Thursday, April 25, 2013
KPBS arts reporter looks at the Oceanside Theater Company's production of "Parallel Lives."
The Oceanside Theater Company offers a world premiere, a kid’s musical, and a sketch comedy in its second season of productions. The company’s creative team as well as a pair of supreme beings talk about how they are redefining community theater.
Community theater is often the butt of jokes as in Christopher Guest’s “Waiting for Guffman.” But Christopher Williams wants to challenge the notion that community theater is bad or amateur.
"So I’m trying to bring a professional work ethic. Bringing in professional designers, professional actors to work with less experienced actors."
Williams is the artistic director of the Oceanside Theater Company.
"I’ve been a professional actor and director and instructor of theater for almost 20 years now. And some friends and myself got together and said you know what we need to create a theater company where we live… somewhere to create, somewhere to utilize skills that perhaps they are learning in college or at various workshops so that they have an actual stage to put their work on and experiment. I mean this is all really an experiment for us in these first few years."
Williams formed the Oceanside Theater Company in 2011 and convinced the city to give him the Brooks Theater as the company’s home base. Now in its second season, the Oceanside Theater is about to launch “Parallel Lives.” The play begins with a pair of supreme beings creating the world.
"It’s really one scene that just kind of sets us up for a universe that’s going to get a little bit wacky and maybe a little bit out of control. And a couple of angels creating this world that want to give us choices," says director Tracy Williams.
"I think it’s a really clever way to introduce the types of topics we’ll be discussing during the night, but kind of sneaky," adds actress Gerilyn Brault.
That’s what director Williams liked. She chose “Parallel Lives” because it had stuck with her since she saw it decades ago.
"When I saw it in New York, it came with like a menu. And it said, tonight’s performance you might see any of the following."
It was essentially a Saturday Night Live style sketch comedy written by Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney. It was a personality driven piece so Williams knew she had to find actresses with the right chemistry to serve up the menu items she had chosen and make them their own.
"It’s not a traditional play where you have an arc you have a conflict a resolution, so it’s nice every scene needs to be its own full spectrum," says actress Virginia Gregg.
"And if you don’t like one there’s another one right after," adds Brault.
Virginia Gregg and Gerilyn Brault have known each other for almost a decade and tend to finish each other’s sentences, precisely the kind of dynamic to make a two-person sketch comedy come to life.
"And we knew we would play with each other. If I was going to do a choice you’d come along with me," Gregg says and Brault readily agrees.
For the play they tackle a combined total of 41 roles – both male and female -- with few props or costumes to help define the characters.
"Most of the costume choices we have are just to help create the scene, for the most part it’s just us, our voice and our bodies," says Brault. The actresses spend more time with some characters than others and for that reason, Brault likes her old lady Mad.
"They had some new things they were doing as the old ladies," says Williams, "These funny old ladies that go to Las Hermanos to eat at a vegetarian restaurant and watch a piece of performance art. And they found some new nuances to these old ladies that made them warmer and richer and more lovable and more genuine."
"This is a piece that shows you how we behave, and shows you how we think, but never tells you how you should," Williams says.
Brault adds: "We want people to come out and have a discussion we don’t want to tell people what to think. They wrote it very well, it’s very easy for us to transition to the serious moments that still have humor throughout."
A smart approach for a young theater company trying to find its voice in the community.
“Parallel Lives” opens this weekend at the Brooks Theater in Oceanside and runs through May 5th.
You might also want to check out the 1991 filmed version of "Parallel Lives" with the writer/actresses who originated the roles.