Etha Gray writes and produces plays, drawing on her own experiences.
Thursday, July 9, 1998
When Etha Gray arrived on the Monterey Peninsula in 1989, she made the rounds of local theaters to offer her services. They were not wanted.
"I was told they don''t do plays that involve African-Americans, that we don''t attend local theater, that we''re not interested," she says. "I took exception to that. I knew I was interested. So I set out to prove the local theater community was wrong."
For the next five years, Gray wrote, directed and produced her own plays--two a year--in rented halls, using actors with little or no experience. Her plays draw on experiences relevant to the lives of her and her actors, "so they''ll have something to interpret, something they can relate to."
By ''94, she was burned out by the difficulties of mounting two major productions each year with little financial support. She left for her native Texas, where she was shocked by the "blatant racism" she didn''t quite remember from her youth. Last year, she returned to Seaside and her dream of creating a community-based theater company that gives stage opportunities to young actors, African-Americans in particular, although not exclusively.
African-Americans usually don''t audition for other local theater companies, she points out. "We feel it," she says, of the unspoken color barrier on the Peninsula performing arts scene. "Theater should not be about color. It should be about life."
To provide a more color-blind creative outlet, she and four other local arts denizens have founded the nonprofit Theater Concepts, Inc. The group''s first production premieres this Saturday: Emotionally Yours, Gray''s story of a woman who recalls a lifetime of mental and physical abuse through flashbacks during sessions with her psychiatrist.
If this weekend''s play brings in some money, Theater Concepts will expand to offer workshops in writing and drama, live poetry readings, and amateur art shows, all aimed at encouraging local talent. It''s all about offering local kids a step-up, Gray says. The group''s major stumbling block is, of course, money. Plays are rehearsed in rented or borrowed space, which changes on a week-to-week basis. "Cast members call me up every week to ask, ''Where are we rehearsing tomorrow?''" she says.
And most plays, like this Saturday''s Emotionally Yours, are performed only once. Rental costs are high. "My ultimate dream is to have a four-week run," she says. "Somewhere out there, there has to be a theater angel who will help us find a place to have regular rehearsals and performances."
Emotionally Yours Saturday, 8pm. Drama. Local playwright Etha Gray wrote and directed this story of an African-American woman trying to come to terms with past emotional and sexual abuse during sessions with her psychiatrist. A large cast helps Paula Stewart relive her past horrors in order to achieve cathartic release. This play, performed only once, is not recommended for children under 12 because of the intensely emotional, adult themes it treats. King Hall, Naval Postgraduate School, Sloat Street and Del Monte Avenue, Monterey. 899-1118. $8/advance; $10/door; $5/children, seniors. Through: 7/11.
Guy Things Friday and Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 7pm. Comedy. Penned by local playwright Rob Foster, this adult comedy features the adventures of three bachelors, losers all, as they navigate their way through dating in the ''90s. Guy Things made its successful debut last fall, and is now directed in a somewhat revised version by Cynthia Womack. Not recommended for children. Unicorn Theater, 320 Hoffman St., Monterey. 649-0259. $15/general; $12/seniors. Through: 8/9.
Gypsy Friday and Saturday, 8pm. Musical Comedy. "Everything''s Coming Up Roses" in this season''s first production of Gypsy, based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the New York stripper whose story/legend began in the waning days of vaudeville and continued through two world wars. This musical version of Gypsy''s young years is as much about Gypsy''s mother as it is about her, and the most memorable role of any production is always that of Mama Rose (here played by Western Stage stalwart Donna Federico). Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics to hits such as "If Momma Got Married" and "Let Me Entertain You." The Western Stage at Hartnell College, Main Theater, 156 Homestead Ave., Salinas. Through: 7/26.
The Fantastiks Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 8pm. Musical. There has to be some reason this was the longest running show in the history of American Broadway theater. Maybe it''s the simplicity of the Romeo-and-Juliet-style love story, maybe the sentimental, hum-along tunes ("Try to Remember," "Soon It''s Gonna Rain"), maybe the timelessness of the characters. It''s a classic which, when performed well, tugs at the heartstrings of young and old. The Forest Theater, Mountain View and Santa Rita, Carmel. 626-1681. $15/adults; $10/students, seniors; children under 6, free. Through: 8/2.
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.
Puff the Magic Dragon Saturday, 2 and 4pm. Children''s theater. Original play that''s based on the Peter, Paul and Mary song, all about the magic dragon that lives by the sea somewhere in Hawaii (the land of Hanalei) where he befriends a little boy until the kid grows up and stops believing in fairy tales--something we should never do, by the way. Family Fantasy Theater, 320 Hoffman St., Monterey. 649-0259. $5/general; $5/children; $5/seniors. Through: 8/8.
