Comedian Craig Robinson was a guest on Ebro’s Morning Show on Hot 97 earlier this year and the DJ introduced him thus: “You were always the black guy I never saw before. I was like yo, where did this guy come from? And why is he getting all the big white comedies?” It wasn’t that eloquent a statement, but it does describe the sideways trip Mr. Robinson – who plays Thursday night at the Chumash Casino – took into popular culture.
TV viewers best know him as Darryl Philbin on “The Office,” and that successful role led him into the Judd Apatow repertory company, starting with “Knocked Up.” From there he got roles in “Walk Hard,” “Pineapple Express,” “Zach and Mimi Make a Porno,” “This Is The End” and “Hot Tub Time Machine” and its sequel. But he also did a solid turn as James Brown’s put-upon partner Maceo Parker in “Get on Up” from last year and ran from CGI dragons in the South Korean action film “D-Wars.”
America has a thing for schlubby male comedians ‘ it’s how we like them served up. They are our everymen, creaking under the weight of kids, wives, obligations, and using observational humor of the mundane details of life as an escape valve. There’s a thread that runs from Jackie Gleason to our current heroes: Louis C.K., Marc Maron, and now ‘ pulling into town tonight for a concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl ‘ Jim Gaffigan. He arrives just after the premiere of “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” a single-camera sitcom that features Mr. Gaffigan playing himself. And it’s on the TV Land channel, the go-to nostalgia station where one can check in the domesticated males of old. This is the year of Jim.
Mr. Gaffigan’s career started as a friendly bet to take a stand-up seminar, one that ended with a small set in front of a crowd. His friend dropped out, but Mr. Gaffigan, who had moved to New York City from a small town in Indiana, suddenly found his calling. He kept his day job in advertising and worked open mic nights, honing his material.
If you want to complete the play title “Over the River and Through the Woods” with “. . . to grandmother’s house we go,” well, you’ll be partly correct. In Joe DiPietro’s 2008 comedy, this is not a young boy but a beloved – and also grownup – grandson who is visiting, and all four of his grandparents are on hand. Our hapless hero Nick (played by Enrique A. Bobadilla) wants to move across the country when he is promoted at work. His loving but overbearing grandparents don’t want him going anywhere, and to that end, they have tricked a young single woman, Caitlyn (Jennifer Marco), to come and dine with them as well, hoping that love at first site will convince Nick to change his mind.
“Life isn’t in black and white, but shades of grey,” says director Jordana Lawrence. “That’s what this play brings forth, things that happen within a family or between generations. It’s one perspective versus another in this play.”
Kate Bergstrom, theater director and the brains behind the On the Verge Summer Festival, has taken on a task that many theater directors across the country are trying to solve. How can the theater world attract a younger demographic, 18-30 years old, to the performing arts? With Netflix streaming and the world in their pockets, they are notoriously hard to get out of the house.
“If they’re seeing theater at all it’s at small, hole- in-the-wall productions,” she says. “And even then the main reason they’re going is that they know somebody in the production.”
Being a theater kid in high school doesn’t necessary lead to a life in theater either, she says, as most are understandably aiming for film and television.
So Ms. Bergstrom, who has directed shows for pop-up company Elements Theatre Collective, has created the two week-long festival of six plays in two different locations that plan to bend the boundaries of theater, making them interactive and more like events. “Reimagined theater pieces for reimagined audiences,” is how she’s putting it. She wants to foster a dialog about how theater can evolve and adapt, “so it doesn’t just become this archaic platform,” she says.
For this first season, Ms. Bergstrom is showcasing a “devised collaboration, a full-length play, a one-act ethnographic installation, a double-feature of 2 one-act plays, and a staged reading,” according to the event’s website. The majority of the directors, crew and actors are from Santa Barbara and the Central Coast area. So are the writers, with these all being new works, either premieres or new to our city, and Ms. Bergstrom knows them personally from various walks of life.
