There’s something about fall that makes live theater magical. Productions, big or small, seem to thrive during this seasonal shift, as summer warmth slowly gives way to the autumn chill. Maybe it’s because theater is such a communal affair: it can bind together an extended family, keep them rapt at attention during a dramatic sequence, get them tapping their feet to a show tune or leave them cackling with laughter at the bit character who steals the scene. Perhaps it’s the weather itself that prepares audiences for a more reflective, dramatic experience under the blazing spotlights.
Whatever the reason, fall seems to be the season that theater companies choose to unveil the heavy-hitters, crowd-pleasers and time-honored classics. This year the projects range from seminal masterpieces like The Glass Menagerie and
Guys and Dolls to recently adapted works like Daddy Long Legs. They include the heart-wrenching, but true story of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, a musical rendition of the book of Genesis in Children of Eden and an iconic invisible rabbit in Harvey.
So bundle up, get out of the house and step into a playhouse to enjoy the simple shared pleasure of live performance.
Daddy Long Legs: Oct. 14-Nov. 8
Rubicon Theater Company
1006 E. Main St.
The novel Daddy Long Legs comprises a series of letters that tell the story of Jerusha Abbott, an orphan, who has been given the opportunity to attend college by an anonymous benefactor. Adapting the novel into a play and then helming the production himself, is director John Caird, who described the Rubicon staging as blending a Charles Dickens novel with the airy innocence of Anne of Green Gables. “It’s a very touching, light-hearted piece,” said Caird. While adapting the novel to play is never easy, Caird enjoyed the responsibility of fully illustrating the mysterious benefactor and inventing new characters to flesh out the coming-of-age romance tale. In a play that appeals to audiences young and old, perhaps both will identify with, and feel rejuvenated by, the inspired storytelling.
The Glass Menagerie: Oct. 2 –Nov. 1
Ojai Center for the Arts
113 S. Montgomery St., Ojai
Staging one of this century’s finest, and most performed, American classics is no easy feat. The Ojai Center for the Arts production, helmed by director Tom Eubanks, seems to be up to the task. The play itself, written by luminary Tennessee Williams, captured the alienation and disillusionment of a young man torn between his own future and responsibility to his family. Despite wanting to travel, to get away, to go anywhere but home, Tom (Curtis Klein) must provide financial security to his mother, Amanda (Leslie Paxton), and his uncomfortably shy sister (Brittany Danyel). Echoing the themes of the story, the production will be “a visual and aural experience,” said Eubanks. “The set will be very dreamlike and illusionary, which makes sense because the play is about illusion and abandonment.” When done just right, Menagerie is essential viewing — it leaves an audience feeling a heartache and longing that resonates far longer than the curtain call.
The Miracle Worker: Oct. 16-Nov. 15
High Street Arts Center
45 E. High St., Moorpark
The life and work of Helen Keller has become a testament to the power of enduring perseverance. While bewildered parents wrote off the blind and deaf Keller, she was taken under the tutelage of the ever-patient Anne Sullivan. The Miracle Worker, directed by Rachel Manheimer, illustrates this early teacher-student relationship. While portraying this relationship is no easy task, it helps that the two lead actresses, Jessica Stone and Marilyn Zaslow, are proficient in sign language.
Truly, “It’s amazing that Keller was a real person who overcame these odds,” said producer L.J. Stevens. “Despite complete darkness, she is — with the help of a determined teacher — literally dragged into the light.”
Harvey: Nov. 20-Dec.20
Santa Paula Theater Center
125 S. Seventh St., Santa Paula
Doubt: Sept. 18-Oct. 25
The story of Elwood P. Dowd and his imaginary rabbit has been firmly ingrained in the American psyche ever since Jimmy Stewart portrayed the character in the 1950 film. Taking cues from the film, but mostly the acclaimed 1944 play, is Santa Paula Theater Center’s production directed by Andrea Tate. The story, while light-hearted and constantly humorous, deals with the honoring of differences — including a disagreement about whether there is a six-foot-tall rabbit named Harvey present in the room. Actor John Reinhart, a long-time collaborator in SPTC productions, will take his turn at the Dowd character. “He [Reinhart] is an actor that you automatically think of for the role,” said producer Leslie Nichols.
