Court back in session

After a one-year absence, Chico State’s theater company returns to a standing ovation

KISS AND MAKE UP <br>Karla Ruth Gilbert and Leo Maheu play newlyweds on the verge of an early split in Court Theatre’s <span style="">Barefoot in the Park</span>.

Karla Ruth Gilbert and Leo Maheu play newlyweds on the verge of an early split in Court Theatre’s Barefoot in the Park.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

The antics of characters such as bickering newlyweds, a persnickety mother-in-law and an eccentric neighbor have returned in Court Theatre’s production of Barefoot in the Park.

Court Theatre’s annual festival came back to life this summer after taking the 2005 season off, and has even grown with the addition of two plays and added rehearsal time.

Among the first two shows to open was Barefoot in the Park. Running through July 20, it is a hilarious story of newlyweds Paul (Leo Maheu) and Corie (Karla Ruth Gilbert). The two are hopelessly in love, but soon the stress of married life and a fifth-story apartment takes a toll on the relationship. The couple soon realize that the six flights of stairs that must be climbed to reach their apartment is not the only inconvenient thing about the place: a gaping hole in the skylight lets in the frigid February air, the bedroom fits only a twin mattress and the bathroom lacks a bathtub.

Maheu’s facial expressions make him a great fit for the role of Paul, a young husband driven to the verge of insanity by exasperation with his young bride. Gilbert seems to have a natural affinity for copping a sassy attitude while playing the young, impulsive Corie. She describes her naïveté best herself when she quotes a women’s magazine as saying, “The apartment will take its shape as the bride’s mind grows.”

Frequent visits by Corie’s lonely mother, Mrs. Banks (Judy Clemens), put additional strain on the relationship. Corie decides to set up her mother with the eccentric neighbor Victor Velasco (Richard Lauson). Surprisingly, the ridiculously mismatched pair hit it off, causing gasps and giggles from the audience. The combination of a double date and alcohol leads to a blowout fight between Paul and Corie. In the end, can compromise save the marriage?

The June 29 performance was sold out, drew laughs in the comedic parts and earned a standing ovation at the end—a good omen for Court’s return.

Bill Johnson, who chairs Chico State University’s Department of Theatre Arts, said last year that the department decided to re-evaluate how to run the program more effectively based on a new funding structure and a revamped department curriculum.

Artistic director Joel P. Rogers wanted to make sure that this summer’s edition of Court Theatre, a staple in Chico for four decades, would draw a wide audience and said he selected popular titles from different genres that people were likely to come see.

“We certainly wanted a comedy and a couple of musicals,” Rogers said.

Court Theatre opened its summer season with a June 23 performance of Enchanted Evening, a musical tribute to the songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Beauty and the Beast is a retelling of the popular Disney musical. The Weir is a swapping of ghost stories in a rural Irish town. The Club, directed by Rogers, uses biting satire to examine male attitudes toward the opposite sex in an exclusive men’s club circa 1903. The final show will be a showcase highlighting the achievements of the 2006 Court Theatre and include a post-show picnic.

In addition to the six productions is the Pat Kopp Court Theatre Scholarship. More than 30 private donors contributed to the scholarship for Court Theatre participants. Johnson said the support generated by the scholarship enables the box office proceeds to support the production costs, making Court Theatre less dependent on state funding.The program was created to celebrate the career of Kopp, who worked in the theater department for many years and founded Court Theatre with Larry Wismer in 1967.

Also new this year is a rolling repertory schedule on which shows overlap, playing for multiple weeks. The rolling schedule was implemented so that people can catch every performance even if they go on vacation for a week.

The schedule of the only true repertory program in Chico can be taxing on the handful of performers in Court Theatre who fill the roles in all the shows. While performing one week, actors and crew are simultaneously rehearsing for the next show(s).

The proceeds generated from the plays, and private donations, will provide scholarships for Chico State theater students who participate.

Most actors in the Court Theatre Co. are Chico State students or alumni enrolled in a summer class. The students receive course credit and their tuition is paid for by the income from Court Theatre.