Best Marin County theater in 2017: musical, comic, thought provoking
This year was a helluva good one for theatrical productions in Marin.
Eighty-year-old James Dunn, who’s been directing and teaching theater arts for more than five decades, sensitively guided the all-around marvelous production.
Not only did he extract terrific performances from the actor-singers, he made sure the show — which focuses on the pre-World War II rise of anti-Semitism and the Nazi culture in Germany — showcased an important warning signal about today’s bigoted, bullying U.S. political climate.
Loose ‘n’ limber, rubber-legged Erik Batz, I wrote in my review, played the leering emcee “as a cross between The Joker and RuPaul — with a little Dana Carvey tossed in.”
He was “so good” in the scene-stealing role, I added, he was “absolutely mesmerizing.”
A close second in the “best-of” theatrical race was the Marin Theatre Company’s “peerless,” a darkly comic, occasionally sinister updating of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” that superimposed a scenario about twin psyched up sisters and college admission.
The March show I labeled a “must-see” stretched my laugh gland to near the bursting point.
Third on my list of favorites was the AlterTheater’s “Bondage,” a Star Finch-written April offering that spotlighted a surreal, thought-provoking drama filled with biracial coupling, lesbianism, drunkenness and rhythmic ghostly breathing.
Not to mention zealotry, lechery, slavery and a unique coming-of-age backdrop.
Mill Valley’s MTC, which also put on a very funny June production about drag queens, “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” was easily the winner of the year’s “most controversial” play.
Its October show, “Thomas and Sally,” drew pickets because it failed to depict Jefferson as raping the slave who was his mistress and mother of six of his kids.
No pickets but plenty of laughs could be found at a venue few theater buffs may think of as a performance center, Book Passage in Corte Madera, when comic Paula Poundstone — who in June was plugging her new book with an unbelievably long title, “The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness” — conducted an SRO appearance that doubled as a stand-up triumph.
The year 2017 also became one in which 68-year-old Marilyn Izdebski stepped down from the Marin theatrical production company that bore her name — after having directed, choreographed and taught 10,000 by her count for more than 230 shows over four decades.
And for those who prefer movies to live theater, October’s Mill Valley Film Festival had slated many Golden Globe and Oscar nominees — including my favorite movie of the year, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (with its incredible performance by leading actress Frances McDormand, a part-time Bolinas resident); “Lady Bird,” actor-director Greta Gerwig’s adroitly told tale about growing up in her hometown of Sacramento; and “Loving Vincent,” a unique animated film that involved a mystery revolving around who shot Van Gogh.
Last but far from least, another film that drew a highly favorable audience response in Marin was “Lucky,” a tribute to old age and a living memorial to lead actor Harry Dean Stanton.