The UC San Diego Theater & Dance Department is rated with the likes of Yale and New York University. Many of its graduates have become successful in the entertainment business: playwright alum Rachel Axler, for example, has won four Emmys for TV comedy writing, while actor Danny Burstein has been nominated for six Tonys and two Grammy Awards, and actor Maria Dizzia has been in 20 movies and 16 television shows. And that’s just a tiny chapter of the department’s success stories.
Each academic quarter it offers performances the public may attend. Usually, the plays are contemporary pieces that employ the latest developments in lighting, design, costumes and directing. Other times they’re a revival of a classic that has faded into obscurity. Either way, be prepared for the unexpected!
The price of admission is another plus. UCSD students pay $5 for a ticket; alumni tickets are $10, and if you buy a season subscription it’s an absolute steal in comparison to the cost of other theater events around town. Parking is free for theater events on Saturday or Sunday, and during the week, one can get a parking pass in front of La Jolla Playhouse for just $2. One of my favorite things about being a season subscriber is getting to see the acting students develop over their three-year training. It is really quite impressive.
‘What of the Night?’
Fall quarter 2017 has especially interesting productions. The first, “What of the Night?” opens at 2 p.m. Nov. 11 at Potiker Theater, with additional shows Nov. 14-18. On the short list for a Pulitzer Prize in 1990, “What of the Night?” was written by Maria Irene Fornes, a Cuban-American playwright/director during the 1960s, best known for her boldness and plot twists. She won her first two Obies in 1965 and went on to win a total of nine.
“What of the Night?” is four interlocking plays that follow four family members over a 60-year period. Once called a “sweeping portrayal of society,” the production examines how a person’s economic situation effects them and defines their intimate relationships. It is directed by Katie Pearl, a visiting Quinn Martin directing fellow. Pearl earned a Writing for Performance MFA from Brown University in 2015 and is currently a fellow at Princeton, a lecturer at Harvard, and the co-artistic director of the PearlDamour theater company, another Obie award winner.
Pearl said she befriended Fornes and has visited the now elderly playwright in the nursing home where she’s being treated for Alzheimer’s. “I held her hand and read her her play, although she probably didn’t remember that she wrote it,” Pearl sighed.
‘The Green Cockatoo’
The next play, “The Green Cockatoo,” opens 7 p.m. Nov. 15 in the Forum Theater, with additional shows Nov. 17-20. It was written in 1899 by Viennese doctor-turned-writer, Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931). Schnitzler’s books were banned by Adolf Hitler and burned in 1933, along with the writings of Einstein, Marx, Kafka and Freud. One of Schnitzler’s short stories was adapted by Stanley Kubrick to become his final film, “Eyes Wide Shut.”
The setting for “The Green Cockatoo” is Paris on July 14, 1789. A ragtag theater group is performing for members of the aristocracy and it’s not clear if the players are insulting the aristocrats or just telling them the truth about their forthcoming downfall in The French Revolution.
Marco Barricelli, head of the graduate acting program at UCSD, directs. “The first time I came across this play was in 1978 when I was a student at Julliard. I was mesmerized by its performance. I knew that one day I had to be involved with it. The juxtaposition of what is real and what is acting in the play is terribly exciting! Schnitzler is a master playwright and his work explores the deepest and most dangerous aspects of his characters, while at the same time playing with the form of theater itself.”
‘She Kills Monsters’
There is also an undergraduate play, “She Kills Monsters,” directed by UCSD alumni and acting teacher Jennifer Chang, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6-9 in the Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre. Written by Vietnamese-American author Qui Nguyen, “She Kills Monsters” is a comedic romp into the world of fantasy role-playing games. Nguyen has been a TV writer and now works for Marvel Comics studio.
“The play is the story of Agnes Evans, as she leaves her childhood home in Ohio, following the death of her teenage sister, Tilly,” Chang explained. “When Agnes finds Tilly’s ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ notebook, she stumbles into a world of discovery and action-packed adventure in the imaginary world that was Tilly’s refuge. I chose this play because it was immediate, accessible and emotionally charged.”
Chang earned a BFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts and an MFA from UCSD where she was an Arthur Wagner Scholar and won an Excellence in Teaching award. She is also a founding member of Chalk Repertory Theater.
‘Before the horses crash into the ground’
In closing, there will be a MFA dance performance directed by Veronica Santiago Moniello titled: “Before the horses crash into the ground, and then the ground,” 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7-9 in the Potiker Theatre. Moniello hails from Venezuela where she went to dance school while a member of five dance companies. She spent five years studying dance in Germany on a scholarship before coming to the UCSD program. The theme of her piece, she said, is “how the space that a dance is performed in conditions that dance and how the dance in turn modifies the space.”
IF YOU GO: Tickets and times at theatre.ucsd.edu