Ventura Ventures: Rubicon Returns

By Steven Libowitz   |   March 17, 2022
Playing The Gin Game

The Rubicon Theatre Company (RTC) was the first of the local companies to find a way to produce something for its audiences when the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down way back in early spring 2020. Indeed, RTC was the first regional theater company in the country to offer a socially distanced drive-in series, bringing such specials as a 30th Anniversary Concert of Forever Plaid and Music of the Knights: The Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Elton John and Paul McCartney to the Ventura Fairgrounds over that summer. Rubicon also spearheaded a streaming version of Estella Scrooge, the clever tech-aided/green screen update of its original update of the Dickens classic, in time for the Christmas season in 2020. 

On the other hand, RTC is the last to return to live indoor productions, finally reopening – after installing hospital grade retrofitting and other refurbishing – almost two years to the date of the initial California lockdown. The good news is that the 2022-23 season proves to be well worth waiting for, as RTC has picked things up right where they left off – with programming that represents its ambitious mission to create new works, produce musicals, and re-mount dramas that provoke as well as entertain. 

“We believe we have an obligation to be at the forefront of important relevant conversations about what is happening now in our world,” explained Karyl Lynn Burns, RTC’s co-founder and Producing Artistic Director. 

Case in point: the official season opening Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, Anna Deavere Smith’s street-level study of the 1992 L.A. riots that were sparked by the acquittal in the Rodney King police brutality case in a Ventura County courtroom in Simi Valley, which opens on the 30th anniversary of the April 29, 1992, date. 

“It was a long journey to secure the rights, so we’re feeling privileged, and a little bit scared, to be the only professional theater in the world doing the show on the anniversary of what is now called the L.A. uprising or L.A. rebellion,” Burns said, noting that the play is considered perhaps the first example of documentary theater, with Smith quoting verbatim some of the 300 people she interviewed to create the script. “It’s a play about very complicated issues, and it’s an awesome responsibility to try to facilitate a conversation about what happened then and what’s gone on more recently. How far have we come or not come? [After George Floyd] it feels painfully relevant.”

RTC will be presenting the original one-actor version of the play starring Chris Butler, the company’s associate artistic director, who will also co-direct. “There’s a grace in an African American person being willing to share all the contrasting points of view, including some characters who are less than sympathetic.” 

There will also no doubt be a bit of grace in The Gin Game, the two-hander that serves as a preview to the six-play season. RTC favorite and Emmy winner Joe Spano and Emmy and Academy Award nominee JoBeth Williams star in the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama from D.L. Coburn, which RTC first produced last summer as a reading in a private home and will now send out on the road for an extended tour after the March 19 – April 3 Ventura run concludes. 

The second official season production is the Fats Waller musical Ain’t Misbehavin’, which will run June 8 – 26, spanning the 40th anniversary of the show serving as the first African American Broadway play to be aired on network television, Burns said. The pandemic-postponed romantic comedy Almost, Maine hits the RTC stage September 7 – 25, followed by another musical in Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, directed and choreographed by Luis Salgado, who was the dance consultant in the original Broadway version and later directed the first Spanish language production. 

RTC’s community outreach in advance of the October 28 – November 13 staging is the reason they were able to get Salgado to sign on, Burns said. 

“We will be holding free classes for the community twice a week for eight weeks so that people especially in the Latinx community who may have raw talent and desire but have never had the opportunity to get their equity card or to work professionally can have the chance to stand toe-to-toe with more experienced professionals,” she explained. “This gives them a fair chance to actually win a role, be in the musical, and get their equity card.” 

Rubicon’soriginal Lonesome Traveler staged concert continues expanding its franchise with a new holiday show A Lonesome Traveler Christmas (November 30 – December 18) featuring Lifetime Grammy Award-winners George Grove and Rick Dougherty (The Kingston Trio) and Jerry Siggins (The Diamonds). The season closes with Will Eno’s The Realistic Jones, running January 25 – February 12, 2023. 

“Putting this all together coming out of the pandemic kind of feels like a start up on steroids,” Burns said. “We have higher expectations of ourselves than we did when we first started.” Mission accomplished. 


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