Editor's note: This is the first of three columns reviewing the year 2010 in local theater.
"'Fences'" is the linchpin in (August) Wilson's 10-play oeuvre, most of them set in Pittsburgh's ramshackle Hill District in each decade of the 20th century. This one plays out in 1957, with a brief fast-forward to 1965 as we see the consequences of the play's events.
This column described Wilson's masterpiece earlier this year when it was mounted at South Coast Repertory. This powerful drama was SCR's finest production of 2010.
Directed by Seret Scott, "Fences" also was praised here as "the sort of play South Coast Repertory excels at, and the current production should leave a lasting impression."
It certainly did.
Runner-up honors among productions goes to "Crimes of the Heart," about which we commented, "'Crimes' remains the cream of (playwright Beth) Henley's crop, and ... SCR has mounted a beautifully balanced dramatic comedy centered on three squabbling but loving Mississippi sisters dealing with their respective turmoils."
Warner Shook directed.
In third position was the Costa Mesa company's season opener, a revival of George Bernard Shaw's "Misalliance," directed by Martin Benson, followed by a pair of "sleepers" — dynamic productions of lesser-known entities. These would be "In the Next Room," directed by Casey Stangl, and "Doctor Cerberus," staged by Bart DeLorenzo.
As for individual performances, one in particular stood out — Charlie Robinson's embittered father in "Fences." This column commented that the actor "commands the stage with a vocal and physical authority that will grip and hold its audience."
Likewise, Juanita Jennings as Robinson's wife earned high praise: "Jennings injects a superb sense of balance into the production and excels in a backyard showdown with her husband."
A singular achievement in "In the Next Room," drew accolades such as this column's "It's the wife — magnificently rendered by Kathleen Early — who captures this production, her priceless facial reactions magnifying a memorable performance."
Three other portrayals drew an extra measure of attention at SCR during 2010 — Candy Buckley in "Dr. Cerberus," Dakin Matthews and Melanie Lora, both for "Misalliance."
Several other actors excelled on the SCR stage throughout the year. Among them were David Burnham and Deborah S. Craig, "Ordinary Days"; Matt Letcher and Mark Harelik, "In a Garden"; Leo Marks and Linda Gehringer, "The Language Archive"; Jamison Jones and Steven Culp, "Dr. Cerberus"'; Blair Sims, Jennifer Lyon and Kate Rylie, "Crimes of the Heart"' Rebecca Mozo and Ron Menzel, "In the Next Room," and Tessa Auberjonois and Brian Avers, "Becky Shaw."
That was the year that was for South Coast Repertory. Next week this column focus on the high points of 2010 in local community and college theater, concluding our year-end summary the morning of New Year's Eve with the 37th annual tribute to the Daily Pilot's man and woman of the year in theater.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.