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Sizing up the impressive variety of San Diego theater in 2017

Conventional Top 10 lists are for drones (not to mention people who can exercise at least some degree of self-control). So instead of that usual yearly exercise in comparing apples to oranges to rutabagas, here’s a look at 15 San Diego-area theater productions that stuck in the brain for a wide variety of reasons over the course of 2017:

Best translation of history to herstory (Part 1)

“An Iliad,” with Linda Libby as a forceful, funny and defiantly female Poet (a role usually played by a man) in New Village Arts’ lyrical staging of the gripping contemporary riff on Homer.

Most imposing ode to tragedy

“Hamlet,” in which a fallen king’s towering, golden suit of armor matched the ambition of artistic director Barry Edelstein’s staging for the Old Globe.

Most inspired use of imaginary penguins

The bittersweet “Wild Goose Dreams,” Hansol Jung’s hard-to-describe (and harder not to like) saga of love and loss at La Jolla Playhouse.

Timeliest dive into the past

“Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3,” Suzan-Lori Parks’ boldly imaginative Civil War epic, in an arresting local premiere under Christy Yael-Cox’s direction at Intrepid Theatre. (North Coast Rep’s “Of Mice and Men,” as expertly staged by Richard Baird, was also a strong contender.)

Achievement in authenticity

“Falling,” Deanna Jent’s difficult but powerful piece about a family confronting autism, in an admirably committed staging at InnerMission Productions.

Sleeper musical of the year

“Tarrytown,” Adam Wachter’s smart and surprising updating of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” in a stylish world premiere at Backyard Renaissance.

Greatest moment in the weirdly interactive

“8 Songs for a Mad King,” Bodhi Tree Concerts’ operatic whatzit wonder, with playgoers live-tweeting madly at the San Diego International Fringe Festival.

Most masterful sense of atmosphere

“The Illusion,” Tony Kushner’s neglected but worthy (and witty) work, given a lush production by artistic director David Ellenstein at North Coast Rep.

Most inspiring solo ode

“Our Great Tchaikovsky,” actor-writer-pianist Hershey Felder’s latest celebration of a musical master, which proved a box-office record-setter at San Diego Rep.

Most likely to inspire guilty laughs

“Bad Jews,” Cygnet Theatre’s exquisitely acted staging of Joshua Harmon’s provocative (and thoughtful) comedy.

Most memorably intimate revisiting of a classic

“Cabaret,” in a savvy revival that nearly burst the seams of Ion Theatre’s cozy BLKBOX space.

Achievement by a cohesive ensemble

The Old Globe and Moxie Theatre’s “Skeleton Crew” and New Village Arts’ “Awake and Sing!” — two very different but similarly hard-hitting stories of working people’s struggles.

Most engaging flights of fantasy

Georgette Kelly’s transgender saga “Ballast,” whose excursions into dream worlds were beautifully realized at the LGBTQ-centered Diversionary Theatre.

Best translation of history to herstory (Part 2)

Moxie’s staging of Lauren Gunderson’s “The Revolutionists,” showcasing a bold quartet of rules-breaking ladies in 18th-century France.

Most entertaining show to be concocted in a cocktail glass

“Escape to Margaritaville,” La Jolla Playhouse’s splashy (and now Broadway-bound) tale of island romance, set to the songs of Jimmy Buffett.


Twitter: @jimhebert

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