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It Cant Happen Here at SRJC

A Look Back at Sonoma County Theatre

Dec 29, 2017
by Harry Duke, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and American Theatre Critics Association

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ABOVE: The Santa Rosa Junior College production of It Can’t Happen Here

It’s that time of year again for the usual “Best of…” lists where critics review their picks for the best (and sometimes worst) in music, movies, fashion, etc. and give people at holiday parties something to argue about. For the past three years, my approach has been a little different as I prefer to offer a few “Special End of Year Awards” to Sonoma County theatres and artists. 

Here are the 2017 awardees:

The “Now You See It, Now You Don’t” Award

The Santa Rosa Junior College production of It Can’t Happen Here opened on October 6 and closed on October 8. The adaptation of the 1935 Sinclair Lewis novel about the rise of a populist blow-hard to the Presidency had a lot to say about our current political climate, but not a lot of people had a chance to see it. Its run was cut short with the closure of the SRJC campus as a result of the fires.

The “Show Must Go On” Award

QUARTET-Liz Jahren--Clark Miller--Michael Fontaine--Laura JorgensenMany theatre companies understandably postponed their runs during the North Bay fires. Cinnabar Arts and Spreckels Theatre Company went on with their scheduled openings of Quartet and Monty Python’s Spamalot. While neither facility was in immediate danger, I was conflicted about the decision. I attended both productions, enjoyed them both, and was glad they decided to open. That being said, I’m still not sure they should have.

REVIEW – “Quartet” at Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma

REVIEW – “Monty Python’s Spamalot” at Spreckels in Rohnert Park

The “Yes, There IS Diversity in Sonoma County, Dammit” Award

In the Heights at SRJCThe Santa Rosa Junior College production of Lin Manuel-Miranda’s In the Heights proved the claim that there isn’t a diverse enough talent pool from which to cast many shows is suspect. Perhaps choosing shows in a season that speak and appeal to more diverse artists and audiences would widen the pool. Maybe it’s also time to check some artistic egos at the door and go and find them.

REVIEW - In the Heights at SRJC

The “Big Things Come in Small Packages” Award

The studio theatres of Sonoma County’s largest companies often offered superior work to that displayed on their main stages - Spreckels The Sugar Bean Sisters6th Street’s Visiting Mr. Green and A Masterpiece of Comic…Timing and Spreckels’ The Sugar Bean Sisters and Little Women, the Musical for example.

REVIEW - Sugar Bean Sisters at Spreckels Performing Arts

REVIEW – “A Masterpiece of Comic… Timing” @ 6th Street Playhouse

REVIEW - Visiting Mr. Green at 6th Street Playhouse

The “Out of Left Field” Award

Not many people are willing to venture out to Monte Rio to catch theatre. You should give it a shot.Elephant Man- Treves-reveals-Merrick You’re not going to get the bells and whistles other production companies may provide, but Curtain Call can do a lot with a little. They put on an excellent production of The Elephant Man with local comedian James Rowan giving an incredibly touching performance as John Merrick.

REVIEW – “The Elephant Man” and “Man of La Mancha”

The “One is the Loneliest Number” Award

I’ve been asked a couple of times “If you could open up a theatre company in Sonoma Country, what kind of shows would you do?” Getting past the issue that no one in their right mind would open another theatre company in this area, my answer is “one-person shows.” Why? Well, this year we had Patrick Varner as a Streisand employee, Libby Villari as a former Texas governor, Sheri Lee Miller as a ghost, and David Yen as a disgruntled Christmas elf. All were highly entertaining and each came down to a single performer and an audience.

The “No, I’ve Got Something in My Eye” Award

I found myself quite taken with two holiday presentations (that aren’t really holiday plays.) Main Stage West’Daddy Long Legs and Spreckels’ Little Women, the Musical took me by surprise. Credit the performers for getting me to dust off the adjective “sweet” in my vocabulary.

The “Better Than It Had Any Right to Be” Award

The Farce Awakens at Redwood Theatre CompanyThe Redwood Theatre Company has impressed me in its short life for the energy and passion they bring to their productions. As one who has never succumbed to the cult of Star Wars, my expectations for their production of Brittany Law’s original musical parody The Farce Awakens were not high. I expected it to be a bunch of young folk in cheesy costumes with dime-store props saying silly things. That is EXACTLY what it was, and yet it was all delivered with such a sense of joy and fun that they won me over.

REVIEW - “The Farce Awakens” at Redwood Theatre Company

The “If You Build It, They Will Come” Award

Main Stage Wests The BirdsSonoma County is blessed with several excellent set designers who often do wonders with often tiny, restricted spaces. The sets for Cinnabar’s Man of La Mancha, Spreckel’s The Sugar Bean Sisters, and Main Stage West’s The Birds all grabbed your attention and transported you to another place from the moment you walked through the theatre door.

REVIEW – “The Birds” at Main Stage West in Sebastopol

REVIEW - The Sugar Bean Sisters at Spreckels Performing Arts

The “Just (Don’t) Do It” Award

Just because a show hasn’t been done in Sonoma County before (or in a long time), doesn’t mean it should be done. Some are chestnuts that are best left buried (The Children’s Hour), while others just aren’t very good (David Mamet’s Race.) And why do companies recycle shows that have played in the community within the past few years? You couldn’t pick one of the other 1,000 plays available?

Sonoma County Live Theater…Moving on…

Live theatre continues to struggle in Sonoma County (as it does most any place else.) Like many residents, the theatre community did not escape the fires unscathed with some companies losing their performance space and others losing equipment, props and costumes. Numerous theatre artists lost their homes. Live theatre will go on because Sonoma County supports it but, as with every other part of our community, change is inevitable.

Part of that change will be me moving over to the North Bay Bohemian where I’ll be reviewing theatre on a weekly basis. My thanks to the Sonoma County Gazette for allowing me to share my thoughts with its readership. I hope I’ve given you information that helped you to decide to attend a live performance.

I’m happy to report that the Gazette will continue to provide regular reviews of live theatre. Look for my successor’s first review on-line in January. 

I’ll see you at the theatre.

Harry Duke Live Theater Reviews

READ Harry Duke's LIVE THEATER REVIEWS on the Sonoma County Gazette website

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