Circle Bar B Dinner Theatre is well-known for its beautiful surroundings, tasty barbecued dinner, down-home hospitality and first-rate comedic theater presented in its cozy 87-seat performance space. What’s new in the mix, however, is a dose of very timely subject matter.
Regrets Only by Paul Rudnick is a period piece, though the period is quite recent — 2006, to be exact. The characters are Manhattanites living on the Upper West Side, and all the action takes place in their tony apartment. William York Hyde and co-producer David Couch have created quite a set here, all sleek and elegant, and quite a departure from many of their shows, set in more rustic surroundings.
The central “couple” is Hank Hadley (Brian Harwell), a gay fashion designer who has just lost his partner of many years to cancer, and his best friend Tibby (co-producer Susie Couch), a jaded high-society matron. Their chemistry as dear friends and longtime confidantes provides a solid anchor for the rest of the cast. While both have their moments of over-the-top camp, they also portray their characters as deeply human.
As Tibby’s lawyer husband, Jack, Ray Wallenthin is charmingly multifaceted, and as her daughter, Spencer, Jenna Scanlon shows her chops as a smart-cookie ingénue.
Both attorneys, father and daughter are working on a top-secret legal project for the president, directly at odds with Hank’s values. Tibby attempts to bridge the gap between them but eventually feels pressure from both sides, forcing her to dig down deep and come to some decisions of her own.
Providing hilarious comic relief, particularly in the first act, is Jean Hall as Myra, their maid. Perhaps attempting to keep herself entertained in a mindless job, Myra puts on one outrageous accent and persona after another. Hall is truly a gifted comic actress, and elicited hoots of laughter — not just once but many times over.
In the second act, the audience is treated to the talented Kathy Marden as Tibby’s mother, Marietta. A grande dame with a twist, she steals the second act with her deadpan delivery of comedic morsels.
In his director’s notes, Joseph Beck says that when people ask of the plays he directs, “What’s it about?” he replies, “About an hour and a half.” He describes the frustration of simplifying a work of theater down into a single statement. While many have said this is a play “about gay marriage,” he very wisely makes the point that, ”This play, like any play worth seeing, is about human beings and their relationships with other human beings. The characters are flawed yet lovable and the banter is quick and funny.”
Beck’s description is accurate, and he delivers here a thoughtful, funny and touching evening of theater.
Playing through July 15, Regrets Only is not to be missed. Performances are held at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with dinner at 7 p.m. Sunday matinee lunch at 1 p.m. precedes the show at 2 p.m. Click here for tickets and more information.
— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.