At California's First Theater, heroines flutter, heroes strut and villains are very, very bad.
Thursday, August 20, 1998
California''s First Theater, on the corner of Scott and Pacific Streets in downtown Monterey, is not only the state''s oldest theater--built in 1846 by retired sailor Jack Swan--The Troupers of the Gold Coast, who have been putting on plays non-stop since the theater was revived in 1937, is also the oldest continuously performing theatrical company in the entire country.
Laverne Seeman, who took the theater''s helm 32 years ago as producer and managing director, leases the historically registered building from the state on a yearly basis. The state pays for all repairs, and in return, she is permitted to produce only plays written between the years 1850 and 1900, "melodramas of the period," she says.
So, how many scripts could that be to choose from? A hundred? Two hundred, maybe? How about 2,400. That''s the number of plays Seeman has at her fingertips, all British and American melodramas. Certainly, the British plays allow her to beef up her collection considerably--if she had to depend only on American plays of the period, her choice would be, she says, "very limited."
What''s unusual about the First Theater, beyond its historic credentials, is that unlike most companies that produce these old-time melodramas, with much teeth-gnashing and eye-rolling, Seeman''s Troupers of the Gold Coast play it straight. At least, they''re supposed to, although she may have to rein in newcomers now and then. That acting choice is partly to preserve authenticity--Seeman says these melodramas were "taken very seriously" when originally performed--and partly to enhance their intrinsic humor.
"We play everything straight, we don''t ham it up," she says. "The way they''re written is funny enough. If you ham it up, you lose that."
They don''t update any scripts, or add any lines, she says. All they''re permitted to do is cut lines or combine characters for ease of production.
Seeman and her partner, business manager Marabee Boone, have put on more old melodramas than she can remember. One of her favorites is Fatal Wedding, in which, she says, "the villain tries to get the heroine away from the hero, and everybody dies--except the hero and heroine." It''s not an unusual script, she says; "All these melodramas are the same. They never kill off the good guys."
That''s what''s different, even refreshing, she suggests, about the old-time melodramas. You don''t have to think, you don''t have to worry. "There''s no hidden messages. Everything''s black or white, no gray areas. You''re either good, or you''re bad, and that''s it."
Bandido! Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 5pm. Melodrama. El Teatro Campesino revives this musical melodrama based on the exploits of notorious Alta California bandit, Tiburcio Vasquez. El Teatro director Luis Valdez says that without Vasquez, there would have been no Zorro, for the latter legend was based on the real-life adventures of the former, who has become a kind of cult figure in Chicano lore. Kinan Valdez plays the popular resistance fighter, Vasquez, a former resident of San Juan Bautista; Olga Lydia Urbana plays his tragic lady love, Rosario. Old Mission Pueblo, 705 Fourth St., San Juan Bautista. 623-2444. $12/general; all seats Thursday are $5/general; $6/children; $10/seniors. Through: 9/20.
Pinocchio Saturday, 2pm and 4pm; Sunday, 3pm. Children. The Unicorn Theatre interprets this classic scary fairy tale that lets kids know the terrible things that can happen to them if they tell a lie. Like, your nose can grow halfway across the room. But if you''re very, very apologetic, you might be rewarded by turning from a wooden puppet into a real little boy, like Pinocchio did. Unicorn Theatre founder Carey Crockett did the rewrite on this tale, and he says he''s taken out the violent, really scary parts and made it appropriate for ages 3-7. It''s a musical, starring Unicorn company members, and may safely be enjoyed by parents together with their young children. Unicorn Theatre, 320 Hoffman Ave., Monterey. 649-0259. $5/general; $5/children; $5/seniors. Through: 9/13.
The Wizard of Oz Previews Thursday and Friday, 8pm; opens Saturday, 8pm. Musical Comedy. Judy Garland sang her way into America''s hearts in the MGM motion picture, which has become arguably the most famous family musical of all time. Pacific Repertory Theater brings all the songs, dances, and 60 munchkins to the outdoor Forest Theater stage, using the Royal Shakespeare Company''s script adaptation. Walt deFaria directs Melani Mesiroff as Dorothy, and choreographer Gloria Elber tries to keep the in-line skating monkeys from flying off the stage inadvertently. Follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, and whatever you do, pay no attention to that little man behind the screen! Outdoor Forest Theater, Santa Rita and Mountain View, Carmel. 622-0100. $15/general; $10/children; $10/seniors. Through: 9/20.
Peter Pan Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 8:30pm; Sunday, 8pm. Musical. Gina Welch-Hagen directs the Broadway musical version of James Barrie''s children''s classic about three Victorian children''s midnight flight to Never-Never-Land, a place where kids don''t have to grow up. The Bruce Ariss Wharf Theater, Old Fisherman''s Wharf, Monterey. 649-2332/372-1373. $15/general; $8/children. Through: 8/23.
