Stage Fright

The year's top five theater disappointments


It’s mathematical.

When one sees as many plays as I do (between 60 and 70 a year), it’s only logical that a certain number of those shows will end up among my favorites for that particular year. I keep all of my ticket stubs in a box and review them each December as the year comes to a close. It is to be expected, of course, that some of those shows will have disappointed me, either because my expectations were too high or because the production simply failed to achieve its potential. Next week, I’ll be presenting my list of the top 10 torn tickets of 2010, my favorite shows of the year. But first, in a tradition that began in 2008, I shall take a look at the five theatrical productions that, in the year 2010, disappointed me the most.

‘The Taming of the Shrew’ (Marin Shakespeare Company) Pirates are without a doubt among the most theatrical of characters, so when the Marin Shakespeare Company announced it was putting a Pirates of the Caribbean spin on its summertime staging of Shakespeare’s Shrew, the very notion seemed a recipe for delight and high-spirited Shakespearean fun. Not that the Shrew/pirate connection was new or anything, the Sebastopol Shakespeare Festival having put Kate and Petruchio in pirate pants a couple years ago. But as word spread that a pirate ship was being built on the stage of the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, anticipation likewise built higher and higher: one of the Bard’s funniest plays combined with swashbuckling bad-asses. It just had to be good, right?

What a disappointment, therefore, to see the actual production, in which director Bob Currier slashed the text and stuffed what was left with his own lines, most of them silly gags that would have worked better as a Saturday Night Live routine. Petruchio, supposedly our hero, was turned into an uncharming, flippantly cruel sociopath, hacking off hands (all so the actors could make bad, non-Shakespearean puns) and sending people to their deaths left and right. What might have been an illuminating and delightful revisioning, all guns blazing, was instead a chaotic (though certainly energetic) misfire.

‘Peter Pan’ (SRT) More pirates. More letdown. The disappointment of this nonmusical Peter Pan, directed by James Newman from the original script by J. M. Barrie, was mainly in how close it occasionally came to brilliance, while so much of the rest was . . . not brilliant. Though I shall remember forever the gorgeously lovely dance of shadows that ended the show, I shall not soon forget the sad, empty lack of impression made by Claire Perry as Captain Hook. The promise of a rock-’em, sock-’em female Hook evaporated the minute she uttered her first anemic line, deflating my hope for a Hook with teeth and claws. The staging by Newman was so unfocused and full of activity that pivotal moments (such as the gobbling of Hook by the otherwise ingenious ticking Crocodile) were lost amid all the action and visual clutter.

‘A Christmas Carol’ (The Sonoma County Repertory Theater) Jon Tracy, who wrote this adaptation of Dickens’ classic feel-good ghost story, made a major misstep in choosing to have a repentant Scrooge narrate the story from the vantage point of an already changed man. Gone was the necessary tension that makes us hunger to see the crotchety Scrooge finally reformed. In this case, it’s the first thing we see, making the story sadly superfluous.

‘Dead Man’s Wake’ (West Side Playhouse) Larry Klein’s original play was staged with great actors (William Elsman, Tyler McKenna), telling the dramatic true story of a Mill Valley author who took his own life, thus plunging his surviving family into despair and destitution. The script, though, is self-indulgent, rambling and ultimately incoherent, burying the truly good play that still hides somewhere beneath all those words.

‘Happy Now?’ (Marin Theatre Company) In a year where nearly every show MTC put onstage wound up among my favorites, this overlong letdown about a woman’s search for happiness failed less because of its own lack of significance (though other plays have told the same story far better), but because MTC chose to market it as a scathingly hilarious skewering of modern life. While it occasionally did scathe, Happy Now? was rarely even amusing, let alone hilarious.

Stay tuned next week for David Templeton’s Top 10 favorite shows of 2010.

Sonoma County Library