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Plays Explore Two Paths to Fine Theater Experiences

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Jamie Jones, left, and Laura Jane Bailey get loose in "The Roommate."

“The Roommate,” now at Capital Stage, turns “The Odd Couple” on its head.

Playwright Jen Silverman has more on her mind than the comic adventures of two mismatched individuals moving in together. The play begins in an Odd Couple-ish way, with tidy homeowner Sharon (Laura Jane Bailey) forced by circumstances (divorce) to rent to a boarder, Robyn (Jamie Jones), and spends a bit of time dabbling in the guaranteed, easy laughs of the familiar sitcom form.

As the two women become more acquainted, each reveals secrets that have been hidden – or denied – for years. Repressed desires and hopes, doubts and fears, begin to be spoken. It appears that free-wheeling Robyn is teaching Sharon how to be a little more free herself, but the student soon becomes all-too-eager to learn. Jones brings depth and substance to the free-spirited Robyn, a woman with regrets but no clear vision of how to gain forgiveness, even from herself. It’s a layered performance that gradually reveals more and more depth. Bailey matches that performance, easing Sharon from fidgety Iowa matron, with her volunteer work and regular book club, into a confident – if unusual – entrepreneur.

Director Dena Martinez steers playwright Silverman’s dark comedy with aplomb. She lets the themes of friendship, trust and self-identity reveal the transformational possibilities of life. In her hands – and that of two extraordinary actors – Silverman’s saga of how to re-make oneself and how to deal with the consequences is excellent theater.

“The Roommate” continues at Capital Stage, 2215 J St., through July 21. Performances are at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $30 – $45.

For tickets or for more information, call (916) 995-5464 or go to CapStage.org.

It’s a Play, Not Just a State

Music Circus fans like newer shows – “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “In the Heights,” this season, for example – but they really like the old favorites.

“Oklahoma!,” a musical now celebrating 75 years of near-continual popularity, is one great example. “Oklahoma!” plays through Sunday at Music Circus, and it is a textbook example of how to do a traditional musical right: A young, talented cast, a fine orchestra performing its knockout score, and few frills – except for that surety with the fringe on top.

The Tony Award-winning Broadway play (most recently this year for Best Revival of a Musical) was the first collaboration of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. The duo went on to create such masterpieces as “Flower Drum Song,” “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and “The Sound of Music,” but “Oklahoma!” started it all and set a high bar for the musicals to follow.

The play has been said to have changed the course of American musical theater, with its introduction of a straight, believable plot (two suitors pursue a young farm girl in pre-statehood Indian Territory where cowboys and ranchers strike an uneasy peace) and a musical score that not only soared, it advanced the plot in marvelous ways. The dark “Lonely Room,” sung by hired hand Jud (John Rapson), reveals character in an unexpected way for a musical comedy.

Ryan Vasquez plays Curly McLain, a rival of Jud for the affections of Laurey Williams (Emilie Kouatchou), while, in a secondary plot, cowboy Will Parker (Pierce Cassedy) and peddler Ali Hakim (Jeff Skowron) pursue the affections of the very affectionate Ado Annie Carnes (no relation, played by Brit West). It’s Ado Annie, remember, who is the girl who “Cain’t Say No.” Above it all, keeping the peace, is Aunt Eller (Jennifer Allen, who is rock steady).

Despite such uplifting songs as “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” “People Will Say We’re in Love” and, of course the title tune, “Oklahoma!,” there is a dark undercurrent of the unsettled relationship between settler farmers and ranchers, but also in the character of Jud and his dangerous and mysterious past and his current ambitions. A serious “Dream Ballet” sequence, originally choreographed by Agnes de Mille, makes graphically visual what that’s all about. The scene is a little long and sometimes difficult to watch but is well-danced.

Totally missing is mention of the Native Americans whose “Indian Territory” was taken for this expansion of “civilization.”

Music Circus is in the Wells Fargo Pavilion at 1419 H St. Show times are 7 p.m. nightly, with matinees at 2 p.m. Thursday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday (final show). Tickets are $45-$91.

For tickets or for more information, call (916) 557-1999 or go to BroadwaySacramento.com.

Photo by Charr Crail

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About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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