2015 exits stage left

SN&R critics share their favorite stage moments of the year

KOLT Run Creations’ <i>There is a Happiness That Morning Is</i> earned several nods from SN&R theater critics.

KOLT Run Creations’ There is a Happiness That Morning Is earned several nods from SN&R theater critics.

Photo courtesy of kolt run creations

They call themselves the “Gang of Four” but SN&R’s theater critics don’t cover communist politics or aging punk bands. Instead, they scour the local stage scene weekly, previewing and reviewing local productions, watching trends and taking note of the region’s brightest stars. Here is their take on the year that was.

Requisite heart and humanity

Best theater group: Big Idea Theatre, a community theater group that appears to be taking a page out of the Capital Stage playbook—appealing to an adventurous audience by offering interesting new or rarely produced plays and intelligent interpretations of Shakespeare and other classics. Big Idea also regularly sends out actors, directors and technical people to work in other companies’ productions.

Best single production: Green Valley Theatre Co.’s Striking 12, a decidedly different holiday story, but with the requisite heart and humanity.

Comeback of the year: Sacramento Theatre Co., finding its legs finally with several excellent productions, including: an updated Julius Caesar (adapted by Kirk Blackinton and Brian Harrower from Big Idea Theatre), The Whipping Man, Sense and Sensibility (directed by Shannon Mahoney of Big Idea Theatre) and the premiere of Grass Valley author Gary Wright’s Of Kites and Kings.


Past, present, future

Outstanding work: There were great shows at Sacramento Theatre Co. (The Whipping Man, Of Kites and Kings), and at B Street Theatre (Grounded, Bars and Measures). But for sheer consistency and quality this year, nobody topped Capital Stage.

Biggest financial breakthrough: The official announcement won’t come until 2016, but word on the street indicates that the B Street Theatre has found a $3 million “naming rights” donor for their long-planned new venue. Stay tuned.


The colorful and the clever

Best overall production teams: It’s a three-way tie between Big Idea Theatre, Green Valley Theatre Co. and the Falcon’s Eye Theatre at Folsom Lake College. Each one incorporates innovative, clever and creative production elements in its productions including video, lighting, sound and staging.

Best acting: This year I enjoyed Brittni Barger as Nora in Capital Stage’s A Doll’s House; the production repositioned Henrik Ibsen’s 19th-century Norwegian wife as a frustrated 1948 American housewife. Kelley Ogden and Greg Hanson also excelled as a team of poetry professors in KOLT Run Creations’ imaginative There is a Happiness That Morning Is. Finally, the Sacramento Theatre Co.’s cast of the Civil War drama The Whipping Man deserves recognition, specifically Sean Patrick Nill, Michael J. Asberry and Anthony Simone.

Best plays: Shockheaded Peter, Green Valley Theatre Co.’s strange, creepy and fully engaging musical adaptation of an 1845 dark children’s book, boasted a creative production with colorful and clever puppets, dioramas and costumes. I also liked No Exit, Big Idea Theatre’s thoughtful production of Jean-Paul Sartre’s classic existential play. Then there was the excellent There is a Happiness That Morning Is; this was KOLT Run Creations staging of the relationship between two college professors delivered as lectures to the audience. Also of note: Italian Opera, California Stage’s very clever and amusing lampoon of, well, Italian operas with talented operatic performances and imaginative production. Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9 was produced both by Big Idea Theatre and Falcon’s Eye Theatre—it was fascinating to see two interpretations of the same play so close together. Both combined great acting and directing, combined with creative productions.


Predictably excellent

Best theater: Capital Stage, for always presenting predictably excellent productions, for the efficiency of its support staff and for having the most comfortable lobby.

Best productions: B Street Theatre’s Grounded was a strong one-person play which kept the audience on the edge of its seats and posed a lot of interesting questions for debate. STC’s Pirates of Penzance, proved that a 100-plus-year-old operetta can still find a crisp new production and appeal to 21st-century audiences. And KOLT Run Creations’ There is a Happiness That Morning Is: One of the perks of being a critic is the opportunity to discover gems like this that you otherwise would never think of seeing.

Best acting: Alicia Hunt’s performance as the pilot in B Street’s Grounded was a masterful, emotionally charged tour de force. Ryan Snyder was perfection in Capital Stage’s The Homecoming, a cool customer, but with an underlying hint of something sleazy behind that polished veneer.