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Topical Theatre

Plus: 24 hours for a 10-minute play



In times like these that try the soul, public crises lead to private cries of conscience, and to the inquiries numbered among the obsessions of art. Theatre, arguably the most public and the most intimate of arts, inevitably responds. There are several examples this coming week on North Coast stages, each addressing a different (though not necessarily unrelated) public issue in a different way.

Newly minted Nobel Laureate Al Gore calls it a “planetary emergency.” Scientists and government leaders say it is a mortal threat to human civilization and life as we know it. But the climate crisis is just beginning as a subject for theatre. It’s a difficult one, because it is only now becoming real to us — it’s our first anticipated catastrophe, without cultural memory or direct personal experience to guide us. The subject is being approached obliquely so far and, as at the Arcata Playhouse this Sunday, through the lens of laughter.

The Tip of the Iceberg: a globally warmed comedy is written and directed by Ed Holmes of the San Francisco Mime Troupe and performed by Theater R.A.B., a mask and movement ensemble based in Germany. One of its founders and performers is HSU grad Len Shirts. The company’s mission is to speak “to the themes of the times through movement, music and the spoken word.” The story involves two arguing environmentalists in 2040, trapped on the last glacier on Earth as it floats out to sea, and their experiences and visions.

The one-night stop for this show’s tour is hosted by our own Four on the Floor Theater (which will hold its latest outdoor spectacle, Elemental, in Blue Lake the night before). “The global warming content of the show is very appealing to us, “ said Jacqueline Dandeneau, Four’s co-director. “Part of our goal with the Playhouse is to present smaller companies that don’t show up on the large arts presenters’ radar ...” Participants are also doing workshops on Monday and Tuesday nights. More information: 822-1575.

In presenting Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with the Peace Prize last week, the Nobel committee recognized that climate crisis could easily lead to war over resources, if it hasn’t already. This week’s production by students of the North Coast Preparatory Academy approaches the recurrent issue of war and questions of leadership, purpose and honor through classic dramatic texts: Shakespeare’s Henry plays. This is the second appearance from the cycle on local stages this year: North Coast Rep staged Henry IV Part 1 last spring, and now North Coast Prep will present a work based on the two Henry IV plays and the famous Henry V . It’s an adaptation by director Jean Bazemore called Mortal Men, Mortal Men .

This show is acted and produced by members of the freshmen and sophomore classes. Gerald Beck, the self-described “hardcore minimalist,” again designs the abstract sets, which may tend to focus attention on the words and their applications to today. It begins on Thursday, Oct. 18, at 7:30 at Gist Hall on the HSU campus, and continues through the weekend, with an additional matinee on Saturday at 2 p.m. More information: 845-4772.

You lay it all out there, for everyone to see. That’s what every theatre artist does, every time: every performer, director, designer, writer — including everyone up in the booth and backstage. It’s not something that can be acknowledged in every review or article, but it’s never far from my thoughts when I write one.

Though there’s exposure in writing about theatre, I shared a different risk earlier this month by putting myself in a different place in the theatre process: as a playwright for the 24-Hour Ten-Minute Play event conducted by Sanctuary Stage at their new headquarters, the august Eureka Theater.

On a Friday evening, Sanctuary’s artistic directors, Tinamarie Ivey and Dan Stone, gathered seven playwrights, seven directors and enough actors to give each play at least three characters. All playwrights had until 9 a.m. Saturday to write a ten-page play on the same topic: one of four possibilities was drawn from a hat. The hat also randomly distributed the characters by gender. The theme turned out to be “destiny.” I drew a cast of two males, one female.

My head swirled with possibilities that resolved into two: I could write what amounted to a comedy sketch, or try something more complex and challenging — to me and to the director and actors. Since my opportunities to write for performance are rare these days, I went with the second idea. It was partly inspired by the Eureka Theater itself — before I left that night, I stood on the stage looking out at that very large set of seats, while an actor tested the resonant acoustics. In my play, that huge auditorium would be a gorge, and the characters would send out their feelings echoing into it.

I returned the next morning, sleepless in Eureka, where more drawings randomly matched each play with a director, and then with actors. I drew Joshua Koenig, and met him for the first time. With amazing speed, he grasped the play’s structure and dynamics, and where the laughs were. I heard the actors’ first readings, and they were starting to contribute. Rehearsals would go on all day.

After a fruitless attempt to sleep, I returned hours later to see participants bleary with fatigue and high on the process. There was another drawing for performance order before the plays were to meet the public as part of Eureka’s Arts Alive. My play became the opener, which gave me the rest of the evening to concentrate on the other plays, and that was the source of much of this event’s magic for me. The plays, performances and stagings were varied and inventive. The “talk back” session led by Jyl Hewston and James Floss that began in the theatre and ended upstairs with drinks and munchies revealed the intelligence, care and creativity brought to bear, the individuality and the warm collaborative atmosphere.

The other participating playwrights were Morgan Beck, Steven King, Craig Klapman, Alton San Giovanni, Ken Gray Scolari and JM Wilkerson. The other directors were Gretha Omey, Rhy Corral-Ribordy, Zachary Rouse, Dan Stone, Joshua Stanfield Switzer and Laurene Thorpe. There’s not space here to say any more but, cyberspace being infinite, please join me at

To extend the theatrical conversation and expand it beyond the North Coast,I've started a Stage Matters blog, at . You can alsoe-mail me at

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