Theater 150 upstages itself
By Jesse Phelps
When Jason DeLane finished his
opening monologue in Theater 150's recent production of "Sizwe
Bansi is Dead," a quick scan of the audience revealed an
awakening, a revelation. So this is what local theater can be,
said the faces of the viewers. This is special.
In a town with a respected Shakespeare festival, a world-famous
music festival and the oldest public performing arts center in
the state, the presence of the small theater tucked inconspicuously
between a thrift store and a sandwich shop might tend to be overlooked.
But for those savvy enough to realize the quality of what's going
on there, consistently bright, professional theatrical experiences
are the reward.
Last season began a trend for Theater 150, according to artistic
director Elizabeth C. (Rosie) Rosengren. Mixed in with undervalued
classics like "Sizwe Bansi" were some newer works,
one by Ojai local Deb Norton entitled "The Whole Banana."
Now "Banana" has been picked up for production in Los
Angeles, with some big names behind it.
Father and son team Matthew Perry (of NBC's hit sitcom "Friends")
and John Bennett Perry will present the world premiere, which
workshopped last Spring at Theater 150, at the Court Theatre
in West Hollywood, on Saturday, Oct. 4. Preview shows begin on
A "Banana Bus" leaving from Ojai will take locals to
see the Los Angeles production. The first bus, which will require
47 signups, will travel for the Sunday, Oct. 5 matinee production
at 2 p.m. The cost is $10 per person.
The show's publicist said the producers will be making some appearances
in support of the show, beginning with a slot on the Fox morning
show "Good Day LA" in the next couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, the beat goes on at Theater 150. Rosengren, noting
the success of "The Whole Banana," said she feels it's
time to further explore local talent and newer works.
"Last year I decided I really had a bent toward doing new
works, hopefully particularly local playwrights, because there's
an incredible amount of talent in the Ojai Valley," she
said. "We need to nurture ourselves up here."
This year, the theater will present two new works. "The
Monkey's Paw" by Kevin Crowley, a member of Theater 150's
extended ensemble. "It's completely wacky and deranged and
it's hilarious," said Rosengren. "It's really about
a father's worst fears of being a terrible father."
Rosengren thinks the play will speak to an Ojai audience that
contains many folks who have selected the community because it's
a nice place to raise their kids.
The second of the newer works, "Danny and the Deep Blue
Sea," was written by John Patrick Shanley in the 1980s but
hasn't been performed much. "It's a very edgy, rather dark
but very romantic, play," said Rosengren. "When I first
read the play," she said, "I had a hard time dealing
with just how much (the lead characters, a pair of lovers) have
to deal with in their lives. But in the end, John Patrick Shanley
always comes back to the theme of how love will conquer everything."
Theater 150's managing director, Chris Nottoli, with something
of a sly smile, explained it this way: "It's a violent romantic
The show will be directed by Larry Johnson, a local ensemble
member who worked with Shanley on an original production of another
of his works.
"He knows the neighborhood it was set in," said Rosengren.
"It's really cool that he's going to bring that world to
The Spring production will again feature a local playwright.
Catherine Ann Jones' play On the Edge: The Final years of Virginia
Wolf focuses on World War II and its effect on the famously acerbic
Said Rosengren, "It's really about trying to maintain sanity
in a world gone mad."
In addition to its apropos mainstage selections, the theater
will also continue host its usual array of classes and workshops
for writers and actors. Anyone interested is encouraged to contact
Rosengren or other theater staff.
"People are working here because it's a place they can explore
their passion without going all the way to L.A.," said Rosengren.
The Ojai Valley News
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