It’s a mystery, a challenge, a puzzle, a conundrum.
How do you keep theater alive and interesting, when the majority of your audience has proven their relative preference for familiar shows, revivals of familiar shows, and shows based on familiar movies or T.V. programs, and takes a wait-and-see attitude when presented with a play that is un-familiar, in development, or brand spanking new.
“New,” apparently, while clearly something we get excited about when it’s a new car, a new baby, or a new ride at Disneyland, suddenly becomes a liability when it’s a play opening in your neighborhood between local productions of “Noises Off” and “Oklahoma.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with those.
They were each new once, and in their time, they each changed the face of modern theater, which needs a good change of face, and change of pace, every so often – just to stay alive.
All of which brings us to the multiple-award-winning 19-year-old playwright Dezi Gallegos, whose brand-spanking-new play “Yesterday Again,” opened last weekend in the Studio at 6th Street Playhouse. First, let me congratulate and salute my friend Sheri Lee Miller, director of “Yesterday Again.” As one of the best directors in the North Bay, her willingness to step forward and help bring to the stage a new work by a young playwright is in itself extraordinary.
Then there’s the production, featuring as strong a cast of veterans and newcomers as you are likely to see anywhere, including performances by Marty Pistone, Sharia Pierce, John Browning, Pam Koppel, Barry Martin, and Craig Miller, all taking on roles that reveal sides of their acting chops you likely have never seen before. Lesser known emerging actors fill out the cast – Alyssa Jirrels, Isaac Jay, Lyla Elmassian, Lucy London, Olivia Marie Rooney, Jack Wolff, Maxx Zweers, and I should fully disclose that another is my son, Andy Templeton, just one of the young players who you will want to be watching out for in the future.
The play itself is an ambitious, rambunctious, slightly confusing, intensely engaging puzzle box of a story that will surely make a lot of people wonder how a 19-year-old came up with it at all, let alone carried it off with so much insight, artfulness, and fearlessness.
Taking place in the past, the present, and the future all at once, “Yesterday Again” explores the notion that our lives begin with infinite possible futures, and that with every choice we make, those possible futures change, and in some case are eliminated. As the parallel stories of two college students, Eric and Bella, each play out, we see their past experiences playing simultaneously, with other actors playing Eric and Bella as the children they were and the adults they will, or might, become.
The material is tough, with explorations of trauma and abuse, and various damaging collisions of sexuality, friendship, family and love, and though the script at times feels a tad over-reaching, the beauty of the performances and the strength of the direction carries us over such road bumps on a powerful wave of emotion, mystery, and dramatic tension.
“Yesterday Again,” the play, is the past, the present, and the future of Sonoma County Theater, all at once. It’s not flawless, but if you love theater, it’s well worth your time – because, trust me, you’ve never seen anything quite like it.
And that’s a good thing.
“Yesterday Again” runs this weekend, Friday through Sunday, at 6th Street Playhouse (www.6thstreetplayhouse.com) and then moves to Lucky Penny Community Arts Center in Napa from August 7-16. (www.luckypennynapa.com).
I’m David Templeton, Second Row Center, for KRCB.