It's International Women's Day this Friday, March 8, so it's particularly appropriate that Humboldt theater-goers have two very different female-centric productions to choose from.
At Humboldt State University's Gist Hall Theatre is José Rivera's Adoration of the Old Woman, a well-crafted envisioning of Puerto Rico's future through the eyes of a young woman, her great-grandmother, the ghost of great-grandmother's deceased husband's lover and two suitors for the hand of the young woman. Vanessa (a powerful performance by Irma Gill) is sent to Puerto Rico, a place she knows nothing about and whose language she doesn't speak, to get away from family dramas at home. Her great-grandmother Doña Belén (a persuasively cranky Savannah Baez) speaks no English and has little patience with the bratty teen who turns up unexpectedly (Doña Belén doesn't read her mail). To make things a little more interesting, Doña Belén's house is also inhabited by Adoración, the ghost of her deceased husband's lover (an earthy yet ethereal Andrea Carillo).
After a rocky start, Vanessa and Doña Belén settle into a linguistically challenged routine — fortunately for this reviewer, Doña Belén speaks heavily accented English rather than Spanish — until disruption arrives in the form of (what else?) men. First on the scene is Ismael (the talented Isaiah Alexander, fresh from his recent success in Radioman), who invites the nightlife-starved Vanessa out for an evening of dancing and fun. But then there's Cheo (real name Kevin, would have been Che were it not already taken by some Argentinian dude), inhabited like a second skin by the hugely improved Victor Parra. He's an independence activist whose passion appeals to Vanessa in a way she can't quite put her finger on — but might have something to do with the not-quite-present Adoración.
Tensions between the four living characters build as we learn more about their individual histories and how they arrived at the views they hold on the occasion of Puerto Rico's momentous vote on independence vs U.S. statehood. There is bloodshed, there is disappointment, there is death and there is acknowledgement of a future beyond death (and election results), facilitated by Adoración.
Robi Arce, a graduate of both Dell'Arte and the Universiy of Puerto Rico, directs the strong cast with a light yet firm touch, allowing the actors room to develop their characters, while keeping them on point with the play's layers of allegory. Grady Moore's scenic design, Micah Scheff's lighting, the sound design by Arci and Joshua Rivera and the imaginative use of projected images bring a real feel of the territory's history to the stage. Holly Robertson and Rae Robison take care of the props and costume design, respectively, and makeup is by Kimberly Vazquez.
Humboldt State University's Gist Hall hosts Adoration of the Old Woman at 7:30 p.m. March 7-9 and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 10. Call 826-3928 or visit www.centerarts.humboldt.edu.
Meanwhile, over at the Inn at 2nd & C in Eureka, a new theater company is making its debut with Iphigenia 2.1, an adaptation of Charles Mee's Iphigenia 2.0. Director and producer Zack Rouse has tweaked Mee's interpretation of the original Euripides drama to focus less on the universal pull toward war and more on the need for a moral conscience to override that draw, and added a few nice comedic touches along the way.
The core story arc remains true to the original. Helen, wife of Menelaus (Matt Cole), has been stolen away to Troy. His brother King Agamemnon of Aulis (James Wright) agrees to go to war against Troy but his troops refuse to go unless Agamemnon makes a personal sacrifice, which turns out to be the life of his daughter Iphigenia (Casey Sarrge). He invites Iphigenia and her mother, Clytemnestra (Brandey Wheeler) to Aulis, supposedly for the marriage of Iphigenia to Achilles (Adam LeJeune). But the subterfuge leaks and a war of wills breaks out between the women and their husband/father/king, the outcome of which will decide the future of the kingdom.
In the role of Greek chorus is an entertaining quartet of utili-kilted soldiers (Arnold Waddell, Ruben Boytello, Caleb Haley and Ray Jones) who double as be-tutu-ed bridesmaids preparing for the impending nuptials. Their delightful dance routines are well choreographed by Rebecca Nugent to an eclectic playlist. Rounding out the cast is an Old Greek Man (Bart Rankin), who wanders from scene to scene serving as a bridge between the conscience of the king and the conscience of the people.
The cast is, unfortunately, challenged by the venue. The auditorium at the inn is immediately adjacent to Phatsy Kline's Parlor Lounge and the bar was busy enough on the night I attended for the noise levels to interfere with the performance. Wright makes use of his operatic talents to overcome the sound problems but less-experienced cast members were not as successful. The hotel's guest elevator is also accessed from the auditorium, which makes for some surreal moments.
All that aside, it's always exciting to have a new theatrical venture in town, so it is to be hoped that Rouse and his NightVision team are able to secure a more appropriate venue for their next outing.
NightVision's Iphigenia 2.1 plays at the Inn at 2nd & C at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 7 through Sunday, March 10.
Redwood Curtain Theatre's game of musical roles Everybody laughs at death and what you can't take with you through March 10. Call 443-7688 or visit www.redwoodcurtain.com.
As part of the 02F Festival on Thursday, March 7, at the Arcata Playhouse, Peggy Metzger performs What Now? at 1 p.m., and the all-teen production Sandman: A Murderous Musical takes the stage at 8 p.m. Call 822-1575 or visit www.arcataplayhouse.org.
The oldies-heavy musical Smokey Joe's Café pipes up at Ferndale Repertory Theatre from March 14 through April 7. Call 786-5483 or visit www.ferndalerep.org.
Shakespeare gets weird with the magical comedy and drama of The Winter's Tale at North Coast Repertory Theatre from March 15 through April 14. Call 442-6278 or visit www.ncrt.net.