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A Playhouse Is Born

At long last, Actors Theatre and Santa Rosa Players have the new home they've been hoping, praying and (are still) fundraising for

By David Templeton

At midday on Superbowl Sunday, a peacock is waiting to be born. Sketched in pencil on a large plywood oval leaning up against the back wall of the mostly postconstruction Sixth Street Playhouse, the proud art deco peacock--part of the unassembled set for Santa Rosa Players' upcoming production of Jerry Herman's gleefully subversive musical Mame--is still only an outline, an enticing promise of what it will become in just a handful of days.

As such, that unpainted peacock is an apt metaphor for the Sixth Street Playhouse itself, the long-planned theater venue near Santa Rosa's Railroad Square where two of the North Bay's oldest theater companies, the Santa Rosa Players and Actors Theatre, will make their collective home. Following years of planning, talking, wishing and fundraising, and after months of frustrating delay, the brand-new 186-seat theater is finally ready for its grand opening.

Well, it's almost ready.

On this Sunday, a feisty crew of workers, electricians, actors, artists, directors, publicists and various friends of the above--representing not only SRP and AT but a good portion of the North Bay theater community at large--have shown up to lend a hand installing last-minute fixtures and getting the lighting in place, while others set themselves to loading the massive set for Mame.

Neither the Merlo Theater nor the old Actors Theatre stage, both at the LBC, could have handled a set like this, but the new Sixth Street stage, on which you could park the entire old Actors Theatre stage and its lobby and rehearsal rooms, was designed for grandness whenever called for. Mame, the story of a rich, kind-hearted hedonist pretending to be ordinary for the sake of her adopted nephew, requires more than a glimpse of grandness.

That's what cast and crew hope to deliver, both on and off the stage.

"In my opinion," enthuses Mame director Kathleen York, who's been with SRP for 25 years and has watched the company grow and move from home to home over the last quarter century, "this is now the nicest-looking theater in Sonoma County."

That same enthusiasm and pride is expressed by everyone present today, a steady hum of excitement running just above a more frenetic thrum of optimistic fretfulness. Will the stage lights be up in time for the preview performances? If the set painters get to work at night, when will the cast members get the stage for their final dress rehearsals? When is that peacock going to get its coat of many colors?

"Oh, there's still a lot to do," laughs AT executive director Argo Thompson.

"But we'll be ready for opening night. Later on, when we've raised enough money, we'll install an awning on the exterior, put more lights up out in the parking lot, and a few other things. From the beginning, our vision for this facility is that it would be a gem, an inspiration, a comfortable, beautiful gathering place for the local artistic community, a destination for theatergoers and a showcase for innovative and enjoyable theater that will attract those who aren't already regular patrons of the theater."

The attraction factor seems to be working; two full weeks ahead of time, Mame's opening night has sold out, and with community interest at a high level, it seems likely that the production, with its cast of 20 singing, dancing, 1930s-era bohemians, will have a very successful run.

"What I hope for the Sixth Street Playhouse," says Thompson, "is that it proves to be good thing, not just for the two companies that will be doing shows here, but for the entire North Bay theater community. I personally hope that the excitement we are seeing will add to the growing public appetite for live theater. In the future, I believe people will look back and say that the opening of Sixth Street Playhouse was a good thing for every theater company in the area."


'Mame' runs Friday-Sunday, Feb. 18-March 13. Friday-Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 2pm. Sixth Street Playhouse, 52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. $15-$22. Special discount matinee on Saturday, Feb. 26 at 2pm; all tickets are $10. 707.523.4185.

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From the February 16-22, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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