Diamond in a Cow Pie

Living in Central California makes me a strange man in a strange land. When I walk outside my front door I can see a Devin Nunes for Congress sign. It’s unnerving. Because, in my mind, putting that sign up… you might as well put up a sign reading “Am I insane, stupid, hateful or a tasteful blend of all the above? Ring my doorbell and find out”. It makes me feel uneasy, having that on my block. Putting any campaign sign on the front lawn of a tract home is questionable (IMHO), but, in these tribal times, it really is too much. But free speech, right? So you stomach it.

And the Washington dumpster fire is set to “Flambé” this week, with the Trump doomsday clock broken and frozen at a quarter past midnight. But I can role with that…no big. I mean my intestines are tying themselves in knots, but what can you do? Write a blog? That’s ridiculous.

So in this strange land we have a junior college. And at this junior college we have a theatre department. And in this marriage (that is, the one I share with my wife) we have an actor…that isn’t me. This actor, from time-to-time, treads those JC boards (when she can) and buys season tickets to all of their productions, about 4 or 5 shows a year.

If you knew my background, you would undoubtedly know that I came up as a “garage rocker” and not a “theatre geek”. So as a “garage rocker” I did not see a lot of theatre (mainly, I saw the garage wall), but I have always had a deep love of live entertainment… (and I once read the complete works of William Shakespeare, too, just in the case you were wondering). But now, with this wife, I am “theatre going guy” in a way heretofore unprecedented.

And I like it. I like this theatre department. They don’t fuck around. They put on a real fucking show. High quality…and I know the difference. Very occasionally they shank it, but it is never from lack of hard work. There is blood and passion and love and humor in that company, mixed with the smell of the old people at the matinees.

Honestly, in my newly adopted home town, there are two things I like (outside of family, home, yada-yada-yawn).

  1. The burger shack that recently burned down, that once featured the greatest burgers to ever have been flame broiled by an alleged meth-head…belovedly known as “tattoo man” to my family. “Tattoo man”, you will be missed.
  2. The junior college theatre productions.

So, now I have one thing left…so it’s my favorite thing in town…by default…no offence.

A Diamond in a Cow Pie.

And they are doing Arthur Miller’s The Crucible right now. RIGHT FUCKING NOW!

We saw it on opening night and it was brilliant. And I’m going to tell you why…Because this blog is going to turn into theatre criticism right now. Ya know, in the next paragraph…after this one ends. Very shortly.

Okay, here we are, Theatre Critic Kenny at your service. You should have read and analyzed The Crucible in high school and maybe even seen the movie. I mean, if you don’t know about it, I’m sorry, your educators failed you, but I will proceed as if you do. We all understand this play was a response to the Red Scare, McCarthyism…a divisive, tribal time in our culture. So, yes, this is a good time to revisit it. Have you seen the term “WITCH HUNT!” in the news recently? I thought so. Well, there be witch hunts in this play. And there be tribalism and divisiveness in this culture. So yeah, dig (read beat poet colloquialism).

Staging. Staged in a somewhat experimental style, with two opposing audience seating sections facing directly at each other across the performance space, this set up an immediate subliminal feeling of us v them while we waited for the show to start, putting us immediately into the correct state of mind for the themes of the text. They’re over there, we are over here, divided. Great idea.

The Set pieces were very minimal, a chair, a table, a bed, a door, a floating window a judge’s bench. Nothing distracting us from the actors, their performances and the messages of the text.

Costumes. Costumes were evocative of depression-era to mid-century rural. This helped to keep the tone relatable, current, relevant. Taking us back to colonial times with shoes with buckles and pirate sleeve shirts would have been a distraction (I’m sure they could have pulled it off, but I appreciated the choice). Once again, minimal but on point.

Actors & Direction. I am constantly floored by the talent that comes through this theatre, be it student, local talent or visiting talent. I consistently see excellent, authentic, pro-level performances from the actors in these productions. They have a deep bench. Of the students, some are green, some can’t sing or dance (not an issue with this play…though there was surprisingly good singing at one point. Who knew?), but you have to give it to these kids, even when they are green they are trying…and they have to be given a chance (it’s a school after all, they are developing new talent)…it can be a high wire act at times (and some fall), but these kids…when they catch a spark, it can be a magical thing to witness.

In this production, the acting was uniformly excellent. And the direction of the acting can’t be underplayed. For example, if you know the play well, you know that there is a moment when the girl squad (SQUAD GOALS!) goes full Exorcist in the courtroom. There is a rhythm to this section and a certain kind of frightening feminine energy that, if performed correctly, is truly unsettling. They nailed it. I think it started to Force choke me just a little bit. When it was done I whispered to my wife, “This is why I hate teenage girls.”

So, enough about the play. It’s great. Go see it. It closes this weekend. It’s not fun, but it’s a bitter pill worth swallowing. It’s at the COS Theatre in Visalia in case you were wondering. FYI – I’m leaving names out of this review to protect the innocent.

But yeah, even smack-in-the-middle of Nunes country there are oases. So don’t lose faith, fearless readers. That’s my job. ’Til next time.


P.S. I forgot to mention, the faculty/directors are a bunch of geniuses…If that makes them feel better about themselves.