Burning down the house
A first look at some hot tickets for this summer’s local play selection
Yes, it’s that time again in Butte County. Lots of heat—both temperature- and baseball-wise—offset by air-conditioned venues for cultural exploration of the heirs of Dionysus, including the non-refrigerated, open-air, oaken-backdrop-under-dusking-skies-with-occasional-wandering-bat tradition of Ensemble Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park.
Here’s the scoop on thespian activity, month by dramatic month. Clip. Highlight. Save.
Jump-starting the season is the Blue Room’s production of References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot (June 7-29). Directed by Margot Melcon, this play is “a steamy, dreamy story of love and sex” in “a desert dreamscape outside Barstow, Calif.,” which includes “a seductive moon, a cat dancing with a coyote and a young wife waiting for her Army husband to return home"—as the Blue Room describes this play by José Rivera, “the master of magical realism” (previewed in the News & Review’s June 6 edition).
Chico Cabaret pumps it up with Pump Boys and Dinettes (June 13-29). Directed by Brian Holderman, this musical features four guys pumping high octane on Highway 57 next door to the Double Cupp Diner. The men play country rock on their instruments backed up by sisters Prudie and Rhetta Cupp on kitchen utensils. Nancy Svec provides her able music direction (see Music this issue). Air conditioning is included.
Bloomsday takes place on June 16. The Blue Room hosts the seventh annual celebration of James Joyce’s once-banned novel Ulysses (now considered one of the best of the 20th century). This popular, annual Chico event is one of only a few Bloomsday festivals in this country rated worthwhile by a leading Irish newspaper.
Sure, begorra, ’tisn’t an Irish play, but the Blue Room calls it “a wild evening of drama, song and interpretive readings. … Highlights include performances by the Connolly Girls Choir, a brand-new rendition of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy,” and “more about the mysterious ‘Man in the Mac.'” With that old Irish favorite, Guinness O’Tap (see Fine Arts feature this issue).
On June 23, a Sunday, the Blue Room Actors’ Benefit performance for References to Salvador Dalí will take place. Your theater dollar goes straight to the actors’ pockets, creating an opportunity to show your appreciation for the dedication and hard work of your community actors who otherwise do it for love, aka “no paycheck.”
“Every show we do, we do one benefit where the box office goes to all the volunteers,” says Blue Room Artistic Director Joe Hilsee. “It’s usually the second Sunday of every run.”
Court Theatre’s 35th season kicks off with Side by Side by Sondheim (June 25-29). This musical features numbers from Stephen Sondheim’s Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Anyone Can Whistle, Pacific Overtures and West Side Story. It’s directed by Joel P. Rogers, who, in his two years in Chico, has directed The Will Rogers Follies, The Pajama Game, and last summer’s Do Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? Check out the man who has enthralled audiences with stellar performances at Theatre on the Ridge.
Put a mellow and festive period to June with the Blue Room’s annual barbeque fundraiser, June 30, to help fund more exciting and challenging contemporary and original work from these local players. There will be live music from the Pub Scouts as well as a silent auction and raffle plus yummy grub from Guzzetti’s catering.
Kick the firecracker month off with Scotland Road, by Jeffrey Hatcher, which plays July 2-6 at Court Theatre. Promoters say this: “On April 10, 1912, RMS Titanic departed for New York. In the 1990s, a beautiful young woman in turn-of-the-century clothing is found floating on an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic. When rescued, she says only one word: ‘Titanic.'”
This is directed by non-Chicoan Doug Finlayson, “from Webster University in St. Louis, where he is the head of directing. His professional credits also include the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, The Next Theatre Company of Chicago, the Madison Repertory Theatre and the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen.” Should be interesting.
Next up: Court Theatre with Nicky Silver’s The Maiden’s Prayer (July 9-13). “The wedding of Taylor and Cynthia, beloved by everyone—almost. Cynthia’s hard-drinking sister is in love with Taylor, while Taylor’s best friend is in love with Cynthia. Follow the quartet as they struggle—hilariously—to learn the difference between love and need.”
Coy Middlebrook directs, taking a break from the unfolding of his career that includes “the Actor’s Studio in New York (acting alongside Al Pacino and Marisa Tomei!) and working as assistant director on a new Disney Theatrical project destined for Broadway: When You Wish.” Hometown boy makes good and brings it on home!
July 11 (through Aug. 3) Theater on the Ridge presents Belles, a comedy by Mark Dunn under the direction of Sandy Miller. TOTR describes it thusly: “A play in two acts and 37 phone calls. The Walker sisters hail from Memphis, but now they are scattered. Only Peggy still lives in Memphis, where she cares for Mama, who was recently hospitalized—she ate some bad tuna. When Peggy begins phoning (37 times) her sisters to report on Mama’s condition, vivid characters and family dynamics emerge. … This delightful look at the Walker sisters offers new meaning to sibling rivalry and camaraderie.”
