Circle Bar B Dinner Theatre is a place — and experience — that bears repeating. That is to say, once you’ve been there, you want to keep going back to this oak-shaded oasis of calm nestled in El Refugio Canyon, where you can enjoy a delicious barbecued dinner and then mosey down past the corral to the tiny, charmingly rustic theater for some excellent light entertainment.
So it’s fitting that its first show of the season is Return Engagements, a sparkling comedy by Bernard Slade, who also wrote You Say Tomatoes, I Remember You and Same Time, Next Year, all previously performed there. The latter, in 1978, became a popular film starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn.
The action takes place in the same hotel room in Ontario, Canada, from 1954 to 1986. In the first act, we see three separate vignettes illustrating four couples grappling with the various stages of their relationships, new and old. And in the second act we see them revisit the same room over time and learn how interconnected their lives have become.
A brilliant ensemble of four actors portrays nine characters. George Coe is wide-eyed and eager as a young bellboy besotted with an actress and satisfyingly droll as a jaded intellectual. Heather Hyerdahl is the actress, whose career hasn’t always gone the way she’d liked, and a sophisticated therapist.
Sean O’Shea is an honorable man who isn’t sure he’s done the right thing, and a goofy dentist who desperately wants to escape a mistake in his past. Tiffany Story has a lot of fun with a Polish accent as an immigrant who is determined to get what she wants, and also is a dishy ditz who may not be as dim as she seems. As for the ninth character … well, you’ll see.
Seasoned local director and actor Brian Harwell, who has appeared onstage in many CBB productions over the last decade, is at the helm of this delightful romp of a play, and his experience and talent are evident. While the action is sometimes over the top, the story is always firmly anchored in humanity and empathy. In a heart-wrenching scene with Story, O’Shea displays such raw emotion that tears are not out of the question.
The set, by co-producer David Couch and William York Hyde, cleverly shows subtle changes over the years as the hotel is refurbished to keep up with the times. A nice touch is co-producer Susie Couch appearing in between scenes to change the set dressing in a maid’s uniform. This is exactly the kind of playfulness that makes the Couches such wonderful producers and hosts. It feels as if they are inviting the audience into their home each time they put on a show.
Make the jaunt up the coast to Circle Bar B for this fine evening of entertainment. If you’ve never been, you owe it to yourself to check it out. And if you’re coming back for more, I can’t blame you. It’s worth it.
Return Engagements runs through May 19. Click here for tickets and information.
— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.