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Arts & Culture

Small Venues Pay Off Big: A Roundup Of Local San Diego Theater

The cast of Circle Circle dot dot's new play, "Red Planet Respite," opening Friday at the Mandell Weiss Forum.
Circle Circle dot dot
The cast of Circle Circle dot dot's new play, "Red Planet Respite," opening Friday at the Mandell Weiss Forum.

Small Venues

Psycho Beach Party,” Ocean Beach Playhouse, Sept. 12-14

“New Play Café: Legends,” DeMi Café through Sept. 21

Red Planet Respite,” Mandell Weiss Forum, Sept. 12–28

Rent,” Southwestern College’s Mayan Hall, Oct. 22–Nov. 2

Race,” The Hall at Swedenborg Church, Sept. 13-Oct. 3

What better way to escape the summer heat than with some local theater productions that might be flying under the radar.

First off, hit the beach with the newly formed Ocean Beach Ensemble Experiment. The Ensemble describes itself as "a collaborative theatre experiment that encourages the development of provocative, innovative, and unusual theatrical works. Like Ocean Beach itself, our Ensemble embraces a playful and off-kilter celebration of the funky, the bizarre, and the unique, utilizing performance, music, art, and dance. Through new interpretations of extant works, showcasing new material, and embracing contemporary avant-garde material, we hope to provide San Diego with an unforgettable and rewarding theatre-going experience."

The Ensemble's second effort is Charles Busch’s Psycho Beach Party” playing Sept. 12-14 at the Ocean Beach Playhouse. The play focuses on Chicklet, a teenage tomboy who desperately wants to be part of the male-dominated surf crowd on Malibu Beach in 1962.


Busch’s kitschy play blends the Frankie and Annette beach party flicks of the 1960s with Hitchcockian psychological suspense thrillers. The result in the hands of the OB Ensemble is high camp, low comedy and lots of fun. The play is directed by A.J. Knox and Jenny Gardham with lively energy and has a wildly talented Trevor Peringer as Chicklet.

The Ocean Beach Ensemble Experiment is staging "Psycho Beach Party at the Ocean Beach Playhouse through Sept. 14.
The Ocean Beach Ensemble Experiment is staging "Psycho Beach Party at the Ocean Beach Playhouse through Sept. 14.

After the show Peringer came out to ask for donations. He said the ensemble put the show on for $400, “imagine what we could do with $500.” Well, I threw money in the hat because I want to see what they can do. Next up is a Halloween show that’s still in the works.

Now serving up its third edition is New Play Café. Founded in 2013, New Play Cafe offers an ongoing salon showcase of theater in various states of readiness. Or as it says: “Sometimes you’ll get half-baked sketches, sometimes al dente short works, and sometimes all-done-but-for-the-garnish workshop productions. New Play Cafe serves to-go orders of food-for-thought.”

Their goal is to assist playwrights in getting their plays out into the world by providing them time, space and thoughtful audiences. So the plays are all new and all by local playwrights.

Their latest menu item is “Legends (in ten minutes or less)” (running through Sept. 21 at DeMi Café Café, 1735 Adams Ave.). Each 10-minute play tackles the theme of legends be it Bigfoot or Jesus. As you might expect from a collection like this, the quality is uneven. Two of the best selections are “The Only Real Diner in Town” by Tom Steward and “The Gospel According to Jess” by Jennie Olson Six. A couple of others would have fared better with a stronger cast, but all in all (and with a tasty dessert from DeMi Café included), it’s a tasty evening of theater.


A community theater company that is enjoying the boost of being recently awarded a La Jolla Playhouse Residency is Circle Circle dot dot. This community-based theater company creates original works that look to different segments of the community for inspiration. In the past, they have focused on LARPing, drag queens, street artists and roller derby. This season they turn to science.

So “Red Planet Respite” opens its new season at the Mandell Weiss Forum. It was created and first produced as part of a residency with Arizona State University in the spring of 2014. The San Diego Production is presented as part of the company’s 2014/2015 La Jolla Playhouse Residency.

It’s 2044 and GlobalCom Venture Capital, an American corporation, has developed the first interactive resort experience on Mars. "Red Planet Respite" looks to the first crew sent to test out the luxurious resort. The play looks to the sometime awkward intersection of business and science, and captures a sense of the passion that can drive scientists to do what they do.

Written and directed by Katherine Harroff, the play sometimes drives home a message more than it focuses on telling a story, but in the end it proves moving and inspiring. It’s also worth seeing if only for Jaque Wilke as Shannon, a scientist who has been left alone a tad too long with her plants in space. Wilke makes her a little crazy but also smart and compassionate, someone who chooses to be cheery but without ignoring that not everything in the world is right. Caitlin Ross is also impressive as Addison, an Olympic swimmer who is supposed to be mostly window dressing but proves to be much more. Sets and costumes are also superb.

(And for full disclosure, I am one of the current board members for Circle Circle dot dot, and my comments are based on a rehearsal I was asked to attend and provide feedback on.)

Looking ahead, I want to highlight two productions. “Rent,” directed by Ruff Yeager and choreographed by Michael Mizerany, takes to the stage at Southwestern College’s Mayan Hall beginning Oct. 22. It is presented by the Theatre Arts Department.

And finally, I want to highlight the San Diego premiere of “Race” by David Mamet that opens this weekend at The Hall at Swedenborg Church (1531 Tyler Ave., San Diego). I will see a production of Mamet any chance I can. Along with Sam Shepard, he is one of the best and most distinct American playwrights to rise up in the 1970s and '80s. On race, Mamet says: “ “Race, like sex, is a subject on which it is near impossible to tell the truth.” In "Race," one of Mamet’s latest works, two attorneys are hired to defend a white man accused of raping an African-American woman. As evidence unravels, the lawyers' own beliefs about race rise to the surface.

The San Diego premiere is produced by Different Stages and pools the talents of Anthony Hamm, Jonathan Sachs, Brittney M. Caldwell and Lance Carter. It is directed by Jerry Pilato. You don’t want to miss the chance to hear Mamet’s idiosyncratic and poetic dialogue bounce off the walls of a small theater venue.

Hope this round up inspires some of you to try something new and perhaps even experimental in the coming weeks.