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Friends and lovers: Ensemble Theatre Company’s play brings the laughs about a terrible relationship

 Playing the trio of emotionally charged 40ish divorcees from "Women in Jeopardy!" are, from left, Annabelle Gurwitch as Jo, DeeDee Rescher as Liz and Heather Ayers as Mary. Bruce R. Burr photo


Playing the trio of emotionally charged 40ish divorcees from “Women in Jeopardy!” are, from left, Annabelle Gurwitch as Jo, DeeDee Rescher as Liz and Heather Ayers as Mary.
Bruce R. Burr photo

Wendy MacLeod’s play “Women in Jeopardy!” started off with a familiar situation for many friends – watching their divorced friend find a new boyfriend “who we all thought was hideous. We could not fathom how she could be dating this man.” From there she combined the idea of the awful boyfriend with a crime story from her local paper, and out came this new work that previews Thursday, with an opening on Dec. 5, at The New Vic. The play is so new that, despite its premiere at Rochester, N.Y.’s Geva Theater, Ms. MacLeod is in town to work a little bit more on her play, trimming it down into a “lean, mean, comedy machine.”

The play stars Heather Ayers (“Sweeney Todd”) and Annabelle Gurwitch as Mary and Jo, two divorcees who do not like the new dentist that their friend Liz (DeeDee Rescher, last seen at ETC in “Good People”) has fallen in love with, called Jackson (Bill Salyers). His dental hygienist recently disappeared, and the two think that Jackson might be a serial killer. And Jackson’s swaggering arrogance only seems to confirm their suspicions. When he invites Liz’s daughter Amanda (Sophie Ullett) on a camping trip, the two friends need to both break the news to Liz and stop what they think is a crime about to happen. And that’s just the beginning of this whirlwind farce.

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A half century of dance: Choreographer Twyla Tharp celebrates 50 years

Two Twyla Tharp veterans, Matthew Dibble and Rika Okamoto, perform in "Yowsie." Ruven Afanador photo

Two Twyla Tharp veterans, Matthew Dibble and Rika Okamoto, perform in “Yowsie.”
Ruven Afanador photo

While many choreographers would look to a 50th anniversary tour to program a greatest hits package, Twyla Tharp, who will be at The Granada Theatre tonight, does the opposite in a career of bold moves. Instead she’s created an evening of two new works. “Preludes and Fugues” raids the extensive pieces in J.S. Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” and bears the influences of all those that came before her in modern dance: Merce Cunningham, Jerome Robbins, Martha Graham and George Balanchine. And “Yowzie” turns from classical to jazz, with bright costumes and a soundtrack of early ragtime and jazz.

“Preludes” is “the world as it ought to be,” she says, “and Yowzie is the world as it is.” Ms. Tharp is quoting herself, and it’s a phrase that graces the evening’s program in her artistic statement. That tension between fantasy and reality has long been part of her work.

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Movies, fame and Jane: SBIFF honors Jane Fonda at annual fundraiser

Jane Fonda received the Kirk Douglas Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Saturday at the Bacara Resort & Spa. KENNETH SONG/NEWS-PRESS PHOTO

Jane Fonda received the Kirk Douglas Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Saturday at the Bacara Resort & Spa.
KENNETH SONG/NEWS-PRESS PHOTO

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival honored movie star, writer, activist and feminist icon Jane Fonda at its annual fundraiser Saturday with the 10th annual Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film.

The black-tie gala at the Bacara Resort & Spa recognized the iconic movie star in much the same way as the honors and tribute evenings that make up the February festival’s week-plus schedule.

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A second slice: Ensemble Theatre takes on Sondheim and ‘Sweeney Todd’

 David Studwell and Heather Ayers are two of the actors performing in Ensemble Theatre Company's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." David Bazemore photo


David Studwell and Heather Ayers are two of the actors performing in Ensemble Theatre Company’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
David Bazemore photo

Last week Santa Barbara audiences sat transfixed by the odd blend of dance and theater that was Adam Barruch’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” at the Lobero Theatre. In the audience watching the performance was Ensemble Theatre’s Jonathan Fox, who just that day was rehearsing his own version of Stephen Sondheim’s bloody and dark musical, set to open this coming Thursday. It was one of those weird coincidences in Santa Barbara theater than happens now and then – like two productions of “Other Desert Cities” in 2015, one at the Rubicon, one at PCPA – despite every company trying for a unique season.

“It’s kind of a funny story,” says Mr. Fox, just before rolling into a story of schedules, contracts, dropping a previous plan, and thinking of returning to the world of Stephen Sondheim. “A Little Night Music” was the first performance at The New Vic. Rick Mokler, some 20 years ago, had put on a production of “Sweeney Todd” at SBCC, but it had never returned to our city.

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