Like Elements Theatre Collective, the plays will be performed in non-traditional spaces, including The Narrative Loft on Caesar Chavez, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum and The 208 Gallery on Canon Perdido St. For many of the events there will be food trucks on site. A majority of the shows play several times during their respective weekends, and all are free with suggested donations of $5 to $10 at the door.
The festival kicks off with “Caylee’s First Big Show!!!” which sets the tone for the fest. Riley Berris stars as Caylee, an amateur singer-songwriter who is questioning her identity in the middle of heartbreak. Staged as a pop concert, Caylee begins to share her feelings in song and between as she leans on the audience for support. The play is written by up-and-coming playwright Roxie Perkins, whose “Sweet Child” follows – a tale of teen siblings abandoned by their mother who worship the memory of their dead father, believed to have died in war. Things change with the arrival of a mysterious soldier. July 16-18, 7 p.m. at The Narrative Loft, 1 N. Calle Cesar Chavez, #240
“Ladyoke” a play on the karaoke, is an interactive evening, combining karaoke, live music, song and dance, as well as a tribute to famous sirens and songstresses. It was conceived in collaboration with Riley Berris, Jessica Hambright and Kate Bergstrom and features alternative performers, including drag queens and audience volunteers. (This show follows the above two shows on the same night.) July 16-18, 9 p.m. at The Narrative Loft
“Monsters of Paris” is a staged reading of Gregory Dodds’ new play, based on the true story of Joseph and Henriette Martel. In pre-World War II France, a husband refuses to defend his wife’s honor, and so she takes matters into her own hands. This reading is directed by Josh Jenkins and Josiah Davis. July 18, 4 p.m. at The Narrative Loft
Not a performance, but the Fest is also offering the Devised Theatre Workshop, aimed at both students and professionals to learn new ways to devise and produce theater under time and budget restraints. Free, but limited to 30 seats. July 18, 11-1 p.m. at The Narrative Loft
“Footprints at Laetoli” is based on the archeologist Mary Leakey, her husband Louis, and her discovery of the fossilized tracks of a bipedal creature, the missing link between humans and apes. Darlene Craviotto’s play had a reading at PCPA in 2010, and in 2011 was a semi-finalist for the Eugene O’Neill Conference in Connecticut. July 22-24, 8 p.m. at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.
Finally, “This Is Not a Love Song” presents a humorous take on dating. Subtitled “A Virtual Ethnology on Asian Dating Websites,” the one-act play features an ethnographer who presents a study of a failed online dating experience, only to have the two subjects appear and take control of the narrative. Writer Hee-Won Kim is a graduate student at UCSB’s Theater and Dance department. July 25, 4 and 6 p.m. at The 208 Gallery.
On the Verge Summer Festival When: July 16-25, various times Where: The Narrative Loft, 1 N. Calle Cesar Chavez, #240; Santa Barbara Historical Museum, 136 E De La Guerra St.; The 208 Gallery, 208 W. Canon Perdido St. Cost: Free (suggested donations $5 – $10) Information: (805) 455-5598, www.onthevergefest.org
In its sixth installment of the popular summer film series, UCSB Arts & Lectures turns to another staple of Hollywood: The Musical. “Over the Rainbow: Great American Movie Musicals” runs from July 8 through Aug. 21 and features free screenings of seven musical movie classics.
Previous years have focused on a director like Alfred Hitchcock, or on silent comedies or classic Universal Studios horror or sci-fi. But this is the first time such a wide-ranging genre over such a long period has been chosen, with a nod to audience favorites and less to a comprehensive overview.
Playing the lead in “Man of La Mancha,” which opens Wednesday at PCPA’s Marian Theatre, requires lead actor David Studwell to do three times the work. He has to play author Miguel de Cervantes, sitting in a jail cell during the Spanish Inquisition, and his creation Don Quixote, who is under the illusion that he is actually a knight of the realm and not an old country squire. That’s a lot to hold together in one’s head.
“The play is as much about Cervantes as it is about Quixote,” Mr. Studwell says.