Monday, February 26, 2024

Theater Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

                      Daniel Patrick Russell as Christopher

Teenager Christopher Boone (Daniel Patrick Russell), looking around one day, finds a (prop) dog that seems to have been killed and decides to play Sherlock Holmes to find out what happened.

This is the setup for the most intriguing, utterly engaging, occasionally shocking “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” a musical play based on the novel by Mark Haddon and adapted by Simon Stephens. The show plays through March 3 at CCAE Theatricals in Escondido.

Fifteen-year-old Christopher isn’t like most other teens. Though very bright, he seems to have neuropsychological issues that lead him to perceive the world differently from most people, and therefore to act differently. He also has, as they say, “some behavioral difficulties,” which occasionally annoy his loving father Ed (Nathan Madden), with whom he lives. His mother Judy (played by Regina A. Fernandez) is dead (though she will show up later, in flashback).

There is a kindly teacher named Siobhan in his life (played wonderfully by Allison Spratt Pearce), who both acts as narrator and helps Christopher to translate the world.

Several other characters play multiple roles and several cast members also serve as set movers and scene changers. The whole presentation, directed by J. Scott Lapp, is a visual wonder in nonstop motion that will keep you as involved as young Christopher, and wanting to know what will happen next.

It’s a presentation of multiple realities in pretty much constant motion, sometimes movement in the usual sense, other times through the lens of a camera.

To emphasize the constant motion, there’s a section in which Christopher goes to the train station and has an amusing (and so familiar) time trying to find the right place to get on the train.

But it’s not just personalities we see and experience. There is also much choreography (by Natalie Iscovich), made better by the sound design itself (by Jon Fredette). And there’s lots of music (songs by Maxwell Transue). Oh, and a live puppy.

It’s the presentation itself that will keep you fascinated, but the characters and their relationships to each other that will send you home delighted to have visited Christopher’s world.

The details

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” plays through March 3, 2024 at the Center Theater at California Center for the Arts in Escondido (1276 Auto Park Way, Suite D #402).

Remaining performances are on Feb. 26 at 7:30 (Industry Night), Feb. 29 at 7:30 p.m. (American Sign Language performance), March 1 at 7:30 p.m.; March 2 at 2 p.m. (Sensory Friendly Performance), March 2 at 7:30 p.m. and March 3 at 2 p.m.

For tickets contact the box office: (442-304-0500) or


Sunday, February 25, 2024

Theater Review: Redwood


There’s something about trees – especially California redwoods – that is calming and even healing.

At least that’s the contention of playwright Tina Landau’s musical “Redwood,” which just opened at La Jolla Playhouse.

The plot is wild and busy and is mostly about a very unhappy Jewish woman named Jesse (Idina Menzel), a successful businesswoman who is trying to escape an unnamed tragedy by getting in her car and fleeing to California’s redwood forest. 

There we meet several other characters, who presumably have their own problems. There’s photojournalist Mel (De’Adre Aziza), a woman of color and photo-journalist from New York. And Becca, (Nkeki Obi-Melekwe), half Jewish and an expert tree climber, described as “made of steel.” There’s the woodsman Finn (Michael Parks), in his sixties, a redwood canopy botanist, who can really climb a tree. And there’s a fourth actor (Zachary Noah Pisar) who plays four characters: the fun-loving 23-year-old Spencer – Jesse’s son from a long-ago dissolved marriage and three other briefly seen characters.

These characters move around, meet or don’t meet, sing or don’t sing (this is a musical, after all), but all is done within sight of the real star: the magnificent background of these fabulous trees, wonderfully filmed, surrounding us all with their beauty.

As Jesse begins to relax in the woods, she also begin to make make connections with the other characters, and they talk about the Jewish concept of Tikkum Olam, referring to actions intended to repair and improve the world.

This fits right in with Jesse’s intention to make things better. One thing she does is climb up to a spot on the redwood where she stakes her claim, sits down and makes herself at home. There she can actually stroke the redwood.

“Redwood” is a most unusual play, executed brilliantly in a visual feast that literally surrounds the audience. You couldn’t escape if you wanted to (at least, not without seriously inconveniencing other audience members), but you won’t because this is such a wondrous treat with humans and trees getting along and making life better for each other.

All the actors are excellent, though I sometimes had trouble understanding Menzel’s Jesse. Many of the musical numbers (music by Kate Diaz; lyrics by Diaz and Tina Landau) are unusual and sometimes difficult to understand, but they have interesting titles like “Climb” and “No Repair.”

The five-person backstage orchestra (conducted by Haley Bennett) supports the singers well. Congratulations also to music supervisor Kimberly Grigsby.

“Redwood” is a play like no other I’ve seen. If you’re up for the unusual, “Redwood” is for you.

The details

“Redwood” plays through March 31, 2024 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Sheila dnd Hughes Potiker Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive in La Jolla.

