Daily Pilot

On Theater: 'Magnolias' bloomed as best non-pro show

By Tom Titus

December 24, 2015

This is the second in a series of three columns reviewing the year in local theater.

Local community playhouses and college drama departments kept busy during 2015, turning out some splendid productions.

Of the plethora of entries in this category, the finest of the bunch proved to be "Moonlight & Magnolias" at the Newport Theatre Arts Center, directed by Brian Page. This column tagged it "a wildly hilarious comedy purporting to tell what really happened when the producer, the director and the screenwriter were striving to reassemble the movie 'Gone With the Wind' over a period of five days."

Runners-up at NTAC were "Postmortem," helmed by Gigi Fusco Meese, and Dimyana Pelev's sprightly production of "Li'l Abner."

"Magnolias" also produced the year's best actor in the community/college category. Robert Fetes delivered an outstanding performance as uber-producer David O. Selznick, which I compared to "Emperor Nero on a bad day."

There were enough plaudits to go around in that production: Thom Gilbert and David Rousseve shone as writer Ben Hecht and director Victor Fleming, respectively. Also notable on the Newport stage were Della Lisi in "Postmortem" and Nancy Lang Gibbs in "Later Life."

The Costa Mesa Playhouse also delivered a superior production - a stirring version of "The Lion in Winter" under the direction of Timothy K. Thorn. This column termed it "a well-crafted intellectual exercise."

Also coming in for extended applause were director Michael Serna's "A Behanding in Spokane" and "Little Women," staged by Aurora J. Culver.

Peter Stone and Jenny McGinchey captured best performance honors for "Lion." Also in the running were Mazie Wilson in "Little Women" and Angel Corea in "Spokane."

Other highlights on the community calendar were Scott Ratner's original play "Kill a Better Mousetrap" at the Huntington Beach Playhouse and "Sabrina Fair" at the Westminster Community Playhouse. Tiffany Berg burned brightly in the title role of "Sabrina Fair," while Ratner starred splendidly in his own "Mousetrap."

On the collegiate circuit, three productions stood out - "Urinetown" at Orange Coast College, directed by Ann Marie Byrd; "Kiss Me Kate" at Vanguard University, staged by Susan Berkompas; and Martie Ramm's production of "Spamalot" at Golden West College.

Berkompas also excelled as an actress at Vanguard in "Always a Bridesmaid," as did fellow instructor Vanda Eggington. Bretlyn Schmidt was terrific in "Kiss Me Kate."

Other acting notables in college shows were Michael Bielitz in "Yankee Tavern" and Paul Jasser in "Spamalot," both at Golden West. Ian Jenkins and Joshua David Martin impressed in "Ah, Wilderness" at Vanguard.

For the third and final year-in-review column, two people who excelled during 2015 will be brought forward for special curtain calls next week as the man and woman of the year in theater.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater.

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