Same Room, Many Years – Circle Bar B kicks off season with ‘Return Engagements’

Mike Wondolowski photo
Mike Wondolowski photo

Actor Brian Harwell has gone from strength to strength, from bit parts in SBCC productions when he first started acting to comfortably playing leads at the Ensemble Theater and elsewhere. He’s even earned a few awards. But now he’s taking on his first big directing job, opening Circle Bar B’s new season with “Return Engagements,” a tale of three couples, which premieres tonight.

“Every once in a while the opportunity comes along to direct,” he says. “It’s good to see the other side of the equation. And when I come out of it I feel that I’ve re-armed my own acting chops.”

Playwright Bernard Slade is best known for his community rep favorite, “Same Time, Next Year,” which Mr. Harwell remembers as one the first plays he directed, back when he was studying directing at SBCC. Furthermore, Circle Bar B loves Mr. Slade, having produced not just his “Same Time,” but also “You Say Tomatoes” and “I Remember You” in the past. The playwright, who wrote “The Flying Nun” and “The Partridge Family” for TV, is known for funny plays of angsty, middle-class couples, and “Return Engagements” explores that threefold.

The play features six vignettes spread over some 20 years, with four couples — some at the beginning of their relationships, some at the end, and one couple waking up from a one-night stand. Mr. Slade then fast-forwards to see exactly how these couples fared. At the same time, these seemingly disconnected stories begin to link up.

“It has the same comedic quality as ‘Same Time,’ ” says Mr. Harwell. “But I find it more touching. There’s a little bit more depth to it. I’m hoping that’s the way it’s going to be experienced.”

Although written for eight actors, the script can be played with four. Mr. Harwell is taking the latter approach. Actors George Coe, Heather Heyerdahl, Tiffany Story and Sean O’Shea are all Circle Bar B regulars.

“This is a very talented, conscientious, and hardworking cast,” says Mr. Harwell. “There’s been a good flow of suggestions in both directions.”

Mr. Harwell speaks of the touching nature of the play and the desire and honesty in all the characters.

‘Return Engagements’
When: 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun.
Where: Circle Bar B Dinner Theater, 1800 Refugio Rd., Goleta
Cost: $49
Information: 967-1962 or www.circlebarbtheatre.com

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