The Dec. 11 opening of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's musical I Do! I Do! is practical evidence that San Diego theater is turning another corner. Not only are veterans Patrick Page and Paige Davis totally assured as Michael and Agnes, who bare their warts-and-all 50 years of marriage before the universe (man, can Davis dance!), but, also, The Old Globe's new Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre is a marvel of a facility in which to stage the show, with acoustics for days and a comfort level that rivals that of your local bar. The White will officially open next month with Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers (in that respect, at least, there's truly no accounting for taste).
The 250-seat, $6 million White has that new-theater smell—you can catch a whiff of the adhesives behind the walls of the venue, site of the former Cassius Carter Centre Stage. The White is part of a five-year, $22-million facelift campaign the Globe launched in March of 2006. Dubbed The Conrad Prebys Theatre Center, the area also sports the Cohn Education Center, the 80-seat Stephen and Mary Birch Pavilion and an expanded Lady Carolyn's Pub. It all sits above a spit-shined Copley Plaza, the 13,000-square-foot outdoor mall that hadn't had a major upgrade since 1992.
It's a cinch the setting jibes with the reputation of the nation's sixth largest theater, which opened in 1935 with some play readings and little else—and now that the Globe has built it, I have no doubt that they will come. The fact is, though, that they've always come, and not necessarily steeped in the knowledge that theater is the living metaphor for their own life stories. Amid its postmodern mentality, San Diego is not and never has been a theater town in the strictest senses of the words, any more than it's a dance town or a film town or a jazz town or a baseball town.
And while the Globe's upgrades would mobilize a Minneapolis or a San Francisco or a Chicago (which have huge theater traditions), they somehow merely paint a prettier face on San Diego's oldest modern theater institution, an institution that almost never taps local talent and raised media suspicion last summer amid acclaimed artistic director Darko Tresnjak's eerily abrupt departure after only a year. Tresnjak is now a theater instructor at UCSD.
I hope the Globe's improvements will mark a greater participatory theater presence in the community, the way the Coronado School of the Arts has boosted its educational potential with its absolutely unbelievable performance facilities, unveiled in 2007. God knows it has or can find the budget to that end amid its name recognition and stable of heavyweight sponsors. But if money does funny things to people, it does them exponentially to institutions, including those whose new digs reflect the best of the public trust.
I Do! I Do! runs through Dec. 20 at The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park. $39-$75. www.oldglobe.org.