Shows Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 7 p.m.; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Most tickets have been sold, but you might try calling (858) 550-1010.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Theater Review: Chicago

Note to self: Boy, gotta write this fast. This crazy show with a bunch of fabulous singers and dancers and a plot about murder as a form of entertainment is only at San Diego Civic Theatre for a few more days.

You know the plot of “Chicago.” It’s about girls who make a living doing things that are thought of as indecent and often downright illegal, and what they do when they get caught.

From a 1926 play by Maurine Dallas Watkins, “Chicago” takes place in the late Roaring Twenties. With lyrics by Fred Ebb and music by John Kander, “Chicago is onstage through Feb. 18 at San Diego Civic Theatre.

It’s a touring show and a fabulous piece of entertainment, even if what they’re doing is something your mama would frown at. Its central characters are two women who can sing and dance like crazy, and will stop at nothing (including murder) to get what they want. Their names are Roxie Hart, played with great panache by Katie Frieden, and Velma Kelly, played brilliantly by Kailin Brown.

The cast of 22 is stuffed with terrific singers and dancers, aided by a fine onstage band of ten led by Cameron Blake Kinnear.

Given what these ladies do, it’s no surprise to find lawyer Billy Flynn (Connor Sullivan) hanging around, because he gets lots of work from them. When he sings that “All I Care About” (is love), you’ll have to decide for yourself whether he means it. But he does a great job on “Razzle Dazzle,” which is what this show has in spades. It’s won six Tony Awards, two Olivier awards and a Grammy. There’s a reason for that.

Don’t miss it. Get your shimmy-shake at “Chicago.”

“Chicago” plays through Feb. 18. Shows Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. For tickets go to

Monday, February 12, 2024

Theater Review: Fiddler on the Roof

                        Cast of "Fiddler on the Roof"

What is it about this old musical that always makes me happy and sad and want to dance and want to help solve the problems raised when I know how it will end, and especially when today’s political situation makes me wonder whether the world will ever be a happy place again?

“Fiddler on the Roof,” based on a series of stories by Sholem Aleichem written in Yiddish in the late 19th-early 20th centuries (and based on his own upbringing near modern-day Kiev), was first produced in Yiddish in 1919 and made into a film in the 1930s. It went through various versions until it was finally produced off-Broadway.

But enough history. The great news is that San Diego Musical Theatre has a wondrous fine version on its stage through March 10. This is a big cast of excellent singers, actors and dancers, directed brilliantly by Omri Schein.

The play, written in 1905, takes place in Anatevka, a little town (called the Pale of Settlement) in Imperial Russia in or around 1905. It is based on tales by Sholem Aleichem and his upbringing near modern-day Kiev. First produced on Broadway in 1964, it has become a staple of the American theater.

Matthew Henerson tells the story as Tevye, and he is outstanding, managing to make the audience feel the responsibility Tevye feels. Fortunately, the music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick help him put the story across and make it difficult for people like me not to sing along. It’s one of those musicals.

“Fiddler” is really about tradition and change. The Jews of Anatevka have until now been left alone and allowed to keep to their own traditions. But now Russian politics are changing and Anatevka will have to adapt. Or perhaps worse things will happen.

But we start with things as they are. The (non-playing) fiddler is seen often, pretending to play his violin, perhaps to remind us that “without our traditions, we would be no better than a fiddler on the roof.”

Tevye tells us the story, and his wife Golde (Debra Wanger) tries to keep tabs on and find suitable husbands for their five delightful daughters. 

We’ll meet all those daughters and the other residents of Anatevka, such as the matchmaker and general busybody Yente (D. Candis Paule) and the rabbi (Elliott Goretsky), and a few of the men who are looking for wives.

But change is in the offing, as we find out with the arrival of handsome Russian student Perchik (Kenny Bordieri) from Kiev, who offers radical opinions that don’t comport with either current Russian political thought or the notions of these Jewish residents.

How will it end? You’ll have to see it to find out. And please do. Even the nonhuman elements, like Mike Buckley’s set design, Michelle Miles’ lighting and Jordan Gray’s sound designs are first-rate.

The details

“Fiddler on the Roof” plays through March 10, 2024 at San Diego Musical Theatre, 4653 Mercury Street, San Diego.

Shows Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tickets: (858) 560-5740 or

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Theater Review: English

                    Cast of "English" at the Old Globe

Leave it to The Old Globe to come up with a play you’d never expect. 

This time it’s playwright Sanaz Toossi’s  “English,” set in Karaj, Iran in 2008 and featuring a cast of four Iranians studying English with teacher Marjan (Pooya Mohseni). It’s a varied group in one or more of these characteristics: age, experience with the English language and natural ability to pick up a new language.

Elham (Țara Grammy) iș anglo-minded and at times combative. She needs high marks to get into medical school in Australia.

Goli (Ari Derambakhsh) is the youngest. She notes that “English does not want to be poetry like Farsi.”

The oldest student, Roya (Mary Apick), wants to move to “the Canada” to be with her granddaughter. She even has an iPhone.

