On Stage

On Stage

 

Two new local productions offer us a chance to see art reflecting life; one through the eyes of geniuses, the other through the genius of chance meeting.

First, the Conejo Players’ new production of Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile proves that turn-of-the-century artists and a world-famous physicist can be hilarious — and who’d have thought they could fit all those theories into such a relatively short time?

Just ask Einstein.

Set designer Rick Steinberg delivers us into the infamous artists’ bar in 1904 Paris where the 20th century’s brightest minds are hatching ideas. Its walls embellished with the artwork of the Studio Channel Islands Art Center, Steinberg’s atmosphere is a dank and welcoming bohemian vibe.

Lori Lee Gordon dressed a talented cast in lovely, functional period outfits, and one loud suit for one loud character named Schmendiman (R. Shane Bingham), who claims to have created a sturdy, functional material that will make him world-renowned. Heard of him?

But Picasso’s real star isn’t Picasso himself (a suave Clayton McInerney), or even Elvis (James Cluster), who is still in the building and traveled thru time to snap selfies with the masters. The real stars are the theories of art coupled with the theories of science, and the merging of the two like DNA — intertwined, dependent. Even when Picasso and Albert Einstein (Matt DeNoto) whip out pencils and have a duel, one creating art and the other mathematical theory, Einstein explains that both must have beauty.

Animation designer Tim Reese treats audiences with insights into the creators’ minds, projected onto the set as Picasso’s drawings and the mathematics being whipped up in Einstein’s head.

Anchoring the cast is Gary Cunial’s steady Gaston, an older Frenchman with quick replies and an equally impatient bladder; a sassy barmaid and part-time muse appropriately named Germaine (Amie Woolweber) and art dealer Sagot (Patrick Rogers), who supplies his artists with an audience while swinging a healthy profit.

Martin’s humor is exactly as one would expect: intelligent, absurd and with an occasional groaner. But Picasso is not a pedestrian play; rather it leaves its audience feeling enriched, educated and entertained by the minds of masters.

Meanwhile, a different kind of brain child takes stage at the Elite Theatre Company, the fruit of director John Eslick’s tireless effort to bring four thoroughly written characters to local audiences.

Where Picasso is polished and filled with artistic celebrity, Peaches en Regalia reflects the art of mastering the daily tasks of living, loving and cherishing every moment spent with people we sometimes meet through very unexpected circumstances.

Like Picasso, Peaches’ four characters meet in a small diner where waitress Peaches (a charming Brittany Danyel) spills dessert across Norman (George Coe). He goes to clean up in the men’s room and meets Syd (local teacher Scott Groenveld), a soon-to-be-lifelong friend, and Joanne (the charmingly nervous Jenna Scanlon) at the cleaners. Four opening monologues become one beautifully intertwined story of lives merging at a critical juncture.

Fast-forward five years: Syd and Joanne are married while Peaches is nudging Norman to have their first child. In fact, before he’s even out of his jammies Norman is holding his newborn son.

Life is not to be missed but embraced now, and both Picasso and Peaches give audiences a chance to be enriched, charmed and hopefully inspired.


Picasso at the Lapin Agile, through May 31 at Conejo Players Theatre, 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks, 495-3715 or www.conejoplayers.org.

Peaches en Regalia through May 25 at Elite Theatre Company, 2731 S. Victoria Ave., Oxnard, 483-5118 or www.elitetheatre.org.

 

On Stage

On Stage

 

A Mapquest route from the East County to Santa Paula leads through some of California’s most beautiful and hidden agricultural land. Idle farm implements and once-modern trucks rest upon what may have once been easily accessed roads, weed-choked now and abandoned.

At the end of that scenic route is the Santa Paula Theater Center and its current production: a staging of Anton Chekov’s 1896 masterpiece, The Seagull. Audiences experience a rare gem; The Seagull is theatrical history, newly adapted by director Michael Perlmutter. Once-heavy, archaic language has been streamlined by Perlmutter, and the staging in the nearly century-old building is apropos.

The Seagull begins as a play within a play, staged in an outdoor amphitheatre. The playwright Konstantin (played with charm and arc by Patrick Beckstead) enters with Masha (Jecca Perlmutter), who slogs along in heavy black garb and speaks in monotone. Never mind that Masha acts disinterested or what she’s sniffing up her nose; her silent obsession is Konstantin.

The country estate where the performance is to take place is owned by Sorin (veteran local actor Doug Friedlander). With bellowing voice and mock-stiffness, Sorin may have retired to the rural countryside but that doesn’t mean he likes it. “Life is just wrong here,” he says of the pace. “I just don’t get it!” Konstantin, however, praises the natural splendor. “A view of the lake and all the props you can’t buy!” The perfect stage for his ode to his love, Nina (the perky Jessamyn Arnstein).

Konstantin times his play with the rising of the moon. Then Nina, as an angel, appears. What comes forth is less a play and more a series of symbolic ramblings, interrupted by the creatures of the night, registering opinions about Konstantin’s work almost as much as his overbearing mother, Arkadina (Andrea Tate).

A once-famous actress herself, Arkadina is accused of hating both the play and her son as reminders of her lost youth. Unable to take the heckling from both Mother Nature and his birth mother, Konstantin stops the performance. Arkadina seats herself at the foot of the stage and regales the audience, calling the play a childish tantrum. “Let him write what he feels, but spare me his nonsense.”

And it is a writer who delivers the apex of The Seagull. Tyler McAuliffe’s soliloquy as author Trigorin, a role widely believe to be autobiographical of Chekov, comes when Nina expresses her desire for fame. Trigorin shows her its pitfalls. For him, fame is the product of his singular obsession, writing down details and observing the beauty of daily life. He demonstrates this, somewhat absently, by at first complimenting Nina as having “rivaled nature itself” onstage, then soon turning to a dead bird, over which he begins frantically making notes for a new short story inspired by its beauty.

Chekov was sure to include plenty of love, lust and yearning into The Seagull, most of which circulates in love triangles throughout. When Masha finally confides in local doctor Dorn (Hugh McManigal), he’s distracted himself by Paulina (the lusty and married Christina Burke). Masha loves Konstatin, Konstantin loves Nina, and of course, Trigorin is in love with his writing.

Trigorin may be obsessed with telling a good story, but so was Michael Permutter, who has delivered a fresh adaptation of Chekov’s classic play in a lovely country setting, in language as accessible and enjoyable to contemporary audiences as it has ever been before.


The Seagull, through May 25 at the Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. Seventh St., Santa Paula. 525-4645 or www.santapaulatheatercenter.org.

 

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