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Home / Articles / Arts / Theater /  Out of anesthesia and into the—piano?
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Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014

Out of anesthesia and into the—piano?

Reviews of La Jolla Playhouse’s ‘Ether Dome’ and Old Globe’s ‘Into the Woods’ lead our rundown of local plays

By David L. Coddon
theaterforweb Tom Patterson (left) in Ether Dome

San Diego’s big-name theaters have unveiled two very different productions: a harrowing history story at La Jolla Playhouse and, at The Old Globe, a reimagining of a musical that was born there.

In La Jolla, Michael Wilson directs Elizabeth Egloff’s Ether Dome, a co-production with Houston’s Alley Theatre, Hartford Stage and Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company. Based on the true story of the early days of medical anesthesia, this one is not for the faint of heart. There’s “blood,” yowls of surgical pain and a couple of operations that may leave you weak in the knees, even though you’re sitting down.

That said, Ether Dome (that’s the operating theater at Massachusetts General in Boston where all this drama and controversy unfolded in the mid-19th century) is a mesmerizing tale, especially in the second act, when ambition and greed threaten to subvert the good that’s come from minimizing patients’ suffering and pain while in surgery. The cast (fronted by Michael Bakkensen, Tom Patterson and William Youmans as rival credit-grabbers) is more than up to the task of making a squeamish story one you can’t look away from (well, most of the time). The re-creation of the actual Ether Dome (which still exists) adds to the authenticity and uneasiness of the audience experience.

Ether Dome runs through Aug. 10 at La Jolla Playhouse. $15 and up.

Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods debuted 28 years ago on at The Old Globe and went on to become a Broadway and worldwide sensation. The musical mingling of fairytales is back at the Globe for the first time since then, in a reimagining by New York-based Fiasco Theater.

Fiasco’s Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld codirect an Into the Woods that plays out on a set that resembles the inside of a piano rather than tall trees and rhythmically moves like a Second City production. As it was from its inception, the overlong first act is witty and prop-heavy, while the darker second act is very moving, making sweeping statements far beyond the triteness of fairytales, especially spoofed ones like these. Sondheim’s score is most haunting in Act 2, as well, and we’re reminded just why the show became legendary.

Into the Woods runs through Aug. 10 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. $29 and up.

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Much Ado About Nothing: Believe it or not, no one dies at the end of this, one of Shakespeare’s classic comedies. Presented by Intrepid Shakespeare Company, it opens July 25 at SDA Performing Arts Centre in Encinitas.

Quartet: Three former opera singers, living at a home for aged musicians, are joined by the wife of one of them, and the four set out to perform one last concert. Opens July 25 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.

Now playing

Disenchanted: In this musical satire, fairytale females like Pocahontas, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and Hua Mulan strike back at exploitation. Through July 26 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista.

In a Forest, Dark and Deep: Neil LaBute’s tense play explores the complex relationship between a university dean and her redneck carpenter brother. Through July 27 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido.

Othello: A bitter soldier, Iago, schemes against his general, Othello, and, as usually happens in a Shakespearean tragedy, lots of people die. Through July 27 at The Old Globe Theatre.

Out on a Limb: Scripps Ranch Theatre brings this festival of new works by local playwrights back for a third year, with three plays by Lisabeth Silverman, California Jack Cassidy and Jake Edmondson. Through July 27 at the Legler Benbough Theatre in Scripps Ranch.

Mary Poppins: A musical about a mysterious flying nanny who arrives to help two out-of-control children and their unhappy parents. Through Aug. 2 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista.

Bare: A Pop Opera: Life and love get complicated for the students at a Catholic boarding school. Through Aug. 3 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.

The Orphan of Zhao: A reimagined version of an ancient Chinese play about a child who grows up only to learn about the awful tragedies that surrounded his infancy. Through Aug. 3 at La Jolla Playhouse.

Romance / Romance: This is a musical that’s really two short plays—in Act 1 and Act 2—about (yep, you guessed it) romance, relating to each other only with one shared song. Through Aug. 3 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.

Ether Dome: The West Coast premiere of a play, based on true events in the 19th century, about two pioneers of surgical anesthesia—a trailblazing dentist and his ambitious student. Through Aug. 10 at La Jolla Playhouse.

Into the Woods: A reinvented version of the musical that brings together classic fairy-tale characters returns to where it premiered in 1986. Through Aug. 10 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.

Jade Heart: A drama that jumps backward and forward in time to tell the story of a Chinese girl who was adopted as an infant by an American woman. Through Aug. 10 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando.

Geeks: The Musical: A satirical take on the nerds who flock to Comic-Con. Presented by Pysphi Productions, it runs through Aug. 16 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest.

Here Lies Jeremy Troy: In this farce, a painter hires a model to pose as his lawyer friend’s wife when the lawyer’s boss comes to dinner. Through Aug. 18 at PowPAC in Poway.

Pageant: Each show’s audience picks a winner from six contestants in a beauty-and-talent competition in this musical comedy. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Aug. 31 at The Old Town Theatre.

The Full Monty: The stage version of the 1997 British film has six unemployed Buffalo steelworkers putting on a strip show to raise money—and their spirits. Through Sept. 7 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad.

Les Miserables: In this classic musical, a poor Frenchman spends 19 years in prison after stealing a loaf of bread, only to escape and get caught up in a revolution under an assumed identity. Through Sept. 7 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado.

Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill.