Local theater benefited from a vast variety of productions in 2001
If one word characterizes the year in local theater, it’s “diversity.” 2001 saw every type of play you could shake a typewriter at performed in a variety of venues throughout Butte County in general and Chico in particular. From tried-and-true comedies to complex and alluring dramas, theatergoers had a lot to choose from.
Again, the Blue Room Theatre pretty much led the pack with a highly enjoyable succession of quality plays and performances, all of this accomplished amid rumors of relocation and renovation. Stand-out productions would have to include local playwright Bryon Burress’ hilarious rodeo-circuit comedy Wranglers. With sharply delineated and likable characters, a sort of tongue-in-cheek “man vs. nature” premise, surreal interludes involving talking bulls, and a “coming of age” thread running through it all, Wranglers was one of the year’s best shows.
Easily the equal of that production was comedian Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile. Depicting a fictional meeting of minds between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein (with a time-traveling Elvis Presley thrown in for good measure), the Blue Room’s production was quite probably the venue’s most successful show of the year. Good lights and sound, great costumes, an absolutely fabulous set (including an eight-foot reproduction of Picasso’s Les Mademoiselles d’ Avignon exactingly created by the multi-gifted Amber Miller), and generally terrific acting made this a great show.
On the more dramatic side, the venue’s productions of Richard Greenberg’s intriguing Three Days of Rain, Manuel Puig’s intricate Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Martin McDonagh’s quirky and sad The Beauty Queen of Leenane were also among the best shows the Blue Room presented. The theater also hosted two terrific children’s shows (particularly, the kid-created America the Beautiful) and as well presented its annual “New Works” festival, which actually featured some of the most enjoyable local amateur one-acts in some time (except for the first play, by some guy named Young; that one was awful).
New troupe in the neighborhood The Chico Cabaret (located out at the Almond Orchard Shopping Center) made fitful strides into the local theater arena, holding its own with enjoyable productions of Ashland hit Fuddy Meers and two old favorites, Lone Star and Laundry & Bourbon. Now if the Cabaret would only sink its teeth into a challenging drama, it could well begin to rival the Blue Room. Also of note, via the Cabaret’s Theatre On the Inside-Out, over eight lively children’s shows were also presented.
Both local colleges staged entertaining productions in 2001. CSU, Chico’s drama department presented a glitzy version of Broadway hit The Will Rogers Follies, while theatrical folks out at Butte College mounted a ‘70s version of the Bard’s Julius Caesar. Chico State also promised us the controversial musical Assassins but unfortunately withdrew the show when the events of Sept. 11 disturbed the cast to such an extent that it reportedly no longer felt comfortable performing the piece. Instead, an admirable fund-raising “variety” show was staged to benefit the victims of the attacks. Hopefully, Assassins will be rescheduled.
Of further note: Paradise’s Theatre on the Ridge presented many quality shows, including Same Time, Next Year, which featured the brilliant Ryan Beattie and the triumphant return to the stage of local actor Paul Stout; the production was funny and moving. Oroville’s Birdcage Theatre presented an enjoyable production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado and also hosted actress and former area resident Janis Stevens’ one-woman show Vivien, a powerful look at the life and tragedy of film star Vivien Leigh.
Like I said at the beginning, the theater year was diverse. And we’re the better for it.