie can corroborate his story. Thus begins the timely and compelling play by Amy Herzog, given a sensitive and stunning production at Cinnabar. Herzog weaves two-person scenes over 85 minutes into an intriguing inquiry into the vagaries of memory, but more so into the ripple effect of childhood sexual abuse, in the victim’s life and adult world. The play handles delicate subjects with a thoughtful, subtle approach, letting information surface gradually, serving up more questions than answers. This could be dark and dreary, but Cinnabar’s production delivered excellent performances and never felt slow or morbid. Brilliant set, lighting and sound designs located us in the dark woods of shadowy memory, in a terrific concept for a compelling piece.
The Night Alive – Main Stage West, Sebastopol (October)
Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s 2013 play has a characteristic luminous redemptive edge in spades, especially in the glowing, exceptional production that graced the stage in Sebastopol. His characters are broken people, barely managing in a hostile world, guardedly seeking what few sparks of happiness and kindness they can eke out. The sudden appearance of abuse and violence throws in a physical manifestation of the razor’s edge they already walk. McPherson imbues his characters with resilience, a dogged determination to do more than just survive, to dare to dream. Despite all odds and unhappy events, their will to live powerfully permeates their actions, as they reach for integrity and, yes, love. It’s that luminosity, that hint of divinity, that ultimately elevates the play from the mundane and leaves us with a rare feeling of hope. A magical, touching production.
Hand to God – Left Edge Theatre, Santa Rosa (October)
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, theatrically speaking, who shows up on stage but a foul-mouthed, Satanic, and raunchy hand puppet named Tyrone, who unleashes a violent but hilarious reign of terror on the world around him—that is, around the poor unsuspecting teenager Jason, whose right arm seems possessed when Tyrone is on it. Robert Askins’ madly funny and irreverent play Hand to God got a terrific airing with a strong cast at Left Edge, featuring a mind-blowing tour de force performance by Dean Linnard as the teen and his demonic alter-ego. A wild, wacky roller-coaster ride, filled with riotous laugh-out-loud action and the absurdly clever ravings of a deranged puppet.
God of Carnage – Novato Theatre Company, Novato (October)
Yasmina Reza portrays smart, educated people as they descend, quite humorously, into uncivilized behavior, thus exposing the caveman-like underbelly of so-called polite society. God of Carnage delivers this descent in hilarious fashion, and it roared into life in Novato Theater Company’s excellent staging. A fine cast and superior production values made for a superb 90 minutes of entertainment, full of surprises, zingers, and even some food for thought. Four first-class actors plus distinctive spectacle added up to an outstanding entertainment, one that left us all laughing– and thinking.
Every Brilliant Thing – Left Edge Theatre, Santa Rosa (November)
One of the most hauntingly beautiful theatre pieces I saw this winter was Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing. Thoughtful without being sentimental, an antidote to holiday treacle without being crass, it’s a memorable and moving show that warms the heart and affirms life, even with sadness, depression, and death in the bargain. Solo actor Ron Severdia’s stirring performance felt fresh and familiar, capturing both the comedy and the pathos in an intriguing tale. Both script and performance have stayed with me for weeks, pleasantly reminding me to celebrate hope and love…
Hope you’ve enjoyed the list, and I hope to see you in a theatre!