When Susie and David Couch of Circle Bar B Ranch decided on “Precious Nonsense” as their next play, the two directors knew they needed someone special to take the helm. Someone who was adept at both comedy and musical theater, because Rachel Lampert’s play details a touring production of “The Pirates of Penzance” gone awry in 1930s upstate New York.
Enter Miller James, who has not only “Pirates” on his résumé (he directed it just last November for Opera SB, although not for the first time), but also other Gilbert and Sullivan musicals and several condensed operas for children.
“She wanted that sort of style, I suspect,” James says.
Though it’s not necessary to know “Pirates” before going to see the play, it helps, as “Precious Nonsense” comes front-loaded with inside jokes, stock characters and character names that are all tips of the three-cornered hat to Gilbert and Sullivan’s work.
The first act introduces the three touring members of the Carter troupe, who travel to regional theaters in Depression-era America, performing a revue of G&S songs. However, when they arrive at their next gig, they are expected to put on a full production of “The Pirates of Penzance.” No show, no money. How are they expected to do this with only four people (five, if you include the stage manager)? “Precious Nonsense” unsparingly shows the disaster that follows, with missed cues, wardrobe malfunctions and lots of backstage conflict. Young son Frederic (Max Avila) is counting down the hours until he turns 25, when he can set off for a life on his own. The parents expect Max to marry their soprano Josephine (Stephanie Sivers), but she has other plans. And the parents (David and Susie Couch) have some major life changes on the horizon, too.
Not only does “Pirates” mark James’s first time working at Circle Bar B, but also his first time in 15 years in Santa Barbara going to see a production there.
“I was almost embarrassed, as this is what I do for a living,” he says. “I’ve had friends in (Circle Bar B) shows, too, but never went. I went to see the last production and was utterly charmed.”
The stage is very small, he notes, smaller than his biggest rehearsal stages.
“But this stage lends itself to this production, as the characters walk in and say how small things are.”
The play is set in a converted bar, by the way, and is pretty close to Circle Bar B.
Now that James has been introduced to the Couches and their theater, he loves it.
“The Couches are very accommodating and willing to take risks,” says James. “They are very serious about their business up there, but it’s so obvious that they absolutely love it. They love getting props and costumes together. It’s in their blood, just as it is in the blood of their characters.”
The main difference between this and James’s other productions is the budget. But even that has its freedoms.
“I send out my own production notes to the cast,” he says. “It’s nice to be doing that again. ? It feels more like we are a tight ensemble. There’s no administration holding the strings. There’s no politics. It’s just this group of people getting together and putting on a show.”
When: Tonight through Sept. 5, 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 1 p.m. Sundays
Where: Circle Bar B Theatre, 1800 Refugio Road, in Goleta
Cost: $20 to $45, includes dinner
Information: 967-1962 or circlebarbtheatre.com