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.
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.
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.
Not everybody in theater gets a second chance, either with a role or a production. But for the three actors and one director behind “Pvt. Wars,” which comes to Center Stage Theater tonight, they get an opportunity to return to a show from years ago.
These three actors, Sean O’Shea, George Coe, and Sean Jackson, along with Bill Egan, their director, mounted James McLure’s play two years ago at Plaza Playhouse in Carpinteria. Mr. McLure’s play, which started as a one-act in 1979 then got rewritten as a two-act years later, features three Vietnam vets in a VA hospital, all dealing with PTSD. But it’s also funny, a character study of the ways humans cope with trauma, try to make connections, and concoct strategies to get through the day. It’s an anti-war play that doesn’t mention the war, but just honestly looks at the people left in its aftermath.
“Indoor/Outdoor” is a play wherein humans play cats and intermingle with other humans who play their owners, but before you conjure up visions of a certain Andrew Lloyd Webber musical with make-up and furry costumes, it’s not like that.
Instead, there’s little in appearance to tell the difference between the two, as the cats walk upright and dress like humans, but in Kenny Finkle’s comedy its the obsessions, distractions and attitudes that quickly set them apart.
This Saturday, Center Stage Theater celebrates its 25th anniversary with an evening of hors d’oervres, cocktails and special performances from Alma de Mexico, Santa Barbara Silver Follies, Proboscis Theater Company, and more, with the intent to raise $25,000 for capital improvements to improve the theater for another quarter century.
The evening celebrates Santa Barbara’s premiere black box theater, which was wrangled into existence by the Santa Barbara City Council and County Arts Commission in 1990 as part of a deal with the original builders of the Paseo Nuevo mall. Yes, they could have those two prime blocks of Santa Barbara retail real estate, but they had to give back to the arts with an art museum (now the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara) and a theater. Through the mall’s many owners – and despite each owner’s attempts to skirt funding according to one of Center Stage’s founders Tom Hinshaw – the Center Stage Theater has remained, providing a needed space for local arts.
There’s a chance to see the fruits of an intensive summer workshop of dance this weekend, and no, it has nothing to do with Fiesta. Instead, Gustafson Dance’s Two-Week Junior Intensive program brings an evening of Broadway hits to the Lobero. And while many a parent and family member will be there, the event is open to the public.
Gustafson Dance is the official school of State Street Ballet. Allison Gustafson is director of the dance school and Rodney Gustafson is artistic director of State Street Ballet.
If you want to complete the play title “Over the River and Through the Woods” with “. . . to grandmother’s house we go,” well, you’ll be partly correct. In Joe DiPietro’s 2008 comedy, this is not a young boy but a beloved – and also grownup – grandson who is visiting, and all four of his grandparents are on hand. Our hapless hero Nick (played by Enrique A. Bobadilla) wants to move across the country when he is promoted at work. His loving but overbearing grandparents don’t want him going anywhere, and to that end, they have tricked a young single woman, Caitlyn (Jennifer Marco), to come and dine with them as well, hoping that love at first site will convince Nick to change his mind.
“Life isn’t in black and white, but shades of grey,” says director Jordana Lawrence. “That’s what this play brings forth, things that happen within a family or between generations. It’s one perspective versus another in this play.”
Kate Bergstrom, theater director and the brains behind the On the Verge Summer Festival, has taken on a task that many theater directors across the country are trying to solve. How can the theater world attract a younger demographic, 18-30 years old, to the performing arts? With Netflix streaming and the world in their pockets, they are notoriously hard to get out of the house.
“If they’re seeing theater at all it’s at small, hole- in-the-wall productions,” she says. “And even then the main reason they’re going is that they know somebody in the production.”
Being a theater kid in high school doesn’t necessary lead to a life in theater either, she says, as most are understandably aiming for film and television.
So Ms. Bergstrom, who has directed shows for pop-up company Elements Theatre Collective, has created the two week-long festival of six plays in two different locations that plan to bend the boundaries of theater, making them interactive and more like events. “Reimagined theater pieces for reimagined audiences,” is how she’s putting it. She wants to foster a dialog about how theater can evolve and adapt, “so it doesn’t just become this archaic platform,” she says.
