Return to Oz
After battling high winds on State Route 299, I was braced for Dell'Arte's 2019 holiday show, Return to Oz, and the on-stage hurricane that carries Dorothy away from the world where Auntie Em, Uncle Henry, and everyone at school think she's a little crazy and back to a version of L. Frank Baum's Oz.
As the dust settles, Dorothy (Sara Kei Wegmüller) is delighted to find she's back in Oz (and therefore not crazy for continuing to believe in it) and that her beloved pet chicken has turned into a human-sized walking, talking, blue-ribbon-winning egg layer Billina (H. Veenadari Lakshika Jayakody). But Oz looks broken down and desolate. No cheery munchkins singing or bluebirds flying over the rainbow, just litter and abandoned buildings.
At first, her spirits are lifted when her old friend Scarecrow (Andrew Lupkes) tumbles in, but, when he explains why Oz looks so bad, she's crushed. The self-described "bigly" Nome King (Joël Vining) has used all the emeralds from Oz on bad investments (in PG&E) and made himself all-powerful by stealing the ruby slippers from the once-beautiful Princess Langwidere (Marguerite Boissonnault). Scarecrow barely finishes his tale when two strange dandified creatures with top hats and wheels for hands and feet zoom in on all fours. These "Wheelers" make a lot of threats about what they're going to do to Scarecrow (mostly involving a large match) if he doesn't return to the Nome King's dungeons, where Lion (Everson Ndlovu, also Uncle Henry and a Wheeler)and Tin Man (Hannah Shaka, also Auntie Em and a Wheeler) are held. Fortunately, without hands, their ability to carry out their threats is rather limited. The Princess, meanwhile, has decided she wants Dorothy's face for her collection.
Dorothy is having none of this and instead organizes everyone to go tackle the Nome King in person. Which is all well and good until the King decides they should all be sent to the Cave of Giant Spiders unless they can complete his challenge – to which Billina unknowingly holds the key. Of course, this being a proper fairy tale, there is a proper happy ending and this time the ruby slippers make it all the way back to Kansas.
The cast is universally excellent. Michael Fields directs with his usual panache and is ably assisted by Cleo DeOrio, with scenographic design by Lynnie M Horrigan, lighting design by Michael Foster, sound design by Brian Post, original music by Post and the cast, and technical direction by James Hildebrandt.
Return to Oz is a timeless tale of adventure in which friendships are forever and everyone is happiest when they discover and celebrate their own true selves. Adults and children can join in the fun — mostly for free — as the production tours the North Coast (including McKinleyville, Scotia, Orick, Eureka, Klamath, Trinidad and Arcata) before returning to Dell'Arte for five final shows through Dec. 22. Visit www.dellarte.com or call 668-5663.
Pat Bitton is a freelance writer/editor based in Eureka who is theoretically retired but you know how that goes. She prefers she/her.
Roald Dahl's classic Matilda has been transformed and transfigured into a fun, fantastical musical running at Ferndale Repertory Theatre. The production is a real treat.
When wunderkind Matilda (Sophia Furshpan) is dumped by her doltish, criminal parents into the clutches of the devious, devilish Mrs. Trunchbull (Mathew Lewis), headmistress at her school, it seems as if all is lost. After terrorizing generations of schoolkids, to Trunchbull, Matilda is just another punk kid to be belittled and beaten into submission. But Matilda and her loving teacher Miss Honey, the one adult who believes in her, have a different vision for the future. Matilda gains the admiration of her classmates as she dares to fight back against tyranny. This is the heart of Dahl's classic tale: When a child can speak truth to power, all bets are off. Matilda is a great book but Dennis Kelly's musical adaptation, directed here by Leira Satlof, is wonderful on the stage. Slapstick comedy, devious villains, fun songs and a healthy dose of schoolyard humor keep this show moving. The entire cast and crew of this production have gone to great lengths to inspire and delight their audience.
Furshpan is an actor whose age disguises her talents for bringing a presence to the stage with the heart and soul of her character. The range of songs and dedication of the singers keep the audience engaged and entertained throughout. Lewis' big intro as Agatha Trunchbull draws laughs (what legs! what boots!) and André LaRocque's second act opener "Telly" as Mr. Wormwood was fantastic. LaRoque's as funny as he is dedicated to such a ridiculous character, and he entrances all with his crooked car salesman schtick and penchant for farcical reasoning, all to the chagrin of his brilliant daughter. His wife, Mrs. Wormwood, the outlandish and awesome Veronica Ruse, is at her best in an over-the-top dance number with her dance partner Rudolpho, played by Jesse March and who gets some of the biggest laughs of the show for his, shall we say, "stretching" exercises.
Holly Portman as Miss Honey shines equally, like the teacher we all loved growing up, the one who empathized and stood with us, not against us. Portman's rendition of the song "My House" is a fine example of how lucky the Rep is to have such versatile singers and actors. Matilda is a don't miss for the family this holiday season.
Ferndale Repertory Theatre presents Matilda Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Dec. 22. Visit www.ferndalerep.org or call 786-5483.
Rale Sidebottom is a screenwriter recently returned from the vast concrete jungle of Southern California. He prefers he/him pronouns.
Get religion at the retro-rock Jesus Christ Superstar at North Coast Repertory Theatre through Dec. 8. For more information, call 442-6278 or visit www.ncrt.net.
Dell'Arte goes for personality as The Character Project takes the stage with original pieces at the Carlo Theatre from Dec. 5-8. Visit www.dellarte.com or call 668-5663.
Dreamers: Aquí y Allá, a drama based on the experiences of DACA recipients who traveled to see family in Mexico City, plays Gist Hall Theatre Dec. 6-15. Visit www2.humboldt.edu/theatre or call 826-3928.
Redwood Curtain Theatre's Every Brilliant Thing delves into depression and all the things and people to love in the world Dec. 6-15. Visit www.redwoodcurtain.com or call 443-7688.
The Arcata Playhouse presents its annual holiday panto show, this year Scouts Honor: The Whichever Scouts vs. the Energy Monster. Shows run Dec. 5-14. Visit www.arcataplayhouse.org or call 822-1575.