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Gerald Carpenter: Newly Formed Ratatat Theater Group Making a Run of ‘Roses’

The efforts of founder and writer Casey Caldwell will culminate with Friday's opening performance at the Fishbon

Starting a new theatrical company is always a risky proposition — a long shot — and founder/director/writer Casey Caldwell has doubled down on the risk by starting his new Ratatat Theater Group with a new play, Roses, which he partly wrote, partly assembled from other texts and is partly home-grown out of the experiences and dreams of the members of his company.

Caldwell is thus either a madman or a very determined, creative personality. We’ll assume the latter. It’s very rare to find someone who has done something really new who is not their own special mixture of both. Conformity and its generic model, fear, never produce anything new that lasts.

“We’ve been through an interesting journey in bringing this show to production,” Caldwell says. “There have been many false starts and failures, and just as many happy surprises and exciting successes.”

Of course, false starts and mistakes — so long as they are recognized as such, in time — are often the keys to ultimate triumph. As the Croupier says: “Hang on tightly; let go lightly.”

If not an out-and-out disciple, Caldwell is clearly an ardent admirer of — and has drawn powerful inspiration from — the quintessential theatrical innovator Richard Foreman, founder of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater, whose plays have three times won Obies (Off-Broadway Theater Awards) as Best Play of the Year.

Casey Caldwell's Roses will showcase the talents of actors Jessie Drake, left, Nolan Hamlin, Marie Ponce and Jamie Birkett.
Casey Caldwell’s Roses will showcase the talents of actors Jessie Drake, left, Nolan Hamlin, Marie Ponce and Jamie Birkett. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Foreman himself has received four Obies for directing and for “sustained achievement.” As one critic noted, Foreman’s works for the stage “are driven by the notion of a constant reawakening of the audience.”

One of the main sources, Caldwell says, when he was shaping Roses as a performance piece was “Richard Foreman’s Notebooks” — largely scrolls of unattached dialogue that Foreman continues to post on the Ontological-Hysteric Theater Web site, inviting whoever can to make whatever use of them and asking for only a token acknowledgment. Another source was selected writings of Gertrude Stein, and a third, original stories and improvisations generated by the cast.

What is Roses about?

“We live in a noisy world,” Caldwell says. “We honk through our commutes, try to tune out our neighbor’s too-loud music, labor to focus through countless Web pages. Competing tasks vie for our time, competing relationships contend for our attention, competing religions jockey for a hold on truth. In all that noise, it can be a little hard to hear clearly or think straight. Roses is a play that tries to deal with these things, a play about trying to find a clear signal in the noise of modern life.”

Under Caldwell’s direction, and with costumes designed by Jaco Connolly, Roses will be performed by Jamie Birkett, Jessie Drake, Nolan Hamlin and Marie Ponce.

Shows will begin at 8 p.m. this Friday and Saturday, March 25-26, and April 1-2 at Fishbon Theater, 101 S. Quarantina St. in Santa Barbara. Tickets are “pay what you can,” with a suggested donation of $15. Seating is limited; e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for reservations.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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