Back in the saddle: The Couches of Circle Bar B return with a new dinner theater venture at Timbers

Who done it? Brandi Wolff as the voodoo priestess or Erica Flor as the society girl? Sean Jackson, center, as Rick Archer, is on the case. Prism Productions photo
Who done it? Brandi Wolff as the voodoo priestess or Erica Flor as the society girl? Sean Jackson, center, as Rick Archer, is on the case.
Prism Productions photo

Many theatergoers’ hearts were broken last year with the unexpected closing down of Circle Bar B Dinner Theater. After 40 years, Susie and David Couch’s creation was in the black and pulling in regulars from as far south as Orange County, but the ranch that hosted their small theater decided to go in different directions.

But the Couches have a new name – Prism Productions – and a new lease on theatrical life. And the venue, Timbers, is also coming back from hibernation. The woodsy Winchester Canyon restaurant and bar was built in 1952, using wood from the Goleta pier once bombed by the Japanese in World War II. Since 2004 it has fallen into disrepair. But HJL Group, the restaurant company behind Arch Rock Fish and The Marquee, are bringing it back. The Goodland Supper Club, as the Couches are calling this three-play series, will be one of its early entertainment options.

“We didn’t want to go a whole year without being able to give our friends something to look forward to,” says Susie Couch. She put the word out just to her old Circle Bar B mailing list, and the result has been huge, without any advertising needed.

Not that the Couches, who act as well as produce and direct, have been in hiding. Susie appeared in SBCC’s production of “The Music Man” and starred with her husband in “Light Up the Sky” at the same venue. Last month she helped produce one of the pop-up plays in the On the Verge Festival.

While the Timbers is not ready for a full-time theater location, they have a stage, and the three shows have been chosen because they don’t need a backstage or dressing rooms. “But it can still be fun and the audience can still have a good time.” Susie Couch did not want to guess on a future date for a full production. First things first.

The series starts Thursday with “Murder at Café Noir,” a sly take on Humphrey Bogart and Casablanca that is designed to take place during (and interact with) the dinner service of the audience. It stars Sean Jackson in the main role, as well as some familiar Circle Bar B faces like Chris Short and Rodney Baker. Brandi Wolf and Erica Flor are new faces for this company.

“It’s a play I wanted to do for Circle Bar B, but couldn’t,” Ms. Couch says, as the dining room and the theater at the old location were separate. Each production will get a different menu, and this one will feature Caribbean food, suiting its island setting.

Following up on October 22-25 will be a new production of their already popular show from 2005 and 2006, “Will Rogers America,” the one-man show starring Rich Hoag as the homespun humorist. “We felt that this show just lent itself to the Timbers,” Ms. Couch says. “It’s old and quaint and woodsy and it felt like a great venue.” Tickets are already close to selling out, she says, so you might want to get on it quick.

From December 3-13, “The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswoman’s Guild Dramatic Society presents A Christmas Carol” will be a dose of Pythonesque hilarity to usher in the holiday season. The Ensemble Theatre mounted two productions years ago and Circle Bar B produced their own in 2004, but had to open it in September. “But I’ve always wanted to do it in December and it’s already cast.” (That includes Tiffany Story, Kathy Marden, Shannon Saleh and Felicia Hall.)

So much good will and love is flooding back for this return of the Santa Barbara theater staple, that Susie Couch is overwhelmed. “We were shocked,” she says. “The response has been amazing. It’s gratifying that you have a base and don’t have to worry about filling the house. The whole thing has taken us aback.”

“Murder at Cafe Noir”
When: 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday, through Sept. 27
Where: Timbers, 10 Winchester Canyon Rd.
Cost: $45-$49
Information: 705-9598, www.prismproductions.org

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