By: Diane Tasca, based on the story "Night Bus," by Samuel Hopkins Adams, which also inspired the film "It Happened One Night."
Produced by: The Pear Theatre
Featuring: Sarah Cook as Elspeth, Drew Reitz as Peter, and Todd Wright, Leslie Newport, Stephanie Whigham, Dave Sikula, Keith Larson, and Nicolae Muntean
Directed by: Caroline Clark
Running time: 120 minutes, one intermission
When: Previews September 17, 18. Opens September 19, runs through October 4, 2015
Where: Pear Theatre (new space), 1110 La Avenida Street, Mountain View, California
Tickets: $10-$35 (discounts available). Visit www.thepear.org or call 1-650-254-1148
to 'The Walls of Jericho'
with a new play that still needs some polish
The triumph at The Pear Theatre on Saturday night belonged to the new building, which is beautiful.
Sparkling shiny clean, with a pretty lobby featuring an huge glass wall looking out on a charming patio, it was very welcoming to the full-house audience for the opening of The Pear's 2015/16 season.
The auditorium was set up for what The Pear calls thrust seating, with one set of risers and chairs squared off to face the performance area, and sets of risers and seats at an angle to either side. That configuration is supposed to seat 86 people, but I think they crowded in a number of extra seats because of all the people who wanted to be on hand for the Pear's first official gala opening night in its new space.
And the theater itself performed admirably lighting, sound, air-conditioning and bathrooms all worked smoothly, which wasn't always the case at the old Pear Avenue Theatre.
The weakness of the first night was the play itself, which isn't quite ready, which is understandable it's a brand-new play, written by Pear founder and Artistic Director Diane Tasca, and it's very rare that a play works flawlessly its first time out.
It's a charming story, based on "Night Bus," by Samuel Hopkins Adams, which was also the inspiration for the delightful 1934 film "It Happened One Night."
A guy who is smart and of good character but with a thin wallet meets a young woman on a bus who is clearly a spoiled rich brat and out of her element, traveling rough.
Of course the bus will wait for her, she says. "People always wait for me. If they didn't, I'd never get anywhere."
The guy, Peter Warne, kind of adopts her, keeping her from serious harm, and keeping her fed and clothed when things get rough.
It's a romantic adventure, and he tells himself, "That's a spoiled child, Peter. Bad medicine. Don't go getting ideas."
As they travel on the bus toward New York, and are beset by various calamities, there is some clever dialogue, and they start to really care about each other.
Drew Reitz is very good as Peter Warne, carrying just enough sardonic tone to befit a guy who's been around, but always leaving room for the kindness that is central to his character.
Sarah Cook is a wonderful Elspeth Andrews, the runaway rich woman. Her face is ideal for the role she looks like she walked out of an East Coast rich woman's oil portrait. She carries Elspeth's worldly, rich-child self-assuredness well, but still manages to project Elspeth's worries and insecurities as needed. And it's a pleasure to watch her slowly display Elspeth's depth of character and bravery as the play proceeds.
Todd Wright, with his giant rubber face, is hilarious and a crowd-pleaser in several roles, including as different drivers of various vehicles. Keith Larson is fun in several roles, including as the smarmy hustler who wants to collect the reward that is offered to find Elspeth.
Dave Sikula brings a fine Scottish brogue to the role of Elspeth's rich father, and a fine, meaningful delivery of lines.
Stephanie Whigham ably handles several roles, including as one of Elspeth's friends who has fallen on hard times. Leslie Newport is fun as waitresses and various wives.
"The Walls of Jericho" is delivered with very sparing scenic design, by Charles McKeithan, and props. Wooden chairs serves as bus seats, diner seats and even as a landlord's bed. A couple of narrow beds are used in a few scenes, a small rowboat is used in one scene, and a table becomes a rich-man's desk.
No wall hangings, no road signs, no props for such bits as boiling potatoes on a campfire. Almost everything is mimed, till the last act, when an old-fashioned check register is used.
And, quite a lot of information is delivered by narration. Every character gets turns at explaining what is going on, and it works.
But, the combination of the miming and the lack of set decorations lead to two thoughts: On the one hand, it's fun to watch this good cast stretch its acting muscles; on the other hand, it leaves it with the feeling of a college workshop.
What hurts this play most is its pacing. It is slow, and the occasional bits of snappy patter aren't enough to get the blood moving. It's likely that some bits could simply be removed, and that the actors could add a little sizzle to their line deliveries.
Those cavils noted, it is, overall, a sweet little romantic comedy and an enjoyable play. Linda Atkins' costume design is excellent, nailing the 1930s era ably, and even earning one of the play's biggest laughs.
Lighting design by Valerie Clear was efficient and effective. Sound design by Caroline Clark was pretty good, except that several times the truck and bus noises were out of sync with what Wright was doing as the driver.
I am guessing that Tasca and director Caroline Clark may continue to polish this play. After a bit of work, it's like to become a successful addition to the theater library.
Email John Orr at email@example.com