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OnStage Playhouse Returns To Live Performances With ‘Sheepdog’

Chula Vista based company stages new work about timely issues

Amina (Tina Machale Brown) and Ryan (Devin Wade) are Cleveland police officer...

Credit: Daren Scott

Above: Amina (Tina Machale Brown) and Ryan (Devin Wade) are Cleveland police officers whose relationship is thrown into turmoil when he shoots an unarmed Black person in the play "Sheepdog."

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OnStage Playhouse reopened last week for in person performances. The play the Chula Vista-based theater company chose for its first live performance in more than a year is "Sheepdog."

Aired: June 14, 2021 | Transcript

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Reported by Beth Accomando

OnStage Playhouse reopened last week for in person performances. The play the Chula Vista-based company chose for its first live performance in more than a year is "Sheepdog."

OnStage Playhouse artistic director James Darvas is from Cleveland. So, when he read Kevin Artigue's new play "Sheepdog," he immediately connected with a story set in Cleveland about two police officers — an African American woman and a white man — whose relationship is tested when the man shoots an unarmed Black person.

Listen to this story Beth Accomando

"It was so refreshing to hear two police officers discuss this, which is something we don’t hear very often," Darvas said. "We hear families of victims, we hear advocates, we hear people who are extremely liberal or are extremely conservative, but to find this opinion and this perspective, I think it is brilliant. And it's a beautiful play."

In the play, Tina Machele Brown plays Amina who explains her job to the audience in this way: "You are not a forensic psychologist, you are a patrol cop. You don’t deal with why’s, you deal with objective realities, with what you can see, hear and grab right in front of you, the ugly that is right in front of your face. And that’s what you start calling it — you versus the ugly."

The play is essentially a two-hander with just Brown and Devin Wade onstage (but there are additional voices you hear in the play). The story also unfolds in a non-linear manner.

Darvas is excited about being able to present this intimate drama in person after having the venue closed to live events for more than a year.

"Here's what it feels like," Darvas said. "It feels like I had been wearing somebody else's pants for 16 months and they were a little too short and maybe a little too tight and then I got my pants back. And so now I feel comfortable. I feel in my element. So, it feels it feels very, very good. And right now we can sell 25 tickets a performance until June 15. Hopefully there'll be an announcement coming up soon about changes to capacity."

OnStage Playhouse sold out its opening night on June 4 and Darvas reported that the people coming "are just exuberant to be able to come back and see live theater."

He said that the theater and on stage has installed new air filtration system and ultraviolet light, and the venue is sanitize every day.

Darvas is also proud about another change. Onstage Playhouse used to be a community theater but now it has moved up to semi-professional status.

"Every single one of our artists receive compensation for their time and talents," Darvas explained. "There are two now paid staff positions at the theater. We have a lovely grant writer, which is helping a lot with that question. It is challenging, but it's really challenging to be trusted at the helm of an organization that's been around for a very long time, over 37 seasons of theater. It is very challenging when your name is up next to the Old Globe or the San Diego Repertory Theater. But I'm super proud of the work that OnStage has been doing and that we are doing. And I just urge people to come out and see the magic that can happen in a really small, intimate room for a really low budget. You're not going to know the difference."

Photo credit: MaeAnn Ross

Devin Wade and Tina Machale Brown star in Kevin Artigue's new play "Sheepdog" at Onstage Playhouse.

"Sheepdog" continues Fridays through Sundays till June 27 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. The theater is located on Third Avenue and if you have not been to that area recently you will be amazed at all the new businesses — pubs, breweries, restaurants — that have opened up. I grew up in Bonita and used to go to the Vogue Theater on Third Avenue all the time and eat at La Bella's Italian Restaurant.

La Bella's is still there, but sadly the Vogue Theater is no longer showing movies. But according to the Third Avenue Village website: "Opening in 2021, the historic Vogue Theater will be reinvented as a concert venue and an eating and drinking destination with bars on the first and second floors, an outdoor beer garden, space for food trucks, patios and family-friendly event space. The project will pay homage to the historic theater by preserving the old façade with a minimally invasive remodel and host outdoor movie screenings by projecting movies onto the side of the building."

I hope that happens, but even if it doesn't, OnStage Playhouse and Third Avenue are worth checking out.

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Photo of Beth Accomando

Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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