There is also one male student, Omid (Joe Joseph). He is handsome and charming, but a question mark since he was born not in Iran but in Ohio. 

Teacher Marjan’s desk has the forbidding sign “English only.” Her English comes from several years spent in Manchester.

It’s difficult for us as observers to try to make sense out of the nearly instantaneous language changes. But what we non-Iranians do get is a feel for the difficulties these characters have, as well as the almost inevitable insults they feel from others as they attempt to communicate. But along with the difficulties, you will also be privy to the interconnections occasioned by them.

It’s difficult to describe this piece, because it’s just not like anything you’ve seen onstage. But know that the cast is excellent and that the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2023. It may be a challenge, but it’s an interesting one, and using the circular Sheryl & Harvey White Theatre makes the action more visible, though not more comprehensible.

The details

“English” plays Tuesday through Sunday at noon. The last show is Feb. 18.

Tickets: (619) 234-5623 or 

Theater Review: Fun Home

Sounds like a rollicking good time, doesn’t it? But “Fun Home” is a nickname for the family-owned Pennsylvania funeral parlor owned by the Bechdel family in New Village Arts’ latest play.

It’s a complex show that takes place in three different years (1969, 1979 and 2003) and features a cast of seven (and three swings) who take us through difficult and sometimes amusing times as they grow up and older together.

Cartoonist Alison Bechdel (Rae Henderson-Gray) takes us through her difficult childhood with dad Bruce (played by Brent Roberts), emotionally volatile, demanding and and often cruel to his wife Helen (Sarah Alida LeClaire). Henderson-Gray is likable acting as the observer, who watches the others struggle as she did. 

Just as cruelty is part of the not-fun plot, so is the largely unadmitted desire for same-sex love which starts as hidden and gradually changes with the years.

And that’s not all. “Fun Home” is also a musical based on Bechdell’s illustrated memoir, offering 16 songs by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron.

The cast is absolutely amazing, from the kids to adults, all perfectly capable of singing, dancing and acting. Rae Henderson-Gray takes on the job of observer, being amused by herself and them as time goes by.

Lena Palke, an extremely talented 10-year-old, is excellent as the ten-year-old Alison, who gets to sing “Ring of Keys” at the time when she sees a butch woman in a restaurant and begins to learn something about herself.

Priya Richard, playing Alison as a teenager, is excellent, finally beginning beginning to realize that she isn’t just young but also lesbian. And Lisette Velandia plays Joan, whom Alison meets at just the right time.

Grade-schoolers Zayden McHardy and Leo Jones are fun to watch as Alison’s younger brothers Christian and John.

Brent Roberts is difficult and sometimes annoying to watch as the pater familias Bruce Bechdel, but it’s fun to watch him when he doesn’t get things to go his way.

Sarah Alida LeClair suffers quietly as Bruce’s long-suffering wife Helen, until she too reaches the stage of explosion.

Director Kym Pappas, musical director Korrie Yamaoka, choreographer Patrick Mayuyu and the rest of the creative team are to be congratulated as well. 

“Fun Home” is like no other play I’ve ever seen. NVA gives us a fascinating, sometimes confusing but absolutely unequaled show. Don’t miss it. It plays through March 3.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Theater Review: Chapatti

                  Grace Delaney and Robert May in "Chapatti"

There are dog lovers and cat lovers. There are people who want to socialize and others who want to (or at least say they want to) be alone. 

In Christian O’Reilly’s short but sweet play “Chapatti,” we get them all – in 90 minutes, with two (or four, depending on how you count) human characters and numbers of imaginary cats and dogs, in a charming mixture of heartache, despair and gentle comedy.

“Chapatti” stars Robert May and Grace Delaney and plays through Feb. 25 at Scripps Ranch Theatre.

Robert May plays dog owner Dan, a widower and former construction worker described in the cast list as “a man who has a dog.” The dog, Chapatti, an unseen mutt apparently named for the Indian flatbread chapati, seems to be a friendly sort.

The other human character is Betty, a cat lady with 19 felines, played by Grace Delaney. Betty has more than a little trouble just keeping track of all those cats, but she tries by stuffing many of them into a large box.  She also has a friend named Peggy (whom Delaney also alternates in playing). But Betty also yearns for male human companionship.

May and Delaney offer excellent and even charming portrayals of two seniors who yearn for but are unsure how to find human connection. 

Dan is tired of waiting and has decided to leave Dublin, and puts up an ad for Chapatti in the local veterinarian’s office. But before he leaves, Dan and Betty do finally meet by chance, and we (by now totally involved in their doings) begin to root for them to get together. Will they? We, the audience, certainly hope so.

“Chapatti” is a play like no other. It really must be seen. Don’t miss it.

Bravi tutti at Scripps Ranch Theatre for a delightful, charming, even inspiring evening of theater.  

The details

“Chapatti” plays through February 25, 2024 at Scripps Ranch Theatre, 10455 Pomerado Road, on the campus of Alliant International University.

Performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tickets: or (858) 395-0573