For this first season, Ms. Bergstrom is showcasing a “devised collaboration, a full-length play, a one-act ethnographic installation, a double-feature of 2 one-act plays, and a staged reading,” according to the event’s website. The majority of the directors, crew and actors are from Santa Barbara and the Central Coast area. So are the writers, with these all being new works, either premieres or new to our city, and Ms. Bergstrom knows them personally from various walks of life.
Like Elements Theatre Collective, the plays will be performed in non-traditional spaces, including The Narrative Loft on Caesar Chavez, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum and The 208 Gallery on Canon Perdido St. For many of the events there will be food trucks on site. A majority of the shows play several times during their respective weekends, and all are free with suggested donations of $5 to $10 at the door.
The festival kicks off with “Caylee’s First Big Show!!!” which sets the tone for the fest. Riley Berris stars as Caylee, an amateur singer-songwriter who is questioning her identity in the middle of heartbreak. Staged as a pop concert, Caylee begins to share her feelings in song and between as she leans on the audience for support. The play is written by up-and-coming playwright Roxie Perkins, whose “Sweet Child” follows – a tale of teen siblings abandoned by their mother who worship the memory of their dead father, believed to have died in war. Things change with the arrival of a mysterious soldier. July 16-18, 7 p.m. at The Narrative Loft, 1 N. Calle Cesar Chavez, #240
“Ladyoke” a play on the karaoke, is an interactive evening, combining karaoke, live music, song and dance, as well as a tribute to famous sirens and songstresses. It was conceived in collaboration with Riley Berris, Jessica Hambright and Kate Bergstrom and features alternative performers, including drag queens and audience volunteers. (This show follows the above two shows on the same night.) July 16-18, 9 p.m. at The Narrative Loft
“Monsters of Paris” is a staged reading of Gregory Dodds’ new play, based on the true story of Joseph and Henriette Martel. In pre-World War II France, a husband refuses to defend his wife’s honor, and so she takes matters into her own hands. This reading is directed by Josh Jenkins and Josiah Davis. July 18, 4 p.m. at The Narrative Loft
Not a performance, but the Fest is also offering the Devised Theatre Workshop, aimed at both students and professionals to learn new ways to devise and produce theater under time and budget restraints. Free, but limited to 30 seats. July 18, 11-1 p.m. at The Narrative Loft
“Footprints at Laetoli” is based on the archeologist Mary Leakey, her husband Louis, and her discovery of the fossilized tracks of a bipedal creature, the missing link between humans and apes. Darlene Craviotto’s play had a reading at PCPA in 2010, and in 2011 was a semi-finalist for the Eugene O’Neill Conference in Connecticut. July 22-24, 8 p.m. at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.
Finally, “This Is Not a Love Song” presents a humorous take on dating. Subtitled “A Virtual Ethnology on Asian Dating Websites,” the one-act play features an ethnographer who presents a study of a failed online dating experience, only to have the two subjects appear and take control of the narrative. Writer Hee-Won Kim is a graduate student at UCSB’s Theater and Dance department. July 25, 4 and 6 p.m. at The 208 Gallery.
On the Verge Summer Festival When: July 16-25, various times Where: The Narrative Loft, 1 N. Calle Cesar Chavez, #240; Santa Barbara Historical Museum, 136 E De La Guerra St.; The 208 Gallery, 208 W. Canon Perdido St. Cost: Free (suggested donations $5 – $10) Information: (805) 455-5598, www.onthevergefest.org
Playing the lead in “Man of La Mancha,” which opens Wednesday at PCPA’s Marian Theatre, requires lead actor David Studwell to do three times the work. He has to play author Miguel de Cervantes, sitting in a jail cell during the Spanish Inquisition, and his creation Don Quixote, who is under the illusion that he is actually a knight of the realm and not an old country squire. That’s a lot to hold together in one’s head.
“The play is as much about Cervantes as it is about Quixote,” Mr. Studwell says.