North Coast Repertory is first local theater to announce full indoor season

David Ellenstein, artistic director of North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach, speaks via zoom to patrons last May.
(Courtesy photo)

Seven-show lineup, kicking off Sept. 8, will include one world premiere musical and two West Coast premieres


California will officially reopen for “business as usual” on June 15, but San Diego theaters have held back from announcing a return to indoor performances.

But North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach — which was one the first local theater companies to present a filmed theatrical production last June — has unveiled a 40th anniversary season that will be produced entirely indoors beginning Sept. 8. The season will include seven full productions and an extra two short-term special engagements.

Artistic director David Ellenstein said he’s confident the company will be able to return to full production by September, but just in case, the company’s first show will have just two actors. That allows the company to safely accommodate all social distancing requirements for performers and backstage crew and it reduces the company’s financial risk if audience capacity must be limited.

Richard Baird performing in the filmed production of “An Iliad” at North Coast Repertory Theatre.
Richard Baird performing in the filmed production of “An Iliad” at North Coast Repertory Theatre. The play will be revived in a live production in December 2021.
(Courtesy of Aaron Rumley)

Most of the shows in the upcoming season were scheduled before the pandemic struck in March 2020. The shows were also booked before the Black Lives Matter movement spawned a demand by artists of color nationwide for theaters to expand diversity both onstage and behind the scenes. None of the shows in North Coast Rep’s 40th season were written by playwrights of color.

Ellenstein said he’s sensitive to the call for diversity and wants to honor the call in future years, but because the plays were already booked and he had made commitments to directors and actors well in advance, he wanted to honor the promises he made. Ellenstein said he is hoping to field diverse casts in the coming season.

“We’re always trying to be diverse in how we go about casting, and there will be more acute attention to that in the future,” he said. “I want to open the door for every nationality and race, but I want to be fair in how we do it.”

Here’s a look at North Coast Rep’s 40th season. Subscriptions are now on sale at

“Dancing Lessons” (Sept. 8-Oct. 3): Mark St. Germain’s play is a story about an injured female Broadway dancer and a man on the autism spectrum who find connection during a series of dance lessons. Ellenstein said this play was going to be filmed for streaming in December but the project was canceled during the winter lockdown. Veteran Rep collaborator Richard Baird will direct. Ellenstein believes “Dancing Lessons” is the best play every written by St. Germain (who also wrote “Becoming Dr. Ruth” and “Freund’s Last Session”).

“Ben Butler” (Oct. 20-Nov. 14): Richard Strand’s 2014 race-relations comedy-drama is inspired by the real-life Civil War-era story of Union Gen. Benjamin Butler who was faced with the decision of whether or not to return runaway slaves to their Southern masters. Ellenstein said he has wanted to produce the play for years but couldn’t get the rights, so he reached out to the playwright directly.

“Desperate Measures” (Jan. 12-Feb. 6): North Coast presents the West Coast premiere of this 2018 romantic comedy musical by Peter Kellogg and David Friedman. It reimagines William Shakespeare’s tragicomedy “Measure for Measure” set in the Old West.

“The Homecoming” (March 2-27): Harold Pinter’s Tony Award-winning 1967 drama was already in rehearsals at North Coast last year when theaters shut down. Ellenstein said North Coast has had great success with works by the British playwright, and he has long wanted to do this play about a strange gender power battle that takes place in a London family’s home. The cast includes Baird, Bruce Turk, James Newcomb, Tony Amendola and Hannah Jane McMurray.

“Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits” (April 20-May 15): A revue of Gerald Alessandrini’s musical song parodies directed by “Forbidden Broadway” veteran William Selby. Ellenstein said the song list will be tailor-made for local audiences.

“The Outgoing Tide” (June 8-July 3): North Coast presents the West Coast premiere of Bruce Graham’s 2012 drama about a New England family dealing with the aging and fading memory of its patriarch, who would rather die on his own terms than move into assisted care. Ellenstein said North Coast did a reading of this play several years ago, and he has always wanted to bring it back in a full production.

“The Remarkable Mister Holmes” (July 20-Aug. 14): North Coast presents the world premiere of this Sherlock Holmes-inspired musical comedy/mystery co-written by Ellenstein, Omri Schein and David Lincoln. Ellenstein said musicals and Holmes-themed plays have been top-sellers at North Coast in the past. He calls this show a “crazy mystery” that’s a bit like “My Fair Lady” meets “The Producers.”

Two season “extras” are also planned. In December 2021, there will be a live two-week engagement of “An Iliad,” the Greek myth-inspired solo play by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare that North Coast produced on film last December starring Baird. And in April 2022, the company will bring back “Always ... Patsy Cline,” the musical inspired by the Country-Western singing legend, which was first produced in 2018.

— Pam Kragen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune