A wave of exciting openings reveals the buoyancy of local theater troupes.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
The incredible shrinking economy has infiltrated Monterey County theater: the Western Stage has scaled back; the mighty PacRep is going over line-item cuts; Forest Theatre Guild has “postponed” Annie and had to let their executive director go. (Staff Players Repertory has tentatively pushed Mrs. Warren’s Profession from opening this week to next week.)
But as the saying goes: The show must go on. This week’s wealth of theater openings doesn’t hint at demise, but at resilience. Sometimes art imitates life; but sometimes it transcends it.
“When times are bad,” says ARIEL Theatrical’s Gail Higginbotham, “people continue to do those things that feed the soul – for renewal or escape – and theater offers that.” Here’s a look at the sweep of fresh shows hitting theaters this weekend (see Calendar, pg. 24, for performance times, days, locations and prices):WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? at Golden Bough Theatre
“I like that it’s a hard-hitting play,” says longtime PacRep director/actor John Rousseau. “It’s about truth and illusion; it’s funny in places, intense in others.” It earned both a Tony and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for Best Play. With its deconstruction of Eastern university culture, shattering observations on marriage, and scorched-earth dialogue, it remains seminal adult entertainment in the best sense.
“It’s a masterpiece,” says Rousseau. “The style of it is ‘Down with the Establishment,’ behavioral psychology, games people play. [Playwright] Edward Albee was right on the edge of all that.”WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS? at Carl Cherry Center for the Arts
Playwright Tom Parks’ newest original play will open exactly one year after the opening of his Chums, which co-starred Rosemary Luke. Parks enlists Luke again to bring to life the “darling of the Algonquin Round Table,” the drinking and writing peer of Fitzgerald and Faulkner, the “bright and witty, but caustic” writer/poet Dorothy Parker. Though considered scandalous in her time, Parks is confident people will like his Parker: “People will like her for her vulnerability, her honesty, her work. She was quite modern for her day. We’ve had very nice advance [sales] to this show. I think it’s owing to the name Dorothy Parker.”SAM BURGUESA AND THE PIXIE CHICKS at El Teatro Campesino
San Benito County lays claim to patriarch Luis Valdez’ El Teatro Campesino, but they can’t be overlooked on the basis of geopolitical expediency. They’ve built a loyal audience with classic and purposeful works like Zoot Suit and La Carpa de los Rasquachis, and Luis’ sons, Kinan and Anahuac, and fellow ETC stalwart Stephanie Woehrmann stay faithful to “El Teatro’s” legacy of entertainment and activism with this new work of Chicano cabaret, which comes out of the experimental Teatro Lab Workshop. It’s centered on Sam Burguesa, who’s lost everything – home, money, mind – and must rely on the guidance of the Pixie Chicks, who may or may not be real, to deal with heavy family and economic dynamics.MR. MARMALADE at Paper Wing Theatre
Those Paper Wing folks fearlessly – gleefully – tackle plays that other county companies won’t touch. For Killer Joe they went full frontal nudity; for Eight Women With Brain Death they pulled satire out of absurdity. Now they take on Mr. Marmalade, the story of a 4-year-old girl who conjures an atypical imaginary friend, a no-bullshit businessman with nasty habits like porn and cynicism.
“It was right up our alley,” says Paper Wing’s Koly McBride, “edgy and funny and probably not going to be done by anyone else in the area.” Do not underestimate these guys: their gumption is equaled by their work ethic. “We often have a production going while rehearsing for the next one,” she says. “We’re used to getting to the point very fast.”MISS NELSON IS MISSING! at Wilson Children’s Theatre
This musical adaptation by Joan Cushing, based on Harry Allard’s popular childrens’ books, proposes “that we have to be responsible for our choices.” And it’s pitched to kids with a light-hearted, humorous tone, with adults collaborating with the youngsters.ALL IN THE TIMING at Stevenson School of Performing Arts
The kids at Stevenson School, and its three directors, earn applause for brushing past the usual suspects of student productions (Romeo and Juliet, again?) and aiming for the funny bone, by way of the brain, with David Ives’ All in the Timing. It’s comprised of six clever and mirthful vignettes, including “Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread,” a musical parody of the composer, and “Words, Words, Words,” in which chimpanzees try to write Hamlet. They also debut their original work, “The Audition.” These quick jabs of verbal gamesmanship will keep audiences punch-drunk while giving student actors just enough spotlight to get in, shine, and get out.