Shaken and Stirred – ‘The Cocktail Hour’ features local stage veterans and tackles the enigma of the father-son relationship

Pity the wealthy upper class of the Northeastern United States, as typified by the family at the center of A.R. Gurney’s play “The Cocktail Hour.” In place of a quiet reunion upon prodigal son John’s return home, a family is rocked by the news that he intends to turn their foibles into a play. It’s title? “The Cocktail Hour.” Let the martinis and bickering commence.

Gurney’s comedy also toasts to the end of Circle Bar B’s theater season, and David and Susie Couch have called in their favorites to make the evening a proper sendoff to a year well done. Leesa Beck, Matt Cooper, Don Margolin and Kathy Marden star, and Jim Sirianni — a long-time favorite who most recently helmed DIJO’s “Frost/Nixon” — directs.

“I prefer his writing over many others,” says Sirianni about Gurney. “His dialogue is very natural and how people talk. It’s not contrived or too simple.”

Sirianni also mentions the connection he feels to the troubled father and son relationship at the center of “The Cocktail Hour” and his own feelings toward his father, who passed away a few years previous.

“In a similar situation, we tried to understand each other. I can see where John is coming from,” he says.

But the play’s kick also resides in the doubling between the play and the play-within-the-play, which Gurney toys with throughout. Leesa Beck’s character only gets a full 10 minutes onstage — just enough time to hear that she’s not in John’s play that much.

Matt Cooper plays John. Having been with Circle Bar B in various productions since moving to town in 1999, Cooper has plugged himself into the local theater scene.

“I think Susie, being a comedienne at heart, brought me on to play John to add more comedy to my character and to everybody’s than what previously existed. The play is funny, it’s poignant, and it’s during the cocktail hour, which my parents both agreed with,” Cooper says. “It got a lot of confrontation in it, and a lot of drinking in it.”

Cooper says he went straight from working with Margolin in “Frost/Nixon” to this, which has helped create their father-son relationship onstage. And Cooper’s relationship with Sirianni goes back to his first show in Santa Barbara.

“He does his homework, man,” says Cooper of his director.

Sirianni is amazed at how fast the season has gone this year. It seemed only yesterday, he says, that he was at their Christmas party and the new season was being talked up. And now it’s done.

“Seasonally, things are coming to an end,” he says. “It’s so sad to see it all end… until they start planning the next season.”

The next season, by the way, will be Circle Bar B’s 40th anniversary.

“I hope to be involved,” Sirianni says. He probably shouldn’t worry.

‘THE COCKTAIL HOUR’
When: 7 p.m. dinner and 8 p.m. show Fridays and Saturdays, 1 p.m. lunch and 2 p.m. show Sundays; through Oct. 31
Where: Circle Bar B Theatre, 1800 Refugio Road, in Goleta
Cost: $45 general, $37 seniors (Fridays and Sundays only), $20 overnight ranch guests
Information: (805) 967-1962, www.circlebarbtheatre.com

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