A plot of their own
The Old City Cemetery Plays
Art Court Theatre3835 Freeport Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95818
City Theatre is in a grave situation, thanks to eight local writers. The eight are taking part in the third Local Playwright’s Festival, where they are given a Sacramento locale as a setting for their plays. This time, it’s the Old City Cemetery on Broadway—a great choice for a myriad of plots, which these eight playwrights use to full advantage.
The eight plots in The Old City Cemetery Plays run the gamut—different time spans, moods and results—funny, touching, scary, sweet, and the results are all intriguing, though some stand out more than others for both writing and performances.
Program A (the two alternate performances) opens with Nosotros, La Gente, in which Jerry Montoya traces a couple of generations of farmworkers and an attempt to lift a family curse. The Debt by Lisa Tarrer Lacy is a suspenseful tale of a hidden past that emerges during a cemetery robbery, presented by a talented cast that pulls us into the gripping drama.
Reckoning by Nina Breton is a strong story about simmering sibling rivalries over their dead mother—literally, as brothers and sisters spar over her grave—and it is blessed with tone-perfect performances. And The Corpse Capades by Stephen Mason provides comic relief in a good-natured ghost tale with a funny performance by Georgann Wallace.
Lucinda Ray, by Joy Gee, opens Program B. It’s a double narrative; the young couple who have “adopted” Lucinda’s grave have some things to work out, and while they do, Lucinda and her husband Nelson remember their lives together—first as slaves in Missouri, and then as a free man and woman in Sacramento.
In Monuments, Barton Roberts creates a series of four monologues, held together by a religious figure who is pronouncing a different blessing over each period. The monologists are a man who survived Sacramento’s great cholera epidemic, but lost most of his family; a woman who, along with her family, survived the big flood of 1861-62 by camping on the city’s highest ground—among the tombstones in the cemetery; then a second-generation Chinese-American reflects on the racism and legal exclusion that prevented his railroad-building father from being recognized as an American in his lifetime. The final monologue—by far the most interesting—describes the mid-20th-century abandonment of at-home funerals and how it meshed with the loss of the “parlor” to new “living rooms,” as well as the institutionalization of death. As Mary, Georgann Wallace is fascinating to listen to, but she’s also given good material; Roberts pays close attention to language, and it shows.
In Katie Murphy’s New Helvetia, a gang of post-apocalyptic nerdy heroes need the bones of John Sutter’s descendants to work a spell that will save the world. Yes, it’s as crazy as it sounds, but it actually works as a bit of sci-fi-slash-dramedy.
Ghosts … And Spirits, by Zack Sapunor, is a straight-up comedy set in the 1920s. Kate is a psychic (or what passes for one), and she’s invented a new board game that will let people talk to the spirits of the dead. She’s invited one of the Parker brothers (the drunken one) to the cemetery to see a demonstration, as she’s hoping to make her fortune. Sapunor’s study of comedies shows in this piece; he’s got plenty of exits and entrances, ghosts and bootleg booze galore.
As one of the characters says, “Oh, so this is Sacramento.”