Thursday, January 2, 2003
Last year was a tough time for local theaters, with dwindling audiences and shrinking box office receipts. But next year''s schedule offers a rash of new and exciting plays, as well as some rarely-performed classics, daring audiences to reach out beyond the familiar and enter that magic realm of suspended disbelief.
In Carmel, the Indoor Forest Theater opens its spring season on Jan. 17 with George Bernard Shaw''s Widower''s Houses, an ironic look at slum landlords presented with that wonderful Shavian wit. The season continues on Feb. 28 with Moliere''s The Misanthrope, a marvelous 17th-century French comedy about a man who despises everyone and everything. On April 11, the Forest wraps things up with Noel Coward''s Blithe Spirit, a bittersweet comedy about a mischievous spirit who tries to wreak vengeance on her husband''s new wife.
The Magic Circle Theater in Carmel Valley was the only local theater that did well last year-averaging 90-percent capacity at all shows, according to founder and artistic director Elsa Con. Con is repeating the same artistic formula of new and interesting plays this year, beginning Feb. 14 with Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer (who also penned Equus and Amadeus). Black Comedy is a situation comedy set in a London apartment during a power outage-a masterpiece of farce. Next up on April 25 is Wit, the 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by Margaret Edson about an English literature professor diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer who agrees to take part in experimental chemotherapy treatments. Emma Thompson won an Emmy for her brilliant performance in the HBO film, playing the part that Santa Cruz actress Susan Forrest will perform at the Magic Circle. Few local companies tackle Wit-first you have to find an actress willing to shave her head and do nude scenes. "It''s risky," Con admits.
On June 27, the Joe DiPietro comedy Over the River and Through the Woods opens, and on Aug. 22, the two-person comedy The Housekeeper, starring Jill Jackson as a bag lady turned maid.
Monterey Peninsula College kicks off its Main Stage season March 6 with A Thousand Clowns, and its SRO/Studio Theater season on April 10 with Harold Pintner''s The Betrayal, a story about the disintegration of a relationship, told in reverse order. But theater department director Peter DeBono says he''s particularly looking forward to the May 8 opening of Gotta Dance!, a new play he wrote with his brother Jerry, which he''s billing as a "dance and drama presentation." The concept is based on the 2000 Tony Award-winning musical Contact, which tells stories through dance and music, with minimal dialogue. The DeBono brothers spent two years writing three stories, and setting them to music. Expect Ricky Nelson, Pavarotti, and a host of young dancers from the Carmel Ballet Academy. Godspell hits the MPC Main Stage June 19, followed by The Rocky Horror Show on Aug. 7.
Pacific Repertory Theater, which shut down in November for two months to save money, will open its 2003 season with a bang on Feb. 20 with the Robinson Jeffers version of Medea, Euripides''s ancient Greek tragedy. It''s a bold move by a company in financial trouble. Not everyone would choose an adaptation of a Greek play about a vengeful mother who kills her two young sons. PRT put the play on once before-in 1984, at the Outdoor Forest Theater. This time they''ve hooked one of America''s foremost directors, six-time Obie Award-winner Joe Chaikin. Definitely one to check out.
On Feb. 25 PRT continues with Proof, a drama that ran away with the Pulitzer, a Tony, and a host of other prestigious awards. Next up on June 3 is The Weir, a ghost story set in an Irish bar, directed by Dan Gotch. It plays in rep with Buddy (The Buddy Holly Story), a musical about the rise to fame of a rock ''n'' roll great who died too young. In addition to the Buddy Holly classics, Buddy is filled with the music of the Big Bopper, Richie Valens and other singers of the era, and this will be its West Coast premiere. In August, Pac Rep continues its march through Shakespeare''s histories with Henry VI, Parts I and II-Joan of Arc makes a cameo appearance-both presented in the intimate Circle Theater.
The Western Stage at Hartnell College in Salinas opens its 2003 Studio Theater season May 30 with Prelude to a Kiss by Craig Lucas, an adult fairy tale where an old man and a young bride switch souls. The first Main Stage show, the popular comic romp through ancient Rome A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, opens June 21. It plays in rep with Ah, Wilderness!, , the only comedy Eugene O''Neill ever wrote, opening July 11. Western Stage literary manager Jeff Heyer says that while Long Day''s Journey Into Night depicted the real darkness and emotional brutality of O''Neill''s family life, Ah, Wilderness! showed the warm home life America''s master playwright wished he''d had.
Rounding out the Main Stage summer, the Western Stage presents the world premiere of Rain of Gold, an original adaptation of the Victor Villasenor book by locals Michael Roddy and Maria Elizabeth Malagamba Roddy. Rain of Gold tells the story of Villasenor''s own family and their immigration to the ranchlands of southern California, going back several generations to Mexico. "The story is very earthy, gritty, Steinbeckian, but there''s a lot of what we would see as magic to it," Heyer says. In the tradition of Western Stage productions of East of Eden and last year''s Of Mice and Men, the play will be mounted during the National Steinbeck Festival, and Villasenor will be present.
Keep tuned to these pages for previews and reviews of the entire 2003 season.