The show’s title is “Almost Baroque for Christmas.”
And director Susi Brown hopes audiences will be entertained as the holiday looms.
The latest show by Ten Fifteen Productions opened this week, and continues Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Organizers promise every night will be different.
The holiday review is the second production at the Ten Fifteen Theater since COVID-19 restrictions have eased. Brown’s longtime collaborator Karen Bain directed the Irish play “The Weir” in October.
“It is always exciting to open the box again,” said Brown when asked about emerging from pandemic-related shutdowns. “It is as if I am opening a great big present that’s been shoved in the closet for a while.”
Brown, a retired school drama teacher, has directed, acted and created costumes for countless shows in Astoria. Some years after The River Theater closed, she created Pier Pressure Productions, which, in part, led to the development of the Ten Fifteen Theater. Brown now serves as the theater’s board secretary.
The Christmas show concept began in Brown’s storage area.
“The whole impetus for this came from some costumes that we already owned,” she said. Actors had worn red and white dresses in a production with a Marie Antoinette-Bastille Day theme.
“I thought we should use them again, because red and white are good holiday colors,” Brown added.
Serendipitously, she located a bolt of unused red fabric which she sewed into vests for the male characters.
The baroque theme was chosen, in part, because it hadn’t been a focus of many recent local theater selections.
Baroque generally refers to a period in European history straddling the 17th and 18th centuries when earlier austerity was replaced with grand architecture, paintings featuring intricate adornment and ornate musical styles led by Handel. On the stage, Irish-born playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan and French satirist Molière thrived, ridiculing hypocrisy while incurring the wrath of the establishment.
All three figure in Brown’s lineup.
DanPa Reiley is set to open, playing an original composition on keyboard.
William Ham, who appeared in “The Weir,” will be emcee, and join a cast of six others for a scene from Sheridan’s 1777 comedy of manners, “The School for Scandal.” Performing alongside him will be Gigi Chadwick, Arnie Hummasti, Richard Bowman, Cami Lira, Toni Ihander and Liam Ham.
A review called a 2007 Seattle production “a finely tuned skewering of the leisure class.” A modern London reviewer wrote that the play is “composed of wit, intrigue, disguise, perfidy and romance in near-perfect proportions.”
Another scene from the same work, a comic clash between spouses, will feature Slab Slabinski and Ann Branson.
“We are always arguing about one thing or another, but most of it is in regards to her spending habits,” Slabinski explained. “She loves extravagances.”
He will also sing “Ill Wind,” a comic song by the 1960s’ English performing duo Michael Flanders and Donald Swann set to the bubbly tune of Mozart’s fourth horn concerto.
Branson is among local actors delighted to be emerging from shutdowns. She was in the Cannon Beach Coaster Theatre’s cast of “Play On,” which had its dress rehearsal in early spring 2020 but never opened to audiences because of health safety concerns.
“It is nice to be back on stage as we ease back into it,” she said. “It’s great to see my theater friends again.”
Three Molière pieces are planned. Lori Honl and Britannia Williams will play a scene from “Tartuffe,” the French writer’s satire about a pious fraud. Williams will also sing a portion of Handel’s “Messiah.”
Jim Dott and Danyelle Tinker will perform a scene from “The Misanthrope.” For Tinker, who is the executive director, it will be her first onstage role at the Ten Fifteen