Always...Patsy Cline Friday & Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. Musical Revue. The Western Stage Cabaret turns into the Grand Ole Opry for a musical tribute to country singer Patsy Cline, who died tragically in a plane crash in 1963. Told through the eyes of her longtime pen-pal Louise Seger, this show features a live band and more than 20 of Cline''s greatest hits, including "I Fall to Pieces" and "Crazy." It''s billed as an "intimate and uplifting look at the life of country music''s most beloved singer;" if you''re a Patsy fan, this should be a pleasing tune-filled evening. Ticket office opens two hours before performance.. Western Stage Cabaret Theater, in the Salinas Women''s Club, 215 Lincoln Ave., Salinas. 755-6816/375-2111. $18/general; $10/children; $16/seniors. Through: 8/2.
Cyrano Friday & Saturday, 7:30pm; Sunday, 5pm. Comedic drama. This popular French dramatic comedy, the tale of an 18th-century swordsman and poet cursed with an embarrassingly large proboscis, receives a new British translation that irons out some previous English-language wrinkles and restores a lot of the original comedy. Starring roles are filled by three longtime PacRep veterans: John Rousseau as Cyrano; Julie Hughett as Roxanne, the beautiful woman he dares not love; and John Farmanesh-Bocca as Christian, a young soldier who woos Roxanne with poetry penned (and secretly declaimed) by the big-hearted Cyrano. Some good performances, crisp staging by director Stephen Moorer and fine visuals make this a good choice, despite a certain lack of passion among the main characters. Pacific Repertory Theater, in the Golden Bough, Monte Verde Street between 8th and 9th avenues, Carmel. 622-0100. $15/general; $10/children; $10/seniors. Through: 7/19.
Monterey Bay TheatreFest Saturday and Sunday, 11am to 4pm. Free outdoor plays. Pacific Repertory Company brings its 15th annual festival of free street theater to Monterey''s Custom House Plaza. Pared down from previous years, this year''s offering includes three wacky fairy tales, as re-told by PacRep veteran John Rousseau and his street troupers, daily at 11am; The Human Chess Game, an energetic improv filled with live battles between human "chess pieces," daily at 1pm; and Actors in the Adobes, dramatic re-enactments of key moments in early Monterey history, 3pm in the Memory Garden. The plays are fun, but the entire outdoor experience of TheatreFest is its real charm: street theater for the whole family, for free, with the beautiful backdrop of Monterey Bay. Custom House Plaza, behind the Doubletree Hotel, Monterey. 622-0700. Free. Through: 7/19.
Mr. Whatnot Friday & Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm, with high tea and sherry afterwards at St. James'' Episcopal Church, Monterey., . Comedy. A madcap comedy penned by Alan Aykbourn, Mr. Whatnot traces the efforts of Mint, a silent piano tuner, as he pursues the noble-born Amanda through hill and dale, fighting off rival suitors and engaging in a series of misadventures. With Michael Lojkovic in the lead role--a local actor known for great comic timing--and a cast including Patrick McEvoy, Philip Pearce, Sarah Matterson and Kate McEldowney, the evening is sure to bring lots of laughs. Directed by Ramie Wikdahl. MPC Main Stage, Monterey Peninsula College, Monterey. 646-4213. For St. James high tea show, call 375-8476. $11/general; $8/students; $5/children. Through: 7/12.
Sylvia Thursday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 7:30pm. Comedic drama. Playwright AR Gurney offers up this hilarious, yet wise look at marriage through the eyes of Sylvia, a stray dog brought home by a disgruntled husband, who soon sinks his hopes and dreams into the loveable pooch. All four performances are stellar: LA actress April Burton is marvelously engaging as the streetwise pup, Barbara Anderson and Todd Lueders go right for the heart as a longtime couple facing mid-life crisis and John Farmenesh will have you in stitches in three gender-crossing cameo roles. When you find yourself sobbing along with the dog as she waits by her window for her owner''s return, you''ll know they''ve sucked you in. This show is a real treat. Pacific Repertory Theater, at the Circle Theater in the Golden Bough, Casanova Street between 8th and 9th avenues, Carmel. 622-0100. $15/general; $8/children; $8/seniors. Through: 7/25.
The Drunkard Friday & Saturday, 8pm. Melodrama. Classic melodrama about the evils of drink. California''s First Theater, Scott and Pacific streets, Monterey. 375-4916. Through: 7/30.