Warning to parents with impressionable children: Good Ol’ Saint Nick will not be appearing in “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus,” at least not embodied in human form. Now, the spirit of what Santa Claus means, that’s another matter.
This special Christmas show, a collaboration between Ojai ACT and the Ojai Performing Arts Theater Foundation (OPAT), brings a holiday tale about finding the Christmas Spirit in a hardscrabble existence.
“I saw the film version and … I wasn’t that impressed with it,” says Tracey Williams-Sutton, director of Ojai ACT’s production of “Cabaret.” Because it’s celluloid-centered, then video, Bob Fosse’s version of “Cabaret” with Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli has been most people’s introductory to the world that Christopher Isherwood created all those decades previous. But it also doesn’t take much to find the original source materials — Isherwood’s short stories, Josh Van Druten’s play based on the stories, and the musical with a book by Joe Masteroff (music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb) — have many more delights available. And that Williams-Sutton’s opinion is not rare.
The setting, for those who have be wilkommen’d to the Cabaret, old chum, is the Kit Kat Klub in 1931 Berlin. The Nazis are rising to power. Sally Bowles is young, British and a performer at the club. Cliff Bradshaw is young, American, a writer in search of inspiration, and soon to fall in love with Sally. And then there is the Emcee, who introduces us both to the club and to the society around them, which is becoming increasingly deadly.
Mention “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and three things spring to most people’s minds: the cherished book by Roald Dahl and the two movies that altered how different generations have imagined the goings-on inside the factory. But who knows of the play?
This entirely different thing — adapted by elementary school teacher Richard George and later given the thumbs up by Dahl — is a blank slate for designers, with no descriptions of characters or sets. It’s a chance for a production to go mad, to act like, shall we say, kids in a candy store. That’s exactly what goes down tonight in Ojai when Gai Jones and Ojai ACT unveil their version.
Like an ideal child’s toy at Christmas, A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters” requires very little assemblage, has only two movable parts, and has easy-to-follow instructions. This table read through of a couple’s love letters — from childhood mash notes to old-age epistles — has grown from a little bit of theater to a worldwide hit. Its original 1989 production featured a cast that changed weekly, with big name stars (William Hurt, Marsha Mason, et al) taking on the roles. There’s been foreign adaptations — one rewritten in Urdu for Indian culture — and even a performance by Gov. Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver.
The revolving cast is part of what keeps the play going — and Ojai ACT offers four different versions this month for the price of one. See all four or choose one.