Theater Notebook: OnStage’s ‘Lonely Planet,’ New Fortune’s ‘Public Enemy’ good reasons to support local theater

James P. Darvas as Jody and Salomón Maya as Carl in OnStage Playhouse's "Lonely Planet."
(Courtesy of OnStage Playhouse)

Also this week, New Village Arts announces its 2023-24 season


On Saturday, OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista will open a fund-raising production of Steven Dietz’s comedy-drama “Lonely Planet.”

Tickets are being offered to the public on a donation-only basis, in the hope that generous theater-lovers will open their wallets and checkbooks to rescue the struggling theater company. The company went on hiatus in late April to launch a $150,000 fundraising campaign to cover operating expenses that include a rent hike on its Third Avenue space.

OnStage — which won an award for outstanding achievement by a small theater at the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Awards in March — is facing challenges that are sadly not unique. Theater companies all over the country have struggled to come back from the pandemic. Theater attendance and donations are down, federal stimulus funds have run out and operating costs have skyrocketed. To cope, many local theaters have reduced the size of their seasons, done away with live music and are presenting smaller productions.

But for many theaters those cuts have not been enough.

On June 15, L.A.’s largest theater organization, the Center Theatre Group, announced it has canceled all programming — perhaps for the next year — in its Mark Taper Forum and will lay off 10 percent of its staff.

The titan of L.A. theater, Center Theatre Group, is shutting down the Mark Taper Forum for at least a year to save money. Will other theaters follow?

June 17, 2023

On June 6, New York’s Public Theater — the nation’s largest nonprofit theater organization — announced that its 18-year-old experimental theater festival, Under the Radar, is going on an indefinite hiatus.

In April, the leaders of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival launched a $2.5 million fundraising campaign to save its 2023 season. That campaign was successful, but the organization also said it would postpone planning a 2024 season until finances stabilize. Also in April, Dallas Theater laid off half of its staff, including its entire acting company. And in the spring, New Ohio Theatre announced that will shut down permanently on Aug. 31.

Here in San Diego, San Diego Repertory Theatre folded last summer after 46 years downtown. And this past spring the co-leaders of North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach stepped in to help out Laguna Playhouse in Orange County, which had been without management for the past year.

Another recent fatality was PianoFight Theatre, which shuttered its locations in San Francisco and Oakland in March after 16 years in business. In a January statement, PianoFight’s operations director Duncan Wold explained the reasons for the shutdown.

“We made a lot of assumptions about the pandemic, most of which ended up being wrong,” Wold said. “The most off-base being that once we reopened, artists and audiences would be so hungry for live performance, the business would be there. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.”

Richard Baird leads the cast of New Fortune Theatre Company's "Public Enemy."
Richard Baird, foreground, Walter Murray, left in background, and Amanda Schaar, right, in New Fortune Theatre Company’s “Public Enemy.”
(Courtesy of Bryan Baird)

On Friday, I was in the audience for one of the best shows I’ve seen all year — and that’s counting the eight Broadway shows I attended in April and May. New Fortune Theatre Company is presenting “Public Enemy,” a thrilling, 90-minute adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People,” in the small theater at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Point Loma.” Director and star Richard Baird delivered some of the best acting I’ve seen in 2023 for an audience of maybe 25 people. Baird, and New Fortune, deserve a much bigger audience and more donors.

If you’ve been waiting to return to theater, now is the time to show your support at OnStage Playhouse, New Fortune Theatre and many others before they disappear like so many others are around the country.

New Village unveils 22nd season

An actor in a hat and cape on stage painting on a canvas
Herbert Siguenza as Pablo Picasso in “A Weekend with Pablo Picasso.”
(Daren Scott)

Carlsbad’s New Village Arts Theatre has announced its 2023-24 season that will include six plays and musicals. The season begins in August and subscriptions go on sale June 29 at Here’s the lineup:

“A Weekend with Pablo Picasso” — San Diego actor-playwright Herbert Siguenza brings his popular one-man show about the irascible Spanish artist back to New Village following a 2019 run. Aug. 4-Sept. 3.

“Doubt” — John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2005 play is the story of a nun who accuses a priest at a Catholic school in the Bronx of an inappropriate relationship with a student, but she begins to doubt her suspicions. Sept. 22-Oct. 22.

“1222 Oceanfront: A Black Family Christmas” — NVA commissioned playwright Dea Hurston to write this 2021 holiday musical comedy about an affluent Black family in Carlsbad whose tradition-bound holiday gathering suddenly changes. Nov. 17-Dec. 24.

“Fun Home” — Based on the bestselling graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, this 2015 Tony-winning musical is a memory tale about a woman looking back on key moments of her life, including her father’s cruel suppression of her true self when she was a girl and her first lesbian relationship in college. Jan. 25-March 3, 2024.

“The 39 Steps” — Patrick Barlow’s comic adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock 1935 suspense film uses just four actors to tell a wide-ranging and fast-paced murder mystery in England. April 4-May 12, 2024.

“The Color Purple” — This Pulitzer Prize-winning musical is based on the Alice Walker novel about a Black Georgia woman’s perseverance in her search for love and family in the first half of the 20th century. June 7-July 21, 2024.