“He’s got that Jimmy Stewart everyman quality.” All the elements point to Harvey being the perfect holiday show — hilarious and heartwarming.
Guys and Dolls: Oct. 16-25
Cabrillo Music Theatre
Fred Kavli Theater, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.,Thousand Oaks
The original Broadway musical of Guys and Dolls borrowed elements from writer Damon Runyon’s prohibition-era take on the mythic city that never sleeps, New York. Unfortunately, in the decades since its debut, subsequent productions have transformed the revered show into something of a cartoon. The Cabrillo Music Theatre’s team wants to get back to the story’s roots and, in the words of producer Lewis Wilkenfeld, “Harken back to the original Damon Runyon style.” The production, featuring some singing numbers, splashy production and a story of lively, likable gamblers, is sure to please families and general audiences alike. One song that’s sure to bring everyone to their feet is “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” a dazzling revival number that will get theater-goers humming, and maybe even tapping, to the beat.
Children of Eden: Nov. 13-Dec. 20
Elite Theatre Company
730 S. “B” St, Oxnard
James and the Giant Peach: Oct. 2-4, 9-11, 16-18
The play Children of Eden is something of an oddity. It’s a retelling of the story of Genesis, from Adam and Eve to Noah and the flood, in modern musical theater. The two acts of the production boast more than 40 songs that illustrate the family dynamic between the often-confused humans and their father, God. “[The story] is traditional in its telling, but liberal in its interpretation,” explained director Shawn Lanz. Although casting an actor to play God has obvious challenges, John Gaston has brought a bit of youthful exuberance to the role. In Eden, even the Almighty makes, and learns from, his mistakes. Although the Genesis story is instantly recognizable to the religious, Lanz hopes that the play’s humanistic themes will draw other audiences also. “It has many universal themes,” he said, “including how to learn to accept children for who they are.”
Oklahoma! Oct. 16 – Nov. 22
Camarillo Community Theatre
330 Skyway Drive, Camarillo
Bringing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s smash hit musical to life again will be the Camarillo Community Theatre. While the production was first staged more than 60 years ago on Broadway, it has proved to be one of the most durable American musicals. Centered around cowboys and romance and set in Oklahoma Indian territory, the play is chock-full of nostalgic revival tunes that will surely become instant crowd pleasers for families looking for a rollicking good time. Oklahoma! here we come.
I Remember Mama: Nov. 27-Dec. 20
Senga Classic Stage Company
Ojai Valley Grange
381 Cruzero St., Ojai
Senga Classic Stage Company, a new theater company based in Ojai, looks to make its mark with I Remember Mama, a portrait of a Norwegian-American family living in San Francisco at the turn of the century. This remarkable and time-honored play centers around the indomitable Mama, portrayed by Sigrid Bressler, as she rears her children and guides her eldest daughter (Hanna Aist) toward a literary career. Director Francisca Beach noted that a minimalist set would be best to accommodate the constant scene and setting changes in the play. This means the audience’s attention will focus squarely on performers — who will have no problem winning over audiences with a play that will be funny, touching and more than memorable.
Bert N’ Eddie: Nov. 13- Dec. 12
Conejo Players Theatre
351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks
In its 51st year of producing plays, the Conejo Players Theatre seems to be hitting a stride. Bert N’ Eddie, an original production making its theatrical debut, continues this tradition of enduring excellence. Directed by Dick Johnson, a collaborator at Conejo for more than 30 years, the play centers on the true story of entertainers Eddie Cantor and Bert Williams. Bert and Eddie’s relationship was significant in the 1920s because of the racial divide that they bridged — Eddie performed in black face make-up while Bert, a black man, pretended to be a white man dressed up in black face. “At that time African-Americans couldn’t perform on stages with white performers,” said producer Marjorie Berg. “Bert had to keep pretending he was white.” Their story, which seems incredible today, also makes for great musical theater with more than a few spirited tap routines and song numbers.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Dec. 4-Dec. 20
High Street Arts Center
45 E. High St.
A Rubicon Family Christmas
Dec. 5-Dec. 27
Rubicon Theatre company
1006 E. Main St.
Holiday Variety Festival
Ojai Center for the Arts
113 S. Montgomery St.
Cabrillo Music Theatre
Fred Kavli Theater
2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.,
Ballet Academy of Ventura
2750 E. Main St.