From left,Tom Hinshawwill read David Rakoff's"ln New England Everyone Calls You Dave," executive director Maggie Mixsell and Robert Lesser, who will read Paul Rudnick's"Good Enough to Eat
From left,Tom Hinshawwill read David Rakoff’s”ln New England Everyone Calls You Dave,” executive director Maggie Mixsell and Robert Lesser, who will read Paul Rudnick’s”Good Enough to Eat

Speaking of Stories kicks off 2014, and its 20th season, with “Nothing but Laughs,” its annual show of humorous tales. Maybe it’s a sign that the funniest comedy writers now work in the non-fiction essay format, or maybe it’s just pure coincidence, but the line-up for the two shows this Sunday and Monday at Center Stage Theater is all in the hilarious-but-true tradition.

The line-up for Sunday and Monday feature five Speaking of … regulars, all five of whom are also adept at comedy. Katie Thatcher will read Sloane Crosley’s childhood tale, “The Pony Problem;” Meredith McMinn will read Nora Ephron’s aging-ritual tale, “I Feel Bad About My Neck;” Devin Scott — the youngest of the performers — will read Michael Thomas Ford’s confessional, “The F Word;” Tom Hinshaw will take on David Rakoff’s mountain climbing story, “In New England Everyone Calls You Dave;” and Robert Lesser caps things off with Paul Rudnick’s sugar-holic tale, “Good Enough to Eat.” Executive director, Maggie Mixsell has made sure each performer really matches the personality of the writer. Well, as closely as possible.

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A FULL PLATE: 2010 in Theater: Santa Barbara Kept On Keepin’ On

David Bazemore
David Bazemore

Santa Barbara’s theater scene marked anniversaries, said goodbye to some well-loved people and maintained high-quality shows in difficult times in 2010.

For companies, it was a year of stasis. The city college’s theater group is still waiting for Garvin Theatre renovations to finish, but that has led to some interesting work in Interim Theatre, converted temporarily from a classroom. Alan Ayckbourn’s “Time of My Life” featured some of Santa Barbara’s best actors Ed Lee, Katie Thatcher, Brian Harwell, et al. for a twisted dagger of a comedy, while “Machinal” and the “The Suicide” featured nothing but SBCC’s drama students onstage, and both productions (revivals of 1920s plays) were brave and daring. The Ayckbourn play also marked the farewell production of Rick Mokler, who had been directing for 20 years. Katie Laris has big shoes to fill, and one can already see she’s ready to take the department in a new, vibrant direction.

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Precious moments, onstage and off: ‘Time of My Life’ caps Rick Mokler’s career at theater department

Rick Mokler retired last month after 20 years as a director, instructor and later the head of the Theater Department at SBCC. A great number of local actors worked under his tutelage, and Santa Barbara theatergoers, whether they know it or not, continue to encounter his graduates at Center Stage, Rubicon and beyond. So his swan song, Alan Ayckbourn’s “Time of My Life,” can only take on added depth with its comic examination of time, nostalgia, memory and appreciating the here and now.

“Time” dates from 1992, and is one of Ayckbourn’s lesser-known plays, yet it employs the same kind of time-jumping formalism as “Absurd Person Singular” and “Bedroom Farce.” The center of events is a 54th birthday dinner at a favorite Chinese restaurant for Stratton family matriarch Laura (Katie Thatcher), surrounded by her husband Gerry (Jon Koons), her son Glyn (Brian Harwell) and his wife Stephanie (Leesa Beck), and her other, younger son Adam (Josh Jenkins) and his date Maureen (Marisa Welby-Maiani).

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Lost in memories in The Lady and the Clarinet

Michael Cristofer’s play “The Lady and the Clarinet” is less a straightforward romantic comedy and more like a mysterious chocolate candy. The outside is sweet, but the inside is bitter the more you chew — and by the end you’re not sure if the outside was really chocolate to start with.

Mr. Cristofer earned a Pulitzer Prize for his earlier play, 1977’s “The Shadow Box.”

“The Lady and the Clarinet” dates from 1984, and was at one point an off-Broadway hit for Stockard Channing. Director Maggie Mixsell has resurrected the play and brought it to Santa Barbara City College’s Jurkowitz Theater for a three-week run, where it becomes a star vehicle for its leading lady, Katie Thatcher.

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