There's one at every Thanksgiving dinner: the family member or friend who pontificates and preaches about politics, the rest of the guests be damned. Even if you agree, it's wearying.
Now you can envision Ellen (Aubrey Saverino), the fiercely committed pontificator of Lisa Kron's In the Wake, currently being produced by San Diego Repertory Theatre under the direction of Delicia turner Sonnenberg. The first scene of In the Wake's 80-minute-long first act is devoted to Thanksgiving 2000 in an apartment in New York City's East Village, with freelance journalist Ellen in the company of her extended family—incredibly patient live-in lover Danny (Francis Gercke), his sister Kayla (Jo Anne Glover), Kayla's lover Laurie (DeAnna Driscoll) and Ellen's longtime friend Judy (Stephanie Dunnam). Meanwhile, the specter of the still-unsettled presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore hovers over the proceedings and feeds Ellen's lengthy diatribes. It's all a precursor to Ellen's gradual discovery that, passionate and righteous though she is, she has a blind spot, and it comes with consequences beyond the political. When Ellen meets and falls for Amy (Karson St. John), a gay filmmaker, her house and her heart become divided. And you know what they say about a house divided.
Kron intended Ellen to be an allegory for a changing America, she says, and that's clear enough in the self-revelations Ellen makes in Act 2. But the balancing act between political and personal awakening is a tenuous one. Ellen is so relentlessly didactic that she's exhausting and not consistently sympathetic. Her righteousness feels like narcissism, particularly in the wake (pun very much intended) of the love triangle she creates.
In the Wake's polemics should more frequently defer to visceral emotion of the kind Amy expresses when Ellen chooses between lovers. The discourse-dominated scenes may be sharply written, but they're less human.
A screen above the stage flickers before each scene with footage from the 2000 post-election coverage and infamous moments from the subsequent Bush presidency. Between that and Ellen's personal missteps, there's plenty of collateral damage to go around.
In the Wake runs through March 4 at the Lyceum Space at Horton Plaza, Downtown. $29-$53. sdrep.org
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Film Noir Unscripted: The tough guys and femme fatales of noir are the inspiration for Impro Theatre's night of spontaneous stage work. Feb. 27 only at North Coast Repertory Theatre, Solana Beach. $15-$20. northcoast
How I Got That Story: Mo'olelo Performing Arts Company's Seema Sueko directs Amlin Gray's dark comedy set in Vietnam during the ‘60s. Previews begin Feb. 23; opens March 2 at 10th Avenue Theatre, Downtown. $15-$40. moolelo.net
June Moon: UCSD's Department of Theatre and Dance presents a play about love and ambition by George S. Kaufman and Ring Lardner that originally opened on Broadway in 1929. Opens Feb. 24 at UCSD. $10-$20. theatre.ucsd.edu
Neil Berg's 102 Years of Broadway: An ensemble cast performs songs from Broadway hits including Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and more. Feb. 23 only at Balboa Theatre, Downtown. $28-$58. sdbalboa.org
The Car Plays: San Diego: Audiences participate in Moving Arts' rotating 10-minute plays, all set inside a car. Part of La Jolla Playhouse's “Without Walls” program. Opens Feb. 23 at La Jolla Playhouse. $25. lajollaplayhouse.org
Golden Child: Chinese Pirate Productions presents David Henry Hwang's late-'90s Tony-nominated play. Through Feb. 25 at 10th Avenue Theatre, Downtown. $15-$25. chinesepirateproductions.com
American Night: The Ballad of Juan José: Culture Clash returns to La Jolla Playhouse with a new trans-border comedy written by the troupe's Richard Montoya. It's staged at a frantic, madcap pace in which sight gags and sharp commentary (particularly about racial profiling) abound. Rene Millan brings passion to the title character, though it's Montoya and fellow Culture Clash member Herbert Siguenza, each in multiple roles, who run away with the show. Through Feb. 26 at La Jolla Playhouse. $35 and up. lajollaplayhouse.org
Big Daddy returns: Community Actors Theatre's “play with music” celebrates jazz, the blues and foot-stompin' in general. Through Feb. 26 at Community Actors Theatre in Oak Park. $12-$14. communityactorstheatre.com
How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying: A rousing score by Frank Loesser highlights this musical satire of corporate America. Through Feb. 26 at Welk Resorts Theatre in Escondido. $36-$63. welktheatresandiego.com
The Marvelous Wonderettes: Pop hits from the '50s dominate this girl-group jukebox musical staged by San Diego Musical Theatre. Through Feb. 26 at Birch North Park Theatre. $21-$52. sandiegomusicaltheatre.com
The Recommendation: In this promising world-premiere play by Jonathan Caren, two very different college roommates learn about life and its underside. The tension, crackling dialogue and street smarts (or lack of them, depending on the character) shine through. Through Feb. 26 at Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. $29 and up. oldglobe.org
Brooklyn Boy: Scripps Ranch Theatre stages Donald Margulies' comedy about searching for one's roots and one's self. Through Feb. 28 at Legler Benbough Theatre at Alliant international University in Scripps Ranch. $22-$25. scrippsranchtheatre.org
The Blood Countess: DangerHouse Productions presents a vampire tale written and directed by Kevin Six. Through March 3 at Victory Theater in Grant Hill. $10-$13. dangerhouse13.com
The Comedy of Errors: The New Village Arts Theatre's Ensemble teleports one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies to the 1950s, setting it as a TV sitcom. The laughs aren't canned, though amplified sound effects are. It's all rather hyperkinetic, but the updating is at least sincerely attempted. Through March 4 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. $22-$36. newvillagearts.org
In the Wake: Lisa Kron's play, set at Thanksgiving in 2000, mingles politics and relationships. Through March 4 at the Lyceum Space at Horton Plaza, Downtown. $29-$53. sdrep.org
A Raisin in the Sun: A stalwart cast led by Sylvia M'Lafi Thompson brings potency and commitment to Lorraine Hansberry's dramatic classic about a struggling Chicago family. Delicia turner Sonnenberg directs for Moxie Theatre with just the right touch. Through March 4 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. $20-$47. moxietheatre.com
42nd Street: A chorus girl gets her shot at stardom in this rousing Broadway musical by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble. Through March 4 at Coronado Playhouse. $18-$25. coronadoplayhouse.com
Grace and Glorie: Tom Ziegler's comedy about a backwoods woman and a hospice worker opens Broadway Theater's eighth season. Through March 4 at Broadway Theater, Vista. $17.50. broadwayvista.com
Little Women—The Musical: Louisa May Alcott's beloved novel about four sisters, set to music. Through March 11 at Avo Playhouse in Vista. $22-$30. moonlightstage.com
Visiting Mister Green: A close call between a driver and a pedestrian throws together a young executive and an 86-year-old widower in this play by Jeff Baron. Through March 11 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. $32-$49. northcoastrep.org
Guys and Dolls: Frank Loesser's musical, based on the stories of Damon Runyon, includes the classic songs “Luck Be a Lady,” “Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat” and the title tune. Through March 18 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. $26-$64. lambsplayers.org
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through March 24 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. $28-$58. lambsplayers.org
Next Fall: Luke and Adam, partners in a five-year relationship, find their world turned upside down following an accident. Through March 25 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. $20-$33. diversionary.org
Late Nite Catechism: The participatory solo comedy by Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan turns 20 years old this year. Through May 19 at Welk Resorts Theatre in Escondido. $44-$59. welktheatersandiego.com
Shotgun Wedding Anniversary: How else can a miserable 25-year marriage end but in murder? Presented by Mystery Cafe, it's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. $59.50, including dinner. mysterycafe.net