In case you haven’t heard by now, there’s an idyllic getaway spot just 20 minutes up the coast where you can have dinner and see a show in blue jeans. OK, it’s Santa Barbara — you can go just about anywhere in jeans. And flip-flops. But Circle Bar B Dinner Theatre, opening its 2012 season with the delightful comedy, Wally’s Café, is about the most relaxed place to enjoy an evening’s entertainment you can imagine.
While Circle Bar B, nestled in a serene canyon just inland from Refugio Beach, is a fully functioning guest ranch with cozy cabins and cottages, a gracious lodge and horses to ride through the hills, you don’t have to be an overnight guest to enjoy the dinner theater.
When you arrive, you will be served a delicious barbecued tri-tip and chicken dinner with garlic mashed potatoes and all the trimmings. You’ll hear the peaceful sound of the horses munching their hay as you tie on the feedbag at long tables on the lodge’s patio. And when you hear the chime of the triangle, you know it’s time to mosey down to the tiny theater, where each party is greeted and seated by the hosts/producers, Susie and David Couch.
Last year, they celebrated Circle Bar B’s 40th anniversary season by bringing back a play from each decade. This year, they start a new decade, and it will be fun to see what the new era brings. Wally’s Café, running through May 20, is a tightly crafted three-character comedy written by Sam Bobrick and Ron Clark. It debuted in New York in 1981 with James Coco, Rita Moreno and Sally Struthers.
We are fortunate here to have three seasoned and talented local actors in the mix, under the direction of another local theater veteran, Bill Egan. Sean O’Shea plays Wally and Jean Hall is his long-suffering wife, Louise. Both demonstrated their comic chops in the hilarious It Runs in the Family at CBB last season.
As the play opens, it’s 1940, and Wally has bought a diner in the desert outside of Las Vegas and spent months fixing it up. It’s a little far off the main drag, but he’s optimistic it can be a success. Louise, not convinced that any of this is a good idea, has just arrived from their homeland of New Jersey for the grand opening the next morning.
Before they even have opened officially, Janet Chester (Tiffany Story) turns up on their doorstep, an Illinois girl hitchhiking to Hollywood with stars in her eyes. Story is a genuinely gifted comic actress, last seen in a brilliant turn as Sylvia the dog in Sylvia, closing CBB’s 2011 season. Just as she embodied every nuance of quirky dogginess in that role, as Janet she throws herself headlong into the persona of a small-town girl who, without any discernible talent, just knows she can make it in the big time of Tinseltown. Her timing and instincts are spot-on, and her charisma is big enough to fill Carnegie Hall.
But the best moments happen when the three actors are playing off one another, as if lobbing the ball in a spirited game of three-way tennis, all working to bring it together. Over the three acts, the action spans 40 years at the diner, as their lives become intertwined on many levels and we see what becomes of their dreams.
As so often is the case with Circle Bar B’s plays, along with the hearty laughs, there is an undercurrent of emotion that runs deep and true, so that in addition to tears of laughter you might just feel a lump in your throat.
William York Hyde and David Couch have put together a wonderful set, the diner where all the action takes place, with classic black and white linoleum tiled floor, jukebox and counter with vinyl-upholstered stools. A lot of thought went into its creation and the changes reflected over the decades.
Don’t miss this timeless delight, an evening of good food and well-produced community theater in beautiful surroundings. It is friendly and comfortable, and I don’t know who first said it, but “You are a stranger here but once.”
For tickets and more information, click here or call 805.967.1962.
— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.