A year of reviews

An SN&R reviewer gives kudos to some of the best stage productions of 2014

In addition to being one of our favorite shows of 2014, this press photo for Big Idea Theatre’s <i>The Exit Interview</i> was also one of the best we saw this year.

In addition to being one of our favorite shows of 2014, this press photo for Big Idea Theatre’s The Exit Interview was also one of the best we saw this year.

Photo by Yuri Tajiri

Our choice for best all-around season from a professional theater company is Capital Stage, for The Real Thing, Good People, Maple & Vine, Tribes and Anna Karenina. These are all classic examples of what happens when an artistic aesthetic with a strong contemporary bent meets traditionally top-notch production values—and you throw in some great acting. Oh, and a special thanks for the new décor in the patio room. We love the piano water fountain.

For best all-around community-theater season, we’d vote for Big Idea Theatre for When the Rain Stops, The Language Archive, The Submission (so good it got a special production at Capital Stage!), Inventing Van Gogh, The Exit Interview, and, yes, The Jungle Book. Even when doing a children’s story, this is a community theater that pulls out all the stops. In terms of the best value for your theater dollar, Big Idea is still the smartest buy in town.

Celebration Arts hit some high points in the usual places—August Wilson’s Jitney and Athol Fugard’s The Train Driver—but they also knocked our socks off with a poetic production of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

New Helvetia Theatre gets kudos for Passion—Sondheim is hard, and they made it look easy—and for Connor Mickiewicz’s excellent turn in Song From an Unmade Bed. Along with those kudos, though, we’d like to put in a request for longer runs. Give us enough time to get there, please!

Green Valley Theatre Company gets the nod for community musical theater done edgy in a small but comfy space. A New Brain gave us a much-overlooked gem that features a frog on a scooter; their production of The Wild Party would give anyone a lost weekend; and The Light in the Piazza was breathtaking. They shouldn’t be a secret, so pass the word.

Sacramento’s oldest Latino theater company keeps the drama in their politics and does it well. They get a nod for Enslaved, about trafficking of impoverished Mexican women who are promised a new life in the U.S., then forced into sex work. It’s agitprop, but it’s good agitprop, and Teatro Espejo does it like nobody else.

Meanwhile, Sacramento’s newest Latino theater company, Teatro Nagual, translated Julia Alvarez’s wonderful novel about the Marisol sisters’ opposition to dictator Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic into the wonderful In the Time of the Butterflies—excellent work.

At B Street, highlights were a very bookish Provenance and an extremely funny Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Sacramento Theater Company’s Kate: The Unexamined Life of Katharine Hepburn gets kudos for an original script by Rick Foster and amazing work by Janis Stevens as the star. These two know how a one-hander ought to be done.

Then there was the ultimate in trimmed down: a four-handed Hamlet produced by Theater Galatea. The adaptation by P. Joshua Laskey was the sort of theatrical tour de force that reminds us why we love a live performance, and it’s also the sort of experiment we’d like to encourage.

At California Stage, Ray Tatar continues to keep things on point, “celebrating” the centenary of World War I with a masterful—if very long—production of Journey’s End, which served as a reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Also noteworthy at Cal Stage were the revival of Rick Foster’s one-woman show, Love, Isadora, and a delightfully mad production of Marat/Sade (long form title: The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade). Not only was it strangely funny, tragic and political; it also featured a cameo by Tatar himself.