Theater on the horizon

Rainy weekend ushers in the season as well as four local theater productions

BLUE SKIES Alceste (Rob Wilson) and Celimene (Giovanna Henery) in the Blue Room’s Misanthrope, opening Thursday, Nov. 6.

BLUE SKIES Alceste (Rob Wilson) and Celimene (Giovanna Henery) in the Blue Room’s Misanthrope, opening Thursday, Nov. 6.

Photo By Tom Angel

When it rains it pours, and in next few days it will be coming down in buckets around these parts. Sunshine today, partly cloudy tomorrow, then boom! Four plays open up simultaneously at Theatre on the Ridge, The Birdcage Theatre, Chico Theater Company and The Blue Room.

More than just providing a handy metaphor, the impending storm system brings with it sufficient motivation to find a spot (or four) indoors to hide out and enjoy a night of community theater.

The second musical from the new Chico Theater Company actually opened on Wednesday, Nov. 5, with a premiere night red-carpet gala and continues for the next three weekends. This latest attraction is the Broadway musical Mame. Made infamous with an original cast that included Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur (plus a movie version starring a ‘70s version of Lucille Ball), the show features some fairly recognizable songs—"Open a New Window,” “We Need a Little Christmas"—and tells the story of Aunty Mame and the trials and tribulations of her and her adopted nephew Patrick. A good bet for a pre-holiday family outing.

There’s another musical moving in up the hill at Theatre on the Ridge, this one of a more contemporary variety. Winner of several awards when it originally opened, including the 1993 New York Critics Award for best musical and Drama Desk award for outstanding lyrics, Ruthless! The Musical is described by the producers as “aggressively outrageous” as it pokes fun at every famous stage mother and drama brat from Gypsy to The Bad Seed.

Written by Marvin Laird and Joel Paley and directed locally by Joel P. Rogers and Judy Clemens, Ruthless! tells the story of 8-year-old Tina Denmark, who will stop at nothing to play Pippy Longstocking in her school musical—not even murder. In what promises to be an onslaught of fast-paced twists, little Tina’s ambition navigates her mother, teacher, agent, her competition and even her critics taking her from the school auditorium to Broadway.

The Blue Room is showing a musical as well, but in a much less traditional sense. The oft-adapted Misanthrope features Molière’s poet Alceste as the “artist versus the world” in a satirical comedy of manners that seeks to break through the empty, heartless shell of society. This production is based on the adaptation by Lauren Marshall, which imagines Alceste as an iconic underground alternative musician, a la Kurt Cobain, who is straining under the crass pressure of corporate record labels and mass-marketing.

Co-directed by Rob Wilson and Sherri Bagley (both of whom are featured, with Wilson playing Alceste), the Blue Room’s production also features an original musical score by Chico’s favorite rock daughter, Barbara Manning. Cast includes Giovanna Henery, Michelle Smith, DNA, Isaiah Bent and Ken Jenke.

The only non-musical of the bunch is the Birdcage Theatre’s On Golden Pond, opening Friday, Nov. 7. Ernest Thompson’s familiar classic, made famous by the Fonda family’s film version, will be directed by theater President Don Bendorf and stars Birdcage regulars Herman Tuider as retired professor Norman Thayer and Joline Hibbert as his wife Ethel. The Golden Pond is the setting for decades of summer get-aways for the Thayer family, and this particular summer, with the addition of a grandson to play with and the scare of a mild heart attack, brings the life they’ve shared and what little there is left to it into very sharp focus.

We need the rain as sure as we need our drama resources, spread as they are across the entire county this weekend. Show your appreciation and take in what the locals have to offer. Maybe twice?