Ensemble Theatre finishes this season with “Venus in Fur,” the David Ives-penned hothouse of a play that joyously blurs the line between actor and role playing, befitting a story that takes as its inspiration the 1870 novel of the same name (minus the plural letter s) by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. (Yes, that’s where we get the word Masochism.)
After the large cast and inventive sets of “Woyzeck,” Ensemble is seeing out the season with that most modern of set-ups: two people in a room, and a relationship that changes completely over the course of its runtime.
A year ago, the shadow of the Isla Vista shootings hung over that June’s Shakespeare in the Park performance, which laughed in the face of tragedy with
“Twelfth Night.” Now with an all-new cast, the all-student company has nothing so sad hanging over their production, the culmination of their UCSB theater course. This Saturday and Sunday they return to the Anisq’Oyo’ Park amphitheater in Isla Vista with “The Tempest.”
As the Tolstoy quote from “Anna Karenina” runs, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” That must be why playwrights return again and again to the dysfunction of the family unit. It’s particularly acute in “Other Desert Cities,” the Jon Robin Baitz play that opens Saturday (with a preview today) at the Rubicon Theatre.
The play follows the clash of realities, political and otherwise, when liberal daughter Brooke (Michelle Duffy) returns after five years to Palm Springs to the home of her staunchly conservative parents Polly and Lyman (Amanda McBroom and Granville Van Dusen) to spend Christmas. Her aunt Silda (Deborah Taylor), who also used to be her writing partner in Hollywood, is there too, a not-yet-recovering alcoholic.
The Young Playwrights’ Festival celebrates 20 years this weekend of giving early voice to writers, bringing their seven short works to the stage for a full production. Over the years its participants have gone on to became authors, artists and published professional playwrights.
“It’s amazing, this program,” says Gioia Marchese, who is directing all the plays this coming Saturday.
Playwright Ellen K. Anderson has been such a part of Santa Barbara’s arts scene for decades, not just writing award-winning plays, but helping found Access Theatre, leading the arts collaborative I.V. Arts and heading Dramatic Women, that one forgets her roots are in Detroit. It’s where she grew up, it’s where she earned her B.S. and M.A. (at Wayne State University). It was the subject of her most recent play, “Bedtime for Detroit,” and now she returns tonight with a second Motor City play, “In the Forest of Detroit.”
“Detroit gave me everything,” she says. “Including the uprisings (aka Detroit race riots in 1967) when I was in junior high. It gave me a damn good college education. I was the first to go to college in my family.”
In recognition of its 10th anniversary, UCSB’s Launch Pad series, which gives playwrights the space to create new work for the audience’s benefit, has brought in multiple award-winning playwright Yussef El Guindi, the British transplant whose plays have long documented the immigrant experience both in America and the UK.
“The Talented Ones,” which opens this Thursday for a five-show run, is a play in progress, but this is no table read. Launch Pad gives playwrights much more.
In Sarah Ruhl’s plays, the subject matters may change, but one thing stays constant: nothing is what it seems, and even our closest friends and family, in the end, are unknowable. That conceit, with a technological edge, is the focus of “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” opening tonight at SBCC’s Jurkowitz Theatre. Directed by Katherine Laris, this 2007 play cocks an eyebrow at the faith we put in our online selves, and takes its protagonist on a journey of self-discovery.
Jenna Scanlon, who has risen through the ranks of several local companies and productions to land starring roles, plays Jean, a shy and retiring woman who retrieves an incessantly ringing cell phone from a nearby cafe customer only to discover he’s dead. The corpse is played by another one of Santa Barbara’s top actors, Brian Harwell — also Ms. Scanlon’s boyfriend in real life — so we know that while this character may be dead, he hasn’t begun to have his say.
My Fair Lady,” the classic Lerner and Loewe musical that opens for a two-and-a-half-week run this coming Thursday at the Marian Theatre, is balanced on both sides by history. On one side, any production has to escape from the clutches of the past: based on a Greek myth, turned into a George Bernard Shaw play, and then into a musical in 1956 and then the film in 1964. That’s a lot of learned culture and imagery. On the other side, there’s the politics of the musical that butts up against our cultural mores. In modern parlance, there’s a lot of “mansplaining” in this story of the upper-class phoneticist Henry Higgins, who teaches the lower-class Eliza Doolittle to erase her awful Cockney speech and ascend to high society.
“The parts that are giving us the hardest time is the relationship between Higgins and Doolittle,” says Andrew Philpot, who plays Higgins. “They have this teacher-student relationship, but at some point they are falling in love. But Higgins is so emotionally blocked and so not a ‘people person’ that it’s hard to find those moments where there is that connection. Because I spend so much of my time berating her and making fun of her!… I would hope the audience will be laughing at me (as Higgins) and not nodding their heads in agreement. He is a lost soul. Somewhere in his history, he was done wrong.”
When Out of the Box’s Samantha Eve put out the call for actors for “The Wild Party,” Andrew Lippa’s musical based on Joseph Moncure March’s Prohibition Era poem of the same title, she got a surprise.
“We had responses from people all over the place. I had someone write me from Florida (who wanted to audition).” Turns out that “The Wild Party” is on many musical actors’ to-do lists, with its wealth of meaty roles and its smart lyrics. Everybody wants to get invited; it’s that kind of party. It’s also an Out of the Box production in which a majority of the cast members are new to the company.”
When “Chicago” comes to the Granada this coming Tuesday and Wednesday, it brings along actress, singer, comedian and voice actor Roz Ryan , who in 2013 broke the late Marcia Lewis’ record of 223 weeks playing the essential role of Matron “Mama” Morton. She’s now in that show’s 19th year. When asked if she remembers the day they told her she’d broken the record, she says, “I can’t remember the day they called and told me, but I was on Broadway when it happened.” (The date was Oct. 21, 2013, in case somebody wants to check.)