The year that was

SN&R’s theater critics list the best of 2009

Nanci Zoppi: She’s worth obsessing over.

Nanci Zoppi: She’s worth obsessing over.

Photo By tony sheppard

It was a year full of great shows and difficult financial straits, outstanding performances and scaled-back productions. SN&R’s three critics put our heads together to list the theater stories we think made 2009 interesting:

I’ll do it myself, thanks: Pressed by the recession, many theaters staged solo shows this year. Among the best: Gary Alan Wright in SantaLand Diaries (Capital Stage), Daniel Beaty in Through the Night (Images Theatre Company), Greg Alexander in I Am My Own Wife (B Street Theatre), and Donald E. Lacy Jr. in Colorstruck (Images Theatre Company). Matt K. Miller did two, the autobiographical Fits and Parts: My Life in Stages and the stressed-out restaurant worker in Fully Committed, both at the Sacramento Theatre Company.

What about the women?: Aren’t there some good one-woman shows available?

Outstanding tragic performance: Janis Stevens wowed us as Klytemnestra in Rick Foster’s Children of Light at California Stage, while the threesome of Blair Leatherwood, Dan Featherston and Claire Lipschultz broke our hearts in All My Sons at River Stage.

Big brass balls: In this time of economic turmoil, Connor Mickiewicz has them; he opened his New Helvetia Theatre Company this year and produced the memorable Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Tick … Tick … Boom!

Still cutting edge: Still pushing the envelope, this year Capital Stage gave us satisfying shows that were both thought-provoking and shock-evoking, with Speech and Debate, world-premiere Erratica, an Academic Farce, and American Buffalo.

More hits than misses: Big Idea Theatre knocked the ball out of the park four times, winning raves for their productions of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Some Girls, Closer and A Streetcar Named Desire. They’re getting a rep as the sexy community-theater group.

American classic: Celebration Arts did us all a big favor by staging back-to-back, top-notch productions of two American classics: a spine-tingling Dutchman, followed by a standout interpretation of one of the best family dramas ever written, A Raisin in the Sun.

Cross-town acting award: James Ellison III really showed his chops—and his quick-change skills—by taking on two main roles in two different theaters at the same time. After he finished his performance as Styles in Celebration Arts’ Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, he headed over to the California Stage complex to portray Pontius Pilate in Beyond the Proscenium’s production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. Ay, caramba!

Goodbye, hello: And speaking of Beyond the Proscenium, the company bid farewell, ceasing operations at the end of one of their strongest seasons ever. That’s the bad news; the good news is that a number of B.P. regulars formed Fourth Stage, which successfully kicked off their tenure with an original Christmas-slash-family drama, The Naked Nativity.

Worth obsessing over: Nanci Zoppi. That’s really all we need to say, but … oh, we’ve gotta say it. She was absolutely awesome as Mrs. Walker in Artistic Difference’s staged concert version of Tommy, in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (as Yitzhak) at New Helvetia, as Teresa in B Street’s Italian American Reconciliation, as Susan in Tick … Tick … Boom! at New Helvetia; and at a couple of standing-room-only performances at Graham Sobelman’s Graham-a-Rama cabaret series. Let’s hope we see enough of her in 2010 to feed the obsession.

And speaking of cabaret: Sobelman’s Graham-a-Rama cabaret series is still the hottest ticket in town on Sunday nights. Visit for lineups and ticket information.