Monday, June 23, 2014

PCPA has a Winner, again.

If you’re of a certain age, the musical review, “Forever Plaid,” now playing at Santa Maria’s PCPA, will be a lovely, funny trip down memory lane. If you’re not of a certain age, but are familiar with the great American popular music songbook, it will also be a trip down a musical historical lane.  And a lot of laughs.

The plot is simple:  Four young guys  (think clean-cut nerds with pocket protectors and wonderful voices) form a close-harmony group (think The Four Aces, The Four Freshmen, all popular “guy groups” in the 1950’s). They are driving down the highway in their 1954 Mercury convertible on their way to pick up their plaid tuxedoes when they’re broadsided and killed by a school bus filled with Catholic girls on their way to see the first Beatles concert on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Yes.  Nice touch.
The show is all about their return from heaven to sing one last concert as The Plaids.  And sing they do, 29 classic 1950’s hits, from Day-O, Sixteen Tons, Three Coins in the Fountain, and the only finale possible with such a line-up – Love is a Many Splendid Thing. 

Plus a show stopper: A hilarious send-up of “The Ed Sullivan Show in Three Minutes, 27 Seconds” with “Lady of Spain” played on the accordion the whole time. That was worth the price of admission alone.

The cast, Jeff Parker, Richie Ferris, Kyle Smith and Nick Tubbs, are all part of the regular line  of PCPA players, and manage the very difficult task of being both ironic/comic and ‘50’s sentimental/sappy while singing gorgeous close harmony songs.  Not an easy challenge.

Well, I don’t think there’s much of anything the players at PCPA can’t do.  It’s an extraordinary theatre gem right here in our backyard.  Do yourself a favor if you want to have a genuinely entertaining afternoon:  Go see “Forever Plaid.”  But you’d better hurry.  It’s  closing this Sunday, June 29.  So call the box office at 922-8313 or order tickets on line at

Meanwhile, over at the SLO Little Theatre (  (805) 786-2440) I had a chance to finally catch one of their “Ubu’s Other Shoe” performances.  These are described as “staged readings,” which brings to mind a bunch of actors sitting around a table reading from a script.  Not correct, though the actors do have their scripts with them and the theatre is pretty bare except for the  most limited props.  The notes in the program added this bit of information:  “Ubu’s Other Shoe” was created to present challenging, though-provoking plays, old and new, the content of which might make them unsuitable for main state production.  It also gives directors and actors and opportunity to work on challenging plays that would not otherwise be available.”

In short, “Ubu’s Other Shoe” is a win/win.  In order to practice and hone their craft, actors and directors need to act, they need a script and they need a place to do it all in.  But staging a full play – costumes, sets, takes time and money and if the play is a challenging one and unlikely to bring in enough paying customers to pay the bills, what do do? 

Well, Ubu’s what you do.  The plays can be quickly staged utilizing the playgoers’  imagination – the true magic of theatre (think “theatre of the mind” radio dramas ), the presentations can utilize dates when the theatre would otherwise be dark, the ticket price is cheaper (with a season ticket, it’s only $10 a show.) which means live theatre can fit into far more budgets.
I had a chance to go see Ubu’s presentation of “August: Osage County,” and was amazed.  Yes, the actors carried their scripts but they weren’t “reading,” they were full-bore acting.  So prepared and on target was the cast, the show was more like a dress rehearsal than just some walk-read-through.
And what a performance it was and quite a wonderful eye-opener to see how one play, same characters, same dialogue can be so transformed, depending on what interpretation the actor brings to the table.

I had seen the movie with Meryl Streep.  It was a Bataan Death March of a film – dark and grim.  And Streep’s gravitas and powerful presence moved her Violet Weston into the realm of Medea – a savage, relentless, genuinely awful woman in a drama with few laughs.

  In Ubu’s presentation, the play was listed as a “black comedy,” and Jill Turnbow’s wonderful performance turned Violet into a wounded woman whose malice is driven by her own pain and fear, her own dysfunction  and an inability to do or know any better. She is a woman both sinned against and sinning and Turnbow’s performance is both richly comic and touchingly tragic.  Instead of some grim Greek Drama, we get a picture of a family coping with secrets, old wounds and family legacies they’re not prepared or willing to deal honestly with. Medea was not in the room, but a lot of belly laughs were.

It was like seeing two different plays.  Again, the magic of theatre and the transformative power of an actor to shape a role, set a tone, and so shape an entire play.

SLO Little Theatre has also become one of our own theatre gems.  They’re starting their new season, including both Ubu’s Other Shoe’s line-up and a series of plays called “After Hours,” which presents both original plays and/or material suitable for adults.  Clearly, something for everyone.

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