Ghost of the Ozarks Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 8pm. Melodrama. Yet another in the First Theater''s wide repertoire of 19th century melodramas, this one was actually made into a John Wayne movie The Shepherd of the Hills. The story is set in Arkansas, but it could be anywhere U.S.A. Plenty of hissing and booing of evil villains, weeping for maidens, and cheering of stalwart heroes. California''s First Theater, Scott and Pacific streets, Monterey. 375-4916. $10/general; $5/children; $8/seniors. Through: 11/3.
Gypsy! Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 8pm; Sunday 2pm. Musical Comedy. The summer''s second production of Gypsy (a previous production recently closed at The Western Stage) continues its three-week stint at MPC. Here we have Stephanie Waldrip featured as Rose, an ambitious stage mother in 1920s New York who pushes her two girls into entertainment careers. Little did she know one of them would end up bumping and grinding her way through life as Gypsy Rose Lee, whose memoirs form the basis of this popular musical. Hit songs include "Let Me Entertain You" and "You Gotta Have a Gimmick." Directed by Tom McKenzie, with lots of singing and dancing choreographed by Susan Cable. MPC Main Stage, 980 Fremont St., Monterey. 646-4213. $15/general; $7/children; $11/seniors. Through: 8/30.
Of Mice And Men Friday & Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 7pm. Drama. Unicorn Theater revives their successful adaptation of Steinbeck''s tale about friendship, dreams and loyalty. Rob Foster plays Lenny, with Thomas Burke and Jody Gilmore switching off as George. Unicorn Theater, 320 Hoffman Ave., Monterey. 649-0259. Through: 9/13.
Shimmer Thursday, 7:30pm. Drama. Pacific Repertory Theater''s Solo Series continues with artistic director Stephen Moorer in an award-winning "liberation" monologue about an adult looking back on his experiences as a 16-year-old growing up in a home for boys in the Midwest. Moorer is directed by Pac Rep''s John Rousseau. Circle Theater at the Golden Bough, Casanova Street, between 8th and 9th avenues, Carmel. 622-0100. $15/general; $10/children; $10/seniors. Through: 10/7.
Tapping the Glass Friday, 7:30pm. Drama. Jeanne Wooster presents the final offering in Pac Rep''s Solo Series with her one-woman show that mixes music and monologue. Tapping the Glass follows Wooster through her final year of college in Philadelphia, as she tries to keep afloat by relying on her friends and her music, spending many a long night at Dirty Frank''s Bar, tapping the glass "in expectation of redemption and enlightenment." Directed by Kathy Deskins-Jacobs. Circle Theater at the Golden Bough, Casanova Street between 8th and 9th avenues, Carmel. 622-0100. $15/general; $10/children; $10/seniors. Through: 10/10.
Vivien Saturday, 7:30pm. Drama. MaryAnn Schaupp-Rousseau portrays Hollywood legend Vivien Leigh, wife to Laurence Olivier and most famous for her role as Scarlett in Gone With The Wind, in a one-woman show that leads off this year''s Pacific Repertory Theater''s Solo Series. We meet up with Leigh in 1967, as she reminisces about the various men in her life, particularly the brilliant and obsessive Olivier. Schaupp, directed by Lamont Johnson, brings Leigh to life in masterful fashion, conveying the star''s mercurial temperament as she takes us through the highs and lows of life in Hollywood''s fast lane, with all the star''s playfulness, jealousy, remorse and ultimate descent into madness. The play will appeal most to an older audience and/or theater aficionados, who will appreciate the juicy tidbits about Clark Gable''s kissing style and Olivier''s jealousy of Leigh''s first Oscar. A tour-de-force by a talented local actress. Circle Theater, downstairs, Golden Bough, Cananova between Eighth and Ninth, Carmel. 622-0100. $15/general; $10/children; $10/seniors. Through: 10/11.
You Never Can Tell Fridayand Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm and 7pm, . Comedy. One of the lesser known works of Anglo-Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, known for his witty commentaries on turn-of-the-century British society, this is also one of his earliest plays. It is by turns farcical, by turns serious, and was written in response to Oscar Wilde''s The Importance of Being Earnest, which Shaw considered too frivolous. We meet Mrs. Clandon (Annie Shaw), a self-proclaimed "modern" woman, who ran away from straight-lace Victorian England with her three children, and now has returned with them 18 years later. Understandably, they want to know who their real father is. That quest is the basis for the comedy that ensues, as various pretenders to the title of "daddy" come into their lives, sometimes in quite unexpected ways. Studio Theater, Western Stage at Hartnell College, 156 Homestead Ave., Salinas. 755-6816/375-2111. $15/general; $13/students and seniors; $12/Hartnell students. Through: 9/5.