Going to the Dolls

Local adaptation of Tarantino flick goes national

The Blue Room’s <i>Reservoir Dolls</i> cast—minus the guy missing an ear (from left): Hilary Tellesen, Samantha Shaner, Leesa Palmer, Amy Brown, Teresa Hurley-Miller, Erika Soerensen, Samantha Kleaver and Stephanie Ditty.

The Blue Room’s Reservoir Dolls cast—minus the guy missing an ear (from left): Hilary Tellesen, Samantha Shaner, Leesa Palmer, Amy Brown, Teresa Hurley-Miller, Erika Soerensen, Samantha Kleaver and Stephanie Ditty.

Photo by Joe Hilsee

Reservoir Dolls shows Thursday-Saturday through Nov. 18.
Tickets: $14
Blue Room Theatre
139 W. First St.

‘Let me tell you what ‘Like a Virgin’ is about.”

Anyone who’s seen Quentin Tarantino’s first film, Reservoir Dogs, knows that line kicks off one of the director’s typically crude tangents with some fairly misogynistic analysis of the ’80s Madonna hit by the character Mr. Brown (played by Tarantino). And to say that things take on a different tone when Brown’s lines (“It’s all about a girl who digs a guy with a big …”) are delivered by a female character is an understatement.

Upon watching that opening diner scene during a recent rehearsal for Reservoir Dolls—a mostly female stage adaptation of the 1992 film that opens tonight (Nov. 2) at the Blue Room Theatre—it’s clear that there will be many new shades of humor and insight as these notorious wise guys are played by a gang of wise gals.

“The tone of the heavy language and violence when in the hands of women is definitely a new perspective on gender and acting,” said playwright/director/actor Erika Soerensen, who added that the script offers a chance to show how “much more well-rounded as actors women are than we are given credit.”

It’s been eight years since Soerensen’s gender-flipped reworking of the dialogue- and violence-driven cult classic had its debut at the Blue Room. And since the 2009 premiere, the play has gone on to have successful runs at theaters in Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas, and in February 2018 it will be performed by the Outré Theatre Company in Miami Beach.

“It’s basically been spread through word-of-mouth networking between people seeing the show and telling friends in other theater groups about the show,” Soerensen said. “It’s become so popular that instead of giving permission to produce it for free, I’m even getting paid for performance rights.”

Behind a pair of expressive eyebrows and with a ready laugh, Soerensen exudes an amiable demeanor and a casual confidence as she talks about the play and her work in theater.

Chicoans first got to know the actress as a regular player at the Blue Room in the 1990s, before she moved away (and back a couple of times) to gain dramatic experience in bigger cities such as Los Angeles and Seattle, graduating from LA’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts and working as a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild along the way.

“Honestly, I’ve never known a time when I didn’t want to be doing theater or acting or performing. From the time I was 5 years old, I was directing little theater and dance pieces with the neighborhood kids.”

When she returned to Chico the first time in 2004, Soerensen jumped back into the local scene, mostly at the Blue Room, acting as well as stage managing, directing and writing her Reservoir Dolls script. She was fascinated with Tarantino’s gift for telling the story with “absolutely brilliant dialogue and ensemble acting,” and also recognized how rare it was for women to play such roles, ones that offered such extreme emotional range, not to mention the thrill of dirty language and participatory violence (other than victimhood). She envisioned the different perspective it would create if all of that shooting, cussing, bleeding and dying was done by women.

The Blue Room premiere was well-received—by audiences and the cast—and Soerensen is excited to bring it back with three of the original cast members: Hilary Tellessen and Samantha Shaner reprising their roles as Ms. Orange and Ms. Pink, respectively, and Soerensen switching from Ms. White to Ms. Blonde this time around.

“Doing it eight years later is just as fun and exciting as the first year,” she said. “The cast is a little different, but the energy and passion is just as strong.

“Seeing these actresses up there owning these masculine-driven roles is exciting and interesting,” Soerensen added. “This show is dedicated to the actresses. Without their talents, passions and confidence in themselves and the project, it would never be as successful as it’s been.”