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.
This year’s big story was the end of Ensemble Theater’s run in the cozy Alhecama Theater and its move to the renovated and brand-spankin’-new New Vic, an $11.5 million-dollar adventure that took many years to finally happen and has brought Jonathan Fox’s company to a space on par with the Garvin and Hatlen theaters. With state-of-the-art toys to play with, it’ll be interesting to see what Director Jonathan Fox does with the space. So far, Santa Barbarans have seen the Stephen Sondheim musical, “A Little Night Music” with Stephanie Zimbalist and Piper Laurie, and it was quite lovely.
Their farewell performances at Alhecama were also worth noting: David Ives’ “The Liar” was one of their funniest productions in a long time, witty and silly in measure. “The Year of Magical Thinking,” with Linda Purl stepping in for the recently deceased Bonnie Franklin in the role of Joan Didion, was the kind of one-woman show for which the Alhecama space was perfect. “Frankie and Johnnie in the Claire de Lune” was a good revival, although maybe not a necessary one.
Santa Barbara’s theater scene marked anniversaries, said goodbye to some well-loved people and maintained high-quality shows in difficult times in 2010.
For companies, it was a year of stasis. The city college’s theater group is still waiting for Garvin Theatre renovations to finish, but that has led to some interesting work in Interim Theatre, converted temporarily from a classroom. Alan Ayckbourn’s “Time of My Life” featured some of Santa Barbara’s best actors Ed Lee, Katie Thatcher, Brian Harwell, et al. for a twisted dagger of a comedy, while “Machinal” and the “The Suicide” featured nothing but SBCC’s drama students onstage, and both productions (revivals of 1920s plays) were brave and daring. The Ayckbourn play also marked the farewell production of Rick Mokler, who had been directing for 20 years. Katie Laris has big shoes to fill, and one can already see she’s ready to take the department in a new, vibrant direction.