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Theater '95

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Final Act

Dropping the curtain on the season

By Gretchen Giles

I'm finally getting this May/December thing figured out. It has nothing to do with lovers of different ages finding each other. Nope. It's much more sublime. You wake up one morning, it's May. You wake up the next, and it's December--time to review the year that was, if you can remember the millisecond in which all of the in-between stuff happened.

The happy part of re-reading a year's worth of columns is in the warm recognition that the vibrant and thriving theater scene that has been so carefully nurtured here in the county has only continued to grow, most spectacularly with the opening of the elegant new Sonoma County Repertory Theatre.

Here then, is a look at what succeeded on local stages throughout the last year.

Beginning alphabetically, Actors Group Playhouse--which unfortunately folded last month--had an uneven year, but scored one really fine production with Ibsen's A Doll's House. Director Brian Frishman--who has since moved on to garduate work at UCLA--found his stride, and actor (and acupuncturist) Lynda Harvey reflected like a prism all the complexities of the character Nora and her fight for freedom.

Actors Theatre up at LBC began the year well, with a strong rendition of Jane Chambers' autobiographical play, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove. Concerning a group of lesbians who meet at a Fire Island type of resort each year, this production featured a strong performance by newcomer Sheila Groves and a rough, affecting portrayal by Janice Ray, who played the dying central figure in the cast. AT also scored a hit later in the year with Mollie Boice's one-woman portrayal of mad literary wife Zelda Fitzgerald in The Last Flapper.

Main Street Theatre and its Sonoma County Repertory Theatre continue to be the strongest companies in the county, consistently producing high-quality adult comedies and dramas. Eric Cook's rubbery cross-dressing portrayal in Charley's Aunt gave shakes of laughter to the upright audience, and the recent production of Bullshot Crummond was as nearly perfect as possible. SCRT--which this September debuted its new downtown Santa Rosa arena theater--has done nothing but fine work, beginning with an absolutely stunning production of Hamlet--both outdoors and in--that was as definitive as any I've seen. And those of you who haven't trotted over with your lunches for the SCR@Noon series are really missing out on a chance to digest inexpensive, original, live theater with your sandwiches. Laugh, cry, and eat: this is great stuff.

The Pacific Alliance Stage Company has produced some maligned plays that really deserve greater credit. Both of their knockouts were directed by PASCO favorite Peter Nyberg, who comes up from Carmel to pace the stage. Painting Churches--concerning an aging couple who neglect their grown daughter in favor of their conjugal affections--featured excellent work by William McKereghan and Patricia Silver as the married couple so involved in one another that they've barely been able to notice their daughter's life. Also compelling--though I didn't agree with the director's focus--was the recent production of David Mamet's sexual power play, Oleanna.

My biggest regret of the season was that there wasn't enough column space to write a real review of the Santa Rosa Players' production of Oliver! and that I had to content myself merely with a glowing caption under a photo of the principals. Those who saw this musical know that it was the Players at their finest.

Summer Repertory Theatre is one of the county's treasures, a training ground for aspiring actors statewide, and last summer's The Secret Garden is one example of why SRT has become a generational favorite. With an outstanding professional set design and a well-rehearsed and vibrant cast, this production was as all-around pro as community theater gets.

Shakespeare al fresco was a big hit around the county, and one of the most exciting productions was the Valley of the Moon Shakespeare Company's presentation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Transplanting it in the mission era and adding Native American spirits to the oaks around the stage, director Michael Oakes added a unique depth to the magic of the story, and Eric Thompson's Puck was an athletic dervish of delight.

Here's looking forward to the new slate of plays that begin in January.

May all of your resolutions come true.

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From the Dec. 28, 1995-Jan. 3, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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