Chico News Review
December 11, 2008
Three openings at three different theaters—the Blue Room, Chico Cabaret and Rogue Theatre—in the same little city on the same weekend is too much, right? Add to that the show at Chico Theater Company (Annie), a second one at the Cabaret (Holiday Burlesque Show) and this Friday’s opening of the late-night Sleigh musical at the Blue Room, and there will be six community-theater productions showing simultaneously this coming weekend.
Is this a glut or is there really a local demand for six plays a night? Let’s take a look at last weekend’s openings first.
Thursday night was a two-fer, and opening with The Illusion at the Blue Room, a play featuring two of Chico’s most respected actors, Jerry Miller and Brad Moniz (who also directs), turned out to be a great way to start this marathon.
Written by Tony Kushner (Angels in America), The Illusion is an adaptation of French playwright Pierre Cornelle’s 1636 comedy L’Illusion Comique.
Moniz plays the self-important Pridamant, a Frenchman who ventures into the cave of the sorcerer Alcandre (played by Miller) to procure his services in helping to locate his long-estranged son. The plot unfolds with a series of visions, with the magician showing Pridamant how his adult son has fared in life through a series of unrelated but connected visions.
Moniz played things fittingly fussy and demanding as he watched the visions unfold, and Miller was mischievous and somewhat mysterious, belying a secret layer hiding beneath those in play. But the marquee stars are only two parts of the equation. Down the line, every player did sharp work. One of my personal faves was Miller’s son Loki Miller, playing foil to Pridamant’s son, emerging in each vision as a different version of his character with the craziest and most enjoyable accents and natural comic timing.
But there was not a single weak link in the chain. If this brand of play-for-actors were put in the hands of an average cast, one that wasn’t so energetically on mark, it would have been a chore to endure.
The scene at the Chico Cabaret was amazing. Here it was 10:30 p.m. on a Thursday, and the place was nearly full and very energetic. And this edition of the Cabaret’s annual showing of one of Jeff Goode’s holiday farces was the perfect, fun and irreverent piece to roll out to this hyper late-night crowd.
This year’s selection is 2001’s UnXmas Story, and playing a cranky shepherd on a “not-so-silent night,” theater director Phil Ruttenberg introduced the proceedings with a joke: “Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Angel walks into a bar …”
From there the story of the birth of Jesus, with his attendant shepherds, angels, kings and manger went how you remember it. Or did it?
As soon as Allison Rich’s not-so-virtuous Mary introduced the next scene with the first F-bomb, a sharp and hilarious barn-house boudoir back-and-forth between her and Sean Green as her whipped man Joseph ensued—Mary: “You bastard.” Joseph: “I don’t think that’s a word you want to be tossing around.”
At almost exactly 30 minutes, the Cabaret’s wonderfully sacrilegious romp ended up being the perfect-sized late-night theater snack.
Play No. 3 was Friday night’s performance of Times Square Angel by Rogue Theatre at the 1078 Gallery.
Written by Charles Busch (whose off-Broadway hit Vampire Lesbians of Sodom was put on by Rogue last year), Times Square Angel is billed as being in the spirit the traditional holiday fantasy films of the ‘40s and ‘50s. And it is.
The play follows the life story of a street-smart redhead, Elenora “Irish” O’Flanigan (played with verve as a kid by Molly Hafer, and with magnetic intensity as an adult by Hilary Tellesen), from her days growing up in Hells Kitchen and working a dead-end job in the zipper factory, to an increasingly heart-hardening career as a marquee dancer on the burlesque circuit.
And, like its inspirations, a spiritual being (in this case, Albert the Angel, played with infectious hard-luck sweetness by Andy Hafer) intervenes to try to detour the protagonist from a doomed path.
I was anticipating a little more fun at the expense of the well-worn holiday-film genre, and a couple of slow moments could’ve benefited from more satirical treatment, or pep from the players, when the holiday-message melodrama on which the play was riffing went through the motions of connecting the dots. But no matter. In the end, the show’s sweet devotion to the promise of redemption is what resonated most.
Looking back at the weekend as a whole, the turnout at all three shows was really good: Rogue and the Cabaret seemed nearly full, and the Blue Room was probably three-quarters of the way there. And to varying degrees, each offered an engaging community-theater experience. So in assessing the health of the scene on this weekend, I’d say Chico is in the pink.