Let’s talk 2004

Christen Simon and Spencer Aste from the New York-based The Acting Company will travel to the Mondavi Center this spring with <i>Richard III</i>.

Christen Simon and Spencer Aste from the New York-based The Acting Company will travel to the Mondavi Center this spring with Richard III.

Speaking for myself and my colleague Patti Roberts, 2003 was not our favorite year for theater. There were just too many repeats and revivals of plays. Only a few new productions earned SN&R’s “sublime” rating this year.

Fortunately, 2004 looks to be more interesting. We’d like to point out some promising shows that will be on the boards in the next few months. These shows may or may not live up to their potential, but we’re looking forward to checking them out.

January 9 through 18, California Musical Theatre will present its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Theatre Project production. This year’s show, … And the Dream Goes On! A Celebration in Song, Word and Dance, is a new effort. This locally produced show will feature a script by Anthony D’Juan, original music by Charles Cooper and choreography by Wanel Thomas, with Lisa Tarrer Lacy directing. Tickets are free. The show will be at the University Theater at California State University, Sacramento. Visit www.calmt.com and click on “Outreach Education” for more information.

The Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra plans to stage Turandot—the rarely produced 1762 comedy by Carlo Gozzi, not Giacomo Puccini’s popular operatic adaptation. Set in Peking, China, the story involves a princess eligible for marriage. Her suitors must answer three impossibly difficult riddles or have their heads lopped off by the court executioner. Amber Jo Manuel will direct, with John Deaderick serving as commedia dell’arte director. Turandot will play January 16 through February 7 at the Nevada Theatre in Nevada City. Visit www.catsweb.org for information.

The Sacramento Theatre Company (STC) has two promising new shows by local artists. Arranged Marriage plays February 17 through April 25. Based on Indian-American writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s widely admired stories, the script was put together by University of California, Davis, alumnus Shahnaz Shroff. Shroff’s previous, shorter version of the show (which was her master’s degree project) caught the eye of STC’s artistic director, Peggy Shannon. The show will incorporate Divakaruni’s words, as well as traditional Indian music and dance.

The second show is Convenience, by Sacramento-based composer, actor and director Gregg Coffin. Coffin wrote the songs for STC’s perennially successful holiday production, Cinderella. Convenience is a rock opera with a punchy score. The story involves a single mom and her estranged 26-year-old son. The show has been produced successfully elsewhere in the last couple of years; a Sacramento production (planned for March 9 through April 4) is long overdue. Information on the two STC shows is available at www.sactheatre.org.

The Woodland Opera House will stage Ragtime. A panoramic musical set between 1904 and 1911, Ragtime covers everything from love and marriage to immigration, race relations and labor organizing. The opportunity to see it staged in the historic 1890s atmosphere of the Woodland Opera House (where folks like the Ragtime characters were entertained 100 years ago) could be something special. James Wheatley, who makes everyone’s short list for best black actor in Sacramento, will play Coalhouse Walker. Jeff Kean directs. The show runs April 2 through May 2. Visit www.wohtheatre.org for information.

The Mondavi Center will present The Acting Company’s touring production of Richard III, Shakespeare’s play about an evil, scheming king, on April 6. We’d be willing to bet this is the first professional production of this script this region has seen in 30 years. Most local professional theater companies won’t even consider attempting this one. The cast requirements are simply too large. Many summer festivals avoid it, as well. It’s a serious and dark piece of work—not the sort of thing you’d enjoy at an outdoor performance while sipping chardonnay. Nonetheless, it’s a great play. Visit www.mondaviarts.com for times and ticket prices.

Last, and perhaps the most unusual of all the productions listed here, the Foothill Theatre Company will host the Maxim Gorky Theatre—coming all the way from Vladivostok, on Russia’s Pacific Coast—the weekend of May 27 through 30. Appropriately, the visiting actors will perform something Russian: Anton Chekhov’s Ivanov. It’s a play most Americans (including this one) have never seen staged. This will be a rare opportunity to see an honored group of Russian professionals doing a play by one of their nation’s greatest playwrights. Ivanov will be performed in Russian, with English translation provided through headphones, at the Nevada Theatre in Nevada City. Visit www.foothilltheatre.org for further details.