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A Brave Move

The title of this posting refers not to myself, but rather to my theatrical parents, Dave and Susie Couch, proprietors of the Circle Bar B Dinner Theatre and some of the few people I know with the brass cajones to run a for-profit theater. No grants, no school tours, no fundraisers; it’s capitalism and theater in their most elemental form. They have a 40-year tradition of subscribers and selling out houses that’s hard to find fault with. It’s a simple recipe: bring people three and a half miles up the coast into a forested canyon nook where a horse and guest ranch has been operating since the Depression. Feed them a meal that gives their palate a welcoming bear hug (as only perfectly prepared tri-tip can do), then sit them down and enact a play for them, preferably a fast-paced comedy or a rollocking musical. For forty years, the theater has been the worst-kept local secret around, a summer tradition for many a Santa Barbarian with a taste for the performing arts done California style. Rustic, yes, but don’t let the humble surroundings fool you: this little theater has some pretty incredible things going on: it’s the only local theater that casts almost exclusively local talent, it’s the only non-equity house in town that actually pays its actors, and they’ve done more local, regional and even West Coast premieres over the past ten years than any other theater within a hundred miles.

Anyone who has enjoyed any sort of sustained theatrical success will “complain” of the same thing: you become beholden to your own success. In Dave and Susie’s case, they are always somewhat bound by what their constituents expect to see. As much as they might admire David Mamet or Martin McDonough, they’re not producing their plays any time soon. This is a place that people feel comfortable bringing their children and their parents to, and it just wouldn’t do to betray that trust. This is also a theater that heavily depends upon groups of senior citizens bussing up from Long Beach, Orange County and Pasadena, and the last thing they want to see is something political, or something that challenges long-held traditional values.

Enter No Regrets, a recent play by Paul Rudnick (playwright of Jeffrey and I Hate Hamlet) that deals with some very funny characters dealing with the real issue of gay marriage: meaning not whether gay people should or shouldn’t get married, but how we as Americans can sleep at night after we look people in the face and tell them that they shouldn’t have the same fundamental rights as anyone else, despite the fact that the people we are disenfranchising so cavalierly over a theological trifle are our employees, our relatives, our best friends. It deals with this issue not with thundering monologues or misty-eyed moments of betrayal, but rather by introducing us to characters who are flawed, yet lovable, and setting these characters into a situation that pits them against one another. It’s fast, funny, and moving. I loved it from the first time I read it, and I was thrilled when Susie asked me to direct it at the Circle Bar B.

However, there quickly arose a problem: it turns out many folks, especially if they are a large number of senior citizens schlepping in from some of the more conservative parts of California, don’t care to see theater that challenges they way they may regard traditional marriage. Once the play was announced, the cancellations started. It pains me that my family stands to suffer financially because of a brave artistic choice they made. I would also love the opportunity to widen the audience of the theater a bit. Thus, I have decided to mount a guerrilla marketing campaign to get the word out to the appropriate demographic that yes, this play is going on. It’s a regional premiere and it’s hilarious and moving and it’s a real statement being made by creative people in our community who stand to suffer the consequences of making that statement. It’s a choice that should be supported by those who believe strongly in marriage equality.

Rehearsals begin in April, and the show opens in June. If anyone who reads this knows anyone with any sort of media pull, please contact me. I want as many people as possible to know about this in advance, so that we can generate a tide of support that will, at the least, cancel out whatever negative impact the less tolerant portion of the audience will have on the bottom line. Who knows? If there is actually a net positive effect, it could embolden the theater to do more shows like this.

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