As 2016 recedes into memory and 2017 takes its place, here’s my look back at what was personally most memorable from last year’s professional theater productions. It’s not necessarily a “best of” list or presented in any particular order.
Ensemble and direction:: “The Realistic Joneses” at B Street Theatre. John Lamb, Elisabeth Nunziato, Dave Pierini and Dana Brooke played Will Eno’s meditation on marriage and mortality like a jazz quartet. Funny, sad, moving. Director Buck Busfield expertly orchestrated his longtime collaborators.
Play and performance: Steven Yockey’s “Blackberry Winter” also took on the theme of mortality along with modern caregiving. Amy Resnick dazzled in what was a near one-woman show.
Overall design: Caryl Churchill’s intentionally sparse “Love and Information” at Capital Stage became a specific world through the scenic design of Brian Watson, the lighting and projections of Stephen Decker, the sound of Ed Lee and the costumes of Rachel Malin.
Return to town: Writer and director Aram Kouyoumdjian, who was such a staple here before moving to Los Angeles, brought his new play “Happy Armenians” to California Stage for a two-weekend run.
Innovation: Director Glenn Casale’s Music Circus season-ending “Hunchback” was going to be an audience challenge, but the fearless Casale upped the ante, having deaf actor John McGinty play Quasimodo. Lesli Margherita took a Broadway hiatus for the production, which showed promise in this reworked adaptation.
New works: Joe Rodota’s “Chessman” and Jerry Montoya’s “Love and Baseball” are two fine, very different plays. Both B Street Theatre world premieres benefited from the company’s sincere commitment to new works and its gung-ho attitude toward putting those works on stage.
Music Circus surprise: “Nice Work If You Can Get It” has a great Gershwin pedigree, but its Broadway notices were so-so. Director Charles Repole and choreographer Michael Lichtefeld goosed this production with tap-dancing, and each song felt like a fully realized mini-production.
Overall production: Nick Payne’s beautiful and bittersweet “Constellations” was an intimate and intriguing look at life choices and paths chosen. Lyndsay Burch directed with Wade Mackenzie-Bahr designing the lighting and Samantha Reno creating the stunning interstellar set. Tom Patterson and Dana Brooke were the superbly matched couple.
Performances: These individual performances were worth a mention.
• Jerry Lee: El Gallo in “The Fantasticks” at Sacramento Theatre Company
• Kurt Johnson: Charlie Fox in “Speed the Plow” at B Street Theatre
• Adrian Roberts: Steve in “How to Use a Knife” at Capital Stage
• Janis Stevens: Violet Weston in “August: Osage County” at Capital Stage
• Phil Cowan: Gov. Edmund Brown in “Chessman” at B Street
• A few more performance shoutouts: Noah Lee Hayes, Matt K. Miller, Gail Dartez, Michael RJ Campell, Eason Donner, Brittni Barger, Dena Martinez, Rich Hebert
Passings: The theater world said goodbye to these talented individuals.
• Stanley Lunetta, composer, percussionist, Music Circus stalwart
• Robert Sereno, Music Circus sound designer
• Barry Wisdom, performing arts photographer
• Bob Irvin, director, American River College and Fair Oaks Theatre Festival.
Editor’s Note: This story was changed to correct the spelling of Joe Rodota’s name.
Marcus Crowder: 916-321-1120