Theater Review: ANNABELLA IN JULY (North Coast Repertory in San Diego)

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by Milo Shapiro on September 11, 2022

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego


Saturday Night Live has been notorious over the years for coming up with some bits that are funny enough to fill an entire seven-minute sketch while other skits have the joke run thin two minutes in with five minutes remaining. One can almost imaging the premise this comedy at NCR being pitched at the SNL table, something like this:

“Okay, so it’s a lovely July day, right? And nerdy married Nebraskans Vanessa and Brian decide to take a side jaunt to a ski resort during their big trip to see if there might be a place there to grab lunch. But see, Vanessa, apparently, is a dead ringer for another woman named Annabella, an outlandish and much beloved guest of the resort where she spends every January. And here’s the thing: no one has ever seen her in the summer, let alone with some husband they’ve never heard of, right? Every one she encounters thinks she’s this fabulous woman, but she’s just plain ol’ Vanessa from Nebraska!”

Would the bit be funny enough to get through seven minutes on SNL? Depends on the writers there, but thankfully the idea here is in the hands of Richard Strand, who succeeds in finding new twists to keep it delightful and, amazingly, the fun just grows instead of wearing thin. As good as the North Coast Rep performances are, the script is really the biggest star here.

That said, Jacquelyn Ritz, as Vanessa, is the key to it working so well. She varies deftly between deadpan delivery a la Carol Burnett, and being at her wits end through the confusion. Louis Lotorto is great as Brian, with his befuddled attempts to sort matters out backfiring, causing more problems not just for Vanessa but between the couple as well. Bruce Turk, playing a bold, French past lover of Annabella’s, steals many a stage moment, especially in his veiled put-downs of corn-fed Brian. Leilani Smith and Catalina Zelles round out the cast as other resort fans of Annabella’s who stir the pot hilariously.

Act 1 is more full of laughs whereas Act 2 receives some well-deserved character development for each role without losing overall the sense of fun and fancy.

Will it all add up entirely to explain everything perfectly? Ummmm … not so much, but no one will care because the lack of perfect logic actually fits the style that Strand clearly wants and which director David Ellenstein delivers so well. Ellenstein is aided by some terrific and unexpected sound and set design from Aaron Rumley and Marty Burnett that catches the audience off guard and supports the plot beautifully.

Much as with SNL, we left quoting characters and laughing again, a great sign for any comedy. When word spreads on this one, NCR is going to be playing to packed houses.

photos by Aaron Rumley


North Coast Repertory Theatre987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana BeachWed at 7; Thurs & Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7ends on Oct 2, 2022for tickets, call 858.481-1055 or visit North Coast Rep

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