One year shy of its 20th anniversary in Rohnert Park, the award-winning Pacific Alliance Stage Company is officially gone, its city funding erased as an emergency cost-cutting measure. PASCO artistic director Hector Correa, who was brought to Sonoma County in the spring of 2004 to coax the company toward heightened professionalism (and bigger box office), has been let go, and for the first time since 1989, Rohnert Park is without a resident theater company. The only Equity house in the county, PASCO's fate comes as no surprise, given the massive deficits the city has been facing the last year or so. Despite strong loyalty from a tiny army of annual subscribers, the cost of operating a full-fledged contract theater company out of the Spreckels Performing Arts Center finally became too much to absorb.
"It's no secret that Spreckels' operating budget was cut by 50 percent this year," explains Gene Abravaya, Spreckels' "theater arts specialist," the person responsible in large part for marketing the center's numerous musical and theatrical offerings. "With half of our budget gone," he says, "we had to give something up, and unfortunately it had to be Pacific Alliance."
According to Abravaya, PASCO's retirement is a temporary move. "As soon as our budget can support it, PASCO will be back again and up and running," Abravaya says. "I can't say if Hector will be coming back with it, because he's a very talented director and actor, always in demand in the area, so I can't say if he'll be available, but that is the hope."
Surprisingly, the loss has not resulted in an abandonment of Spreckels' theatrical season. With all of those subscribers still expecting some kind of bang for their promised buck, Abravaya, working with managing director Mary McDougall, has pulled together a season of shows that is as ingeniously crafty as it is artistically daring. Replacing the traditional five-play season is a quartet of shows borrowed from other North Bay companies, all of them arriving with their original casts and directors.
The Santaland Diaries, based on David Sedaris' hilarious autobiographical essay about the people who play elves every year at Macy's, played to sold-out houses last December when it was performed in a small Santa Rosa storefront. That production, starring David Yen and directed by Argo Thompson, will be airlifted to Spreckels Nov. 27&–Dec. 13.
In January, there will be a reprise of Patrick Ball's internationally renowned solo-show O'Carolan's Farewell to Music, written by Ball and Peter Glazer. Celtic harpist Ball portrays the legendary poet and musician Turlough O'Carolan. The show melds music and storytelling in a tale about the struggle of art to speak the truth even during dark and troubling time. The show runs Jan. 21&–Feb. 7.
The Gin Game, with a brilliant, blistering script by D. L. Coburn, was a surprise success last year at the Novato Theater Company. Featuring real-life married actors Norman A. Hall and Shirley Nilsen Hall as a mismatched pair of dysfunctional retirement-home residents, the show dazzled audiences in February 2008, achieving the rare form of theatrical immortality that comes when, a year later, people are still talking about the production. The Gin Game plays March 18&–April 4.
The season will conclude with a restaging of one of the North Bay's other most talked-about performances: Steven Abbott in Doug Wright's I Am My Own Wife. The electrifying solo show originally appeared two years ago at the Sonoma County Repertory Theater, under the direction of Jennifer King, who will be returning to remount the show, with Abbott, at Spreckels, April 29&–May 16.
Such moves seem economically wise, while also making it clear that a PASCO-less Spreckels does not mean a downgrading of theatrical entertainment. "This is certainly all excellent theater," says Abravaya, "and people should know that. If anyone is concerned about a drop in quality at Spreckels, they should not be concerned."
In fact, these changes may be exactly what Spreckels needs. Despite the random theatrical success, PASCO's star has been waning over the last few years. Ironically, by filling its schedule with bold plays and first-rate casts, 2009&–2010 looks to be one of Spreckels' strongest seasons in years.
Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. For details, call 707.588.3400.
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