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denny kelso
Photograph by Jana Marcus
UNCHAIN MY HEART: Marley's Ghost returns to haunt Ebenezer Scrooge and Cabrillo Stage audiences alike in this year's production of 'Scrooge, The Musical.'

Life in Stages

Jewish grandmothers, Mexican war tales and Yuletide yuks spice up area theaters

By Kate Jacobson

THE CURTAIN opens with Isabelle Grossman tweezing her grandmother's chin stubble. The grand dame has hired a matchmaker, and as the audience will learn, she's found the perfect man for her beautiful young granddaughter: a pickle cart vendor.

The Liliana Moraru Jewish Theater willed itself into being this past June, and Crossing Delancey (through Aug. 29) is its first production. The troupe went with a comedy.

"When I read the script I was laughing the whole way through," says artistic director Claire Cameron, who saw the evolution of the organization from its beginnings at Temple Beth-El. The theater is the first in Santa Cruz devoted to Jewish playwrights and Jewish themes, and aficionados flocked to the June premiere. On five out of four nights, a theater equipped to hold 90 was inadequate to contain the masses, and latecomers found themselves in folding chairs. The show is running again by popular demand.

According to Cameron, in the last 15 years Jewish theater has been experiencing a resurgence.

"There's an awful lot of laughter in our culture, and an awful lot of sorrow, and people can identify with those in their own lives," says Cameron, who holds that these slices of human existence are more than the laughs they bring to audiences. "It's kind of an experience to go into a theater and watch a play about Jewish life. The goal of theater isn't just about an enjoyable time, it's also to teach."

Crossing Delancey plays at the Live Oak Grange Theater. A burst of spontaneity might be necessary to catch the tail-end performances, but after it's gone, the next scheduled show won't be hitting until spring of 2011.

If you just can't swing it, fear not. Santa Cruz will be rife with fall productions.The Santa Cruz Follies (Sept. 16–18) is a little-known but much-loved variety show at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, a storm of singing and dancing courtesy of local performers over 50. And Actors' Theatre breaks the quiet of summer with Dead Man's Cell Phone (Oct. 1–10). A hilarious story involving hitherto unexplored subject matter, it follows a woman who steals the telephonic device of a dead man she discovers sitting next to her in a café after it rings and she answers it. Actors' Theatre is on a mission to make audiences laugh, and if the annual Improvathon (Oct. 24) can't satiate, hot on its heels follows The Last Noel (Dec. 4–12), a film noir spoof revolving around a man framed for killing his wife with a candy cane.

Santa Cruz's Jewel Theatre kicks off its season at the Broadway Playhouse with a production of Clouds (Sept. 16–26). Set in sultry 1970s Cuba, the story focuses on two reporters from rival magazines trading provocative high jinks in a battle for the next big story. Then it's on to two-time Tony Award winner Company (Nov. 11–21), once called the best musical of the year. It's an exploration of love and commitment through the eyes of a bachelor blessed with a slew of married friends, all of whom are slightly envious of his noncoupled condition.

UCSC's experimental theater flexes its edge in Romulus Linney's Holy Ghosts (Nov. 12–21). Set in the American South, the play follows members of an evangelical cult who find divine ecstasy through the handling of large venomous snakes. The Second Stage sees a performance of student-written drama production In the Waves (Nov. 5–14).

Events at West End Studio Theatre are getting a little more serious. Nobody's Home (Nov. 4–14) is a modern retelling of Homer's Odyssey, the epic travel story that can be reworked as anything. This version is also the return of a soldier, a man struggling to settle back at home with both his wife and his post-traumatic stress disorder.

Over at Cabrillo Stage, performers pass their December reprising last year's run of Scrooge, the Musical (Dec. 17–30). There's nothing like a little music to startle the humbug out of Christmas' most famous skeptic, and once again actors will be performing above a full pit orchestra.

The fall also offers multiple excuses to visit neighboring burgs. Down the road in San Juan Bautista, El Teatro Campesino presents Corridos! Tales of the Mexican Revolution (Sept. 16–Oct. 17), a collection of humorous musical vignettes by Luis Valdez. The company also offers up a Day of the Dead celebration in October (check for dates) and La Virgen del Tepeyac (Nov. 26–Dec. 19), which tells the story of an Aztec Indian bearing a divine message of peace to Spanish conquerors. Produced in the grand Mission, it's a biennial holiday favorite.

Vacation destination Carmel plays host to several theater companies, including Pacific Repertory Theatre, the only professional company on the Monterey Peninsula. Company actors will be taking on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (through Sept. 26), a production that will certainly enjoy a high turnout—even without Johnny Depp starring. A few weeks later finds them bouncing back to basics with Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (Oct. 1–17), followed by a holiday performance of A Tuna Christmas (Dec. 1–23). For this Yuletide comedy, a two-man cast fills a roster full of town eccentrics bent on winning a Christmas lawn display competition in what is simultaneously an affectionate portrait of small-town Southern life and a withering satire of same.

Back in Santa Cruz, as a prelude to Santa Cruz Acting Studio's first autumn of acting school for kids, performers 13 to 19 years old will be cutting their teeth on All About Theatre's fall production of Fame—the Musical (Aug. 27–Sept. 5). The wildly popular drama chronicles the roller coaster ride of teens enrolled in a performing arts school, singing and dancing their way through struggles with romance, school pressures and drugs. And what better way, we ask, to start the season?

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