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The Korbel Conspiracy

Is this the end for Dell'Arte's working class soap opera?

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Since 1992 there have been five episodes (including an unnumbered one) in Dell'Arte's soap opera saga of the working-class Dugan family in the fictional North Coast mill town of Korbel. Korbel V: The Secret, now on stage in the outdoor Rooney Amphitheatre at Dell'Arte in Blue Lake, is intended both as a continuation and "an entirely new Korbel for the present day which would stand on its own," according to writer and director Lauren Wilson's program note.

Tommy Dugan (played by Michael Fields) is back, living in a ramshackle trailer in the woods. Also returning are his estranged wife Lu Ann (this time played by Zuzka Sabata) and Tommy's dead mother, Dorothy (Joan Schirle.)

The new principal characters are Tommy's callow, young companion Lowell (Anthony Arnista), and Bert (James Peck), a self-styled militia leader exiled from the UK. Yan Christian Collazo plays fledgling sheriff's deputy Manuel, Ryan Musil is the mayor of Korbel, and Bert's militia co-conspirators are a supermarket manager from Glendale (Andrew Eldrege) and a crafter mom from McKinleyville (Emily Newton).

Korbel V begins with Manuel reciting a prologue in rhymed couplets that suggests the opening of Shakespeare's Henry V with an assist from Carl Sandburg. It's the first of several echoes and quotes from Shakespeare and others. The deputy concludes: "Here's Korbel, this is fog, and here is sun." At that moment on opening evening, sunlight broke through the overcast sky and bathed the stage. How did they do that? (Yes, the line was scripted.)

The action begins with Tommy in a terminal funk: 17 years unemployed, a failed marriage and a pot grower son who won't speak to him are bad enough, but now his doctor demands he stop drinking.

After a clumsily creative suicide attempt fails, Tommy learns that the Korbel Timber mill is closing and will evict families living in company housing. Suddenly he finds purpose: a hunger strike to save the mill, emulating the hero he saw on the History Channel, "Mohammed Gandhi."

But his resolve is tested when Lu Ann shows up, promising love, as well as reconciliation with his son, who has provided his mother a lavish Eureka lifestyle financed by what she calls his "firewood business."

Meanwhile, Bert organizes an armed revolt against government oppression. By the end, the stage is littered with a Shakespearian tragedy-load of bodies (though not all of them dead) and a certain body part familiar from Macbeth.

There are magical moments: Fields and Schirle are irresistible together, and Fields delivering Tommy's final soliloquy is memorable. The principal actors have built real characters (especially Arnista as Lowell and Sabata as Lu Ann) and the supporting players are generously funny, particularly Eldrege as one of the conspirators.

Less high-spirited than some past summer shows, this play is well crafted and directed, with the usual comic local references, physical humor, surprise effects and other treats of sight and sound, including music by Tim Gray, performed by Sabata and the band, Marla Joy, Mike La Bolle and Tim Randles.

But I found the two overlapping storylines disappointing, with too little of Tommy's narrative and too much of Bert's (even with its perceptive twist at the end). Bert's paranoid rants seem too frequent, long and unvarying, familiar from weary years of talk radio and Internet rhetoric, except for the copious spewing of "wanker" and "bollocks" by this incongruously English character.

"The Secret" in the play's title refers most obviously to the movie and book about the power of positive thinking that Lu Ann praises. While some in the audience got the reference, I'm not sure why a 2006 self-help fad features so prominently.

At the end of the play, it seems the Dugan saga is over — but maybe not. One more dancing Dugan ghost has been added, but somewhere offstage is the next generation.

Korbel V: The Secret runs through July 6.

Coming Up

Next at the fest: Taken Away, an acrobatic theatre event, opens June 21 for five performances. Clowns Without Borders gets the Prize of Hope on June 28 and a benefit headlined by clown Mooky Cornish on June 29 at 2 p.m. Then Cornish performs at the Blue Lake Center of the Universe party at 4:30.

On July 2, Mad Lab gives us three works in progress by Dell'Arte alums: "Camel Camel," a vaudeville review by Glitter Gizzard, Janessa Johnsrude and Meghan Frank; "Life Lessons with Pat McKensie," a satirical comedy by Emily Newton; and "La Fenetre," a clown comedy by Darci Fulcher and Emily Newton. It's followed on July 5 by Red Lights in Blue Lake, an adult cabaret. 668-5663, www.dellarte.com.

Next, and not at the fest, is a comedy by Christopher Durang called Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which previews at Redwood Curtain on July 3 and opens on July 5. This 2013 Tony Award winner is a takeoff on Chekhov characters set in contemporary America that rewards but does not require prior knowledge of Chekhov. I've been looking forward to this one all year. Directed by Jyl Hewston, it features Christina Jioras, Gloria Montgomery, Mira Eagle, Nadia Adame, Giovanni Alva and Raymond Waldo. 443-7688, www.redwoodcurtain.com.

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