A staple of Solana Beach and North San Diego County for more than 30 years, North Coast Repertory Theatre is ending its 34th season on a high note and entering its 35th year with a combination of fan favorites and local premieres that’s sure to please its patrons.
“It started out as a very small organization and over the years, it’s grown and grown and grown,” said Artistic Director David Ellenstein. “We have built a reputation for doing really high-quality work.”
With “Way Downriver,” an adaption of William Faulkner’s 1939 short story, “Old Man,” currently on stage through May 15, North Coast Repertory Theatre is also in rehearsal for its next show, the classic, “Hedda Gabler.”
Although the second to last show of the season, the play will mark a particularly significant milestone for Ellenstein. It will be his 100th production at North Coast Repertory Theatre.
“I can’t believe I’ve been here as long as I have,” said Ellenstein, who has served as North Coast Repertory Theatre’s artistic director for more than 13 years. He started with the theater in January 2003. “It marks a very large body of work, which is a neat thing to have behind me, but I’m always looking forward.”
Written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, “Hedda Gabler” weaves a tale about a woman trapped in a loveless marriage who is driven by a need for power and freedom. Directed by Ellenstein, the show also marks the debut of a translated script by local Ibsen scholar Anne-Charlotte Harvey.
The play, which originally premiered in 1891 in Munich, will open June 1 and run through June 26 at the theater.
As artistic director, selecting the theater’s plays is just one of Ellenstein’s responsibilities. But he wasn’t thinking about his 100th production when he selected “Hedda Gabler.” Ellenstein has to plan each season well in advance.
North Coast Repertory Theatre recently announced the schedule for its 35th season. And as soon as “Hedda Gabler” opens, Ellenstein plans to get started on the following season’s lineup.
“When we close our final show, we’re in rehearsal for the first show of the next season,” Ellenstein said. “We have no off-time here.”
The 34th season comes to a close with “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” which captures the golden age of jazz in 1920s and 1930s Harlem. The show runs July 13 through Aug. 7.
Committed to promoting theater arts, North Coast Repertory Theatre produces seven main stage productions each season. The nonprofit organization also offers a holiday show, four shows from its theater school, and about two dozen special events and variety nights.
“We are extremely busy,” Ellenstein said.
When selecting each season’s lineup, Ellenstein tries to include a little bit of everything, from classics to comedies.
“I put together as eclectic a season as I can because I like to keep it varied and changed up so we never do anything that’s the same,” Ellenstein said. “I really try to mix it up. It’s like putting a jigsaw together when I pick a season.”
North Coast Repertory Theatre’s 35th season starts in September with A.R. Gurney’s “The Cocktail Hour.”
The comedy, which originally premiered in the 1980s at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre, explores the world of upper-class families in the Northeastern United States. The play runs through Oct. 2.
“It’s a charming play that I’ve always liked, so I thought that it was a really good way to kick off the season,” he said.
The theater’s second show will be Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” a comedy
about Simon’s early career as a writer for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.” The play will run Oct. 19 through Nov. 13.
“It is perhaps Neil Simon’s funniest play,” said Ellenstein, who is acting in the play. “It’s got many, many belly laughs in it.”
A finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize, “Marjorie Prime” by Jordan Harrison is next in the theater’s lineup.
The play is set in the near future, a time when artificial intelligence has reached new heights, and lifelike robots provide companionship for the lonely. Also a San Diego premiere, the play will run from Jan. 11 to Feb. 5, 2017.
“It’s really interesting and it’s really good,” Ellenstein said. “My audience will be intrigued by it.”
Ellenstein will then direct Tony Kushner’s “The Illusion,” which was adapted from Pierre Corneille’s 17th century play, “L’Illusion Comique.” The play will run from Feb. 22 to March 19, 2017.
“It’s a romantic, magical, swashbuckling and fun journey through a father’s search for his son,” explained Ellenstein, who once starred in the play. “It’s a very theatrical and exciting adventure — really what the theater does great.”
On April 12, 2017, North Coast Repertory Theatre will open “Travels with My Aunt.” Four actors tackle more than 20 roles in the play, which is based on a novel by Graham Greene. The play will run through May 7.
“It is funny and witty and unusual and unexpected,” said Ellenstein, who decided to direct the play after seeing a revival of the show in New York last year.
In May 2017, the theater will present “The Spitfire Grill,” a musical based on a film by Lee David Zlotoff and directed by Jeffrey Moss.
With the book and music by James Valcq, and the book and lyrics by Fred Alley, the musical is about the journey of a young woman just released from prison who decides to start her life anew in a rural Wisconsin town. The show will run May 31 through June 25, 2017.
“It’s a simpler, charming, funny musical set in a café in rural Wisconsin,” Ellenstein said. “It’s got beautiful music. I’m going to need great singers for it because it’s great music.”
The season is set to close with the San Diego premiere of Nagle Jackson’s “At this Evening’s Performance.”
The play is a comedy about a bohemian theatre troupe that performs in an Eastern European police state. The show will run July 12 to Aug. 6, 2017.
“It’s just very funny and over-the-top,” Ellenstein said.
When Ellenstein became artistic director, two of his three goals were to establish North Coast Repertory Theatre as a professional-grade operation, and join the Actors’ Equity Association, which promotes fair pay, working conditions and benefits for actors and stage managers. Ellenstein achieved these goals within his first two years at the theater, but still has a goal to build a new home for the organization, which is currently housed in a 194-seat venue at Lomas Santa Fe Shopping Plaza.
“We have outgrown this theater in every way possible,” Ellenstein said. “We are exploding it. It just doesn’t house us anymore. We’re too big for it.”
Ellenstein hopes to eventually have two theater spaces — a 350-seat theater and a roughly 175-seat second space for more intimate productions.
Until a new home is found, however, North Coast Repertory Theatre will continue to do what it does best.
“I enjoy lifting the quality of life in the community,” Ellenstein said. “I get great satisfaction about the joy that I bring to the people that come to the theater. The patrons that come here are passionate and enthusiastic about what we do.”
North Coast Repertory Theatre is located at 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach.
For more about the theater or to purchase tickets, call 858-481-1055 or visit www.northcoastrep.org.
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