Santa Rosa Junior College opens new theater season on the road
If there’s one thing that theater people know, it’s how to adapt to all the unexpected little surprises that can arise while they’re trying to put on a live stage show.
So, while 2019-2020 season to be presented by the Theatre Arts Department at Santa Rosa Junior College may not look like exactly like what its planners had in mind, the shows definitely will go on, starting with the opening of the first of five productions, “The Good Doctor,” on Friday, Oct. 4.
The thespians have had to deal with some changes in venue, because the $30 million renovation of the college’s Burbank Auditorium, under way for 19 months and originally scheduled for completion last May, has met with construction delays and won’t be complete until next spring.
“We took a lot of time choosing our season, expecting to be in the Burbank Auditorium building,” said Leslie McCauley, chairperson and artistic director of the college’s theater and fashion department. “We start the selection process a year in advance.”
But now, “The Good Doctor,” originally intended for the new studio theater being built next to Burbank Auditorium, will open in the Newman Auditorium, a lecture hall that the drama program has used for small productions over the past 18 years.
The show is a series of 10 vignettes, adapted by Neil Simon, consummate comedic playwright and master of the one-liner, from stories and scenes created by Russian writer Anton Chekhov, and set during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“We don’t think of Chekhov as a humorist, but he was. Of course, he thought ‘Uncle Vanya’ and ‘The Cherry Orchard’ were humorous and they seem pretty serious to us,” McCauley joked. “The scenes in this show range from farcical to twinkling to bittersweet to melancholy.”
Since the room is needed for morning classes, the set will have to be dismantled after evening performances, which requires fairly simple scenery, but McCauley said “lush period costumes” by designer Caitlyn Clark should give the show a rich visual presence.
“This student is going to go far,” McCauley said. “She can do pretty much everything.”
The production also will include some Russian dancing by the cast, and live Russian music on violin and mandolin by professional musician Gus Garelick.
“The Good Doctor,” directed by Wendy Wisely, features a dozen actors, most of them in multiple roles. Riley Craig plays “The Writer,” the show’s version of Chekhov himself.
Two of the most famous segments in “The Good Doctor” are “The Sneeze,” in which a government clerk is mortified after sneezing on a general during a night at the opera, and “The Audition,” in which an aspiring actress plays all of the siblings in Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters.”
“When I was in high school in Lafayette, I saw a touring group from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival perform ‘The Audition’ at my school,” McCauley recalled. “That’s what convinced me I wanted a life in theater.”
The next show in the Santa Rosa Junior College season will be “The Sound of Music,” originally meant to open in the redone 400-seat Burbank Auditorium, but now set to open Nov. 22 in the Evert B. Person Theatre at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, in what has become a collaboration between the theater departments at both schools.
“That’s turning out great,” McCauley said, with “a great big beautiful set” by Peter Crompton, who has worked as a guest designer and instructor at the Santa Rosa Junior College for the past several years.
“Sound of Music” will star Ariana LaMark, who played Mary Magdalene in last season’s junior college production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” in the lead role of Maria.
“The tickets for ‘The Sound of Music’ are on sale, and the public response has been tremendous,” McCauley said. “People don’t seem daunted by the fact that it’ll be in Rohnert Park.”
The college’s theater arts folks finally get into the Burbank Auditorium building next March for a production of “The Cripple of Inishmann” by Martin McDonagh in the renovated structure’s new studio theater.
“McDonagh is known as the bad boy of Irish theater,” McCauley said. “He’s wickedly funny.”
And at long last, “The Wedding Singer,” adapted from the beloved Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore movie, will open next April in the lavishly renovated Burbank Auditorium. By then, the custom-made system for rigging lights and curtains, the cause of the most recent delay in construction, is expected to be installed and ready for use.
“The public is going to be thrilled by this beautiful theater,” McCauley predicted. “It is going to be so worth the wait.”
And even if the Sandler film wasn’t one of your favorites, the college’s theater maven wants you to know that the musical version deserves a try.
“Unlike ‘Mamma Mia,’ where you had a bunch of hits from the ’80s, ‘The Wedding Singer’ mimics the musical styles of the ’80s in all-new songs,” McCauley said. “The musical is charming, because it’s so much more satirical.”
The 2019-2020 stage season at the junior college ends in the Burbank Auditorium next May with the annual Spring Dance Concert, a collaboration between the theater department and the dance program.
All in all, despite the delays and detours, McCauley remains hopeful and enthusiastic about this season because after all, while the shows are meant to please the audience, the program is also about the students.
“This is an academic program,” she explained. “We try to vary the genre and style of what we do so the students get training in a lot of different things.”