Backwater Park

Rated 3.0 El Dorado County’s Laurie Blazich has written an engaging first play that operates on two levels. Plot-wise, it’s a timely polemic about leapfrogging development, an issue affecting many small communities in the foothills. A well-dressed businessman with local roots wants to replace a tumbledown neighborhood, where cabins and nature exist side by side, with a shopping center full of chain stores. Blazich works in the appropriate concerns: the feelings of the longtime, low-income residents who don’t want to move vs. the promise that the project will create jobs.Beneath that plotline, the play is a portrait of the quirky, privacy-prizing characters who live in the aging bungalows that stand in the way of “progress.” Blazich weaves in a tense relationship between a gay man who owns a glass business (and stands to profit from the new shopping center) and his aging, wheelchair-using mother. She condemns her son’s lifestyle but nonetheless relies on him for help. There’s also a nurse/social worker who has an on-again, off-again romance with a local politician looking to block the shopping center, and a sort of platonic romance between two single retirees who are neighbors. Blazich sprinkles in several other odd but interesting characters.

The first half’s kind of slow and talky, while characters are getting established. But the second half opens with a vivid scene at a meeting of a county board of supervisors. It’s both dramatic and realistic, as the play comes into its own. Blazich’s skills as a playwright lie predominantly in the area of characterization as opposed to storytelling, but the script speaks so directly to our place and time that the play quietly absorbs your attention nonetheless. Director Ed Claudio marshals some good performances from a large cast, which includes veteran community actor Bob DeLucia in his first appearance at this venue.