Listen up, kids! The Blue Room presents Goldilocks, July 12 and 13. “We’re excited because this is our first collaboration with CARD,” Hilsee explains. “They did all the registering, etc.” This is the perfect chance for young thespians to emerge while building their confidence on stage.
Get ready to do some toe tappin’ and jazzin’ out with Court Theater’s production of A Chorus Line July 16-21. Directed by Joel P. Rogers, the play celebrates “…those unsung heroes of the American Musical Theatre: the chorus dancers.” The show will feature Court’s 2002 company “as well as additional performers from the community.” The Harlen Adams Theatre may barely contain this crowd-pleaser. Also, following the performance Friday, July 19, attend a special reception with entertainment and refreshments.
July 17 (through 27) Shakespeare in the Park launches to new heights with Othello, directed by Joyce Henderson. Renaissance costumes, love, betrayal, strangulation! It’s sure to be a great show. Plus, the ever-popular Green Show will feature a children’s dance production.
July 18 (through Aug. 3), director Joe Hilsee gives the Blue Room the honey tongue again with The Lonesome West by Martin McDonagh (The Cripple of Inishmaan). Hateful brothers share a small cottage in a “cruelly amusing and hilariously abrasive Irish tale of sin and attempted redemption.”
Considered one of the hottest contemporary playwrights on the international scene, McDonough writes very dark, very funny stuff for a “post-modern” audience.
“This is our third play by him, and he has only written four,” Hilsee explains. “We seem to do his work every summer. And this is a guy who doesn’t even like the theater. … His work is just totally different. He was once fond of saying that he wants the audience to feel the same way when walking out of a play as they do stepping off a roller coaster.”
Hilsee says young playwrights are starting to look at McDonough’s work and see that “there doesn’t have to be a happy or sad ending. … He’s changing the face of modern theater.”
Shakespeare in the Park comes to life again with The Ghost Bride of Castle Castle, Aug. 7-17, created and directed by Jerry Miller and Marcel DaGuerre. Miller describes it as “similar to the House on Haunted Hill,” that revered old tale of strangers trapped in a bespooked and afear’d house. Ghost Bride also features classic rock ‘n’ roll, covering the Beatles, the Righteous Brothers, the Animals and many more great songs by great ancient bands that tie into the plot.
“Family friendly,” Miller emphasizes, so any number of generations can have a rockin’ good time.
More kids news: Head up the hill again on Aug. 8, 9, 10 or 11, as Theatre on the Ridge presents The Castaways’ (Chico youth theater group) summer workshop production of the Broadway Junior version of The Music Man, directed by Shannon Beattie and Jeffrey Childs.
Then it’s the Blue Room’s turn again, with the Children’s Theatre production, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, on Aug. 8-10. This is the inaugural production of the Blue Room’s new children’s play group (as yet unnamed) under the new direction of Lisa Schmidt. Show your support for a great program.
And that’s not all for the junior crowd: From Aug. 9-11 catch The Aliens Are Coming at the Birdcage Theater in Oroville. Since 1988, “Kidcage” at the Birdcage has presented a children’s/youth production. This year, aliens invade a desert resort. Signups for the workshop happen June 13-15.
Smack dab in mid-August (15-17) TOTR’s SOS Program (Students on Stage), under the direction of Jeffrey Childs, presents Dear Edwina. This “beguiling one-act charmer” relates the adventures of 13-year-old Edwina Spoonapple, who wants more than anything “to be a part of the Kalamazoo Advice-a-palooza Festival.” With her friends she gives advice that is “sweet, smart and tuneful” and “appeals to audiences of all ages.”
Finally, in anticipation of the upcoming anniversary of Sept. 11, the Blue Room presents a work concerning the hypocrisy and horror of terrorism with Lee Blessing’s Two Rooms (Aug. 15-31).
In a press release, promoters write that the play “is sure to raise eyebrows as we head toward the one-year anniversary of 9/11. The play centers around an American professor in Lebanon who is taken hostage by Arab terrorists and the American government’s attempts to satisfy his wife at home. … Powerful and quite timely.”
Hilsee says that the play is an “extremely interesting personal drama set against the backdrop of insane world politics.”
He is also excited about upcoming fall projects. The season, he says, should be one of the Blue Room’s most ambitious in recent memory.
“We’ve got an upcoming world premiere of a rock opera in the vein of Tommy by a Bay Area musician who just moved up here a few years ago,” he says. “It features great music with a terrific backing band I think a lot of people will enjoy.”
So stay tuned. Things are just getting cooking at the Blue Room as well as the many other worthwhile local theater houses struggling to bring you live entertainment and get you off the sofa, away from the TV and out into life!