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On the edge: Kristi Jacobs stars in Ball of Fame at Studio Be.


Four Play

Studio Be's staged readings offer intimate drama

By Patrick Sullivan

THE BAD NEWS about Studio Be's new theater space is that you could easily miss the first 10 minutes of a production trying to find the place. Or, if you're a directions-challenged theater critic, the first half hour.

Located on Fifth Street in a building that is literally beneath Highway 101 (hint: if you think there can't possibly be a theater in that direction, you've probably found Studio Be), the new space lacks most of the amenities many local theater companies take for granted.

There is no raised stage, there is no sound system, and the company's artistic director, Lennie Dean (whose longtime efforts in the local theater scene earned her an Indy award from the Sonoma County Independent last year), is still looking for money to finish paying for the folding chairs that seat her audience. But the good news is that Dean's collaborative, process-based program has found a home at all.

Currently, the theater is offering, as part of its Second Stage series, a production that features staged readings of four original one-act plays by local playwrights working in Studio Be's writing program. And judging just by the last two pieces, there's enough promise in this company to overcome any disadvantages posed by the space.

Rough Truth offers a dramatic confrontation between lovers who are at the end of their relationship. Now in their 60s, Allen (played by Bob Thomas) and Leya (Eileen McCann) have been together for 12 years, but have never married. Leya sees their relationship as permanent, but she's dismayed to learn that Allen doesn't.

"I think we have something deeper than marriage," she tells him, only to wince when he replies, "I think we have something different than marriage."

Crisis comes to this relationship (as it often does) in the shape of a third party. It seems that Allen has found true love with a 72-year-old woman, a fact that sends Leya into a fit of rage and bewilderment.

The world-weary Allen would prefer to handle the whole thing his way: in a low-key, unemotional manner. Why don't I go next door until you cool off, he suggests. "Call me a whole sack of motherfuckers," he continues. "That usually helps."

"How about grandmotherfuckers?" Leya replies with some heat.

Since this is a staged reading, the two actors spend most of the play seated in their chairs with scripts in hand. But Thomas and McCann still find room to act, offering a compelling portrayal of sharply contrasting viewpoints. They make this script's witty dialogue crackle with the characters' deeply felt emotions.

Less polished and compelling, Choices seems to be at an earlier stage of development. But there is considerable promise evident in Lennie Dean's short but dramatic tale of a distraught woman who receives a totally unexpected visitor from her troubled past.

Sheila Groves plays Amy, who is going about her household chores and weeping when the play opens. Brian Bartlett plays the ambassador from an earlier, almost forgotten period in her life. His sly, sarcastic voice is the perfect prod, forcing her to come to terms with an issue that she thought was buried long ago.

The readings conclude with a post-show discussion that involves the audience, the actors, the playwrights, and the directors. During the lively exchange, one audience member pointed out that the conclusion to Choices felt a bit forced, which it certainly does.

But finding the rough spots in these works is what the discussion is all about. Indeed, that's one of the major attractions of the Second Stage series: if you're interested in the process by which plays reach the stage, you'll love the fact that this series takes you under the hood, letting you see what's inside and even tinker around a bit by giving feedback to the playwright.

And in this age where most events on the arts and entertainment scene put us firmly in the role of spectators, that's a refreshing change of pace.


This installment of the Second Stage reading series continues on Aug. 25 and 26 and Sept. 1 and 2 at 8 p.m., with a show on Aug. 27 at 2 p.m. at 206 Fifth St., Santa Rosa. A $5 to $10 donation is suggested. 569-8206.

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From the August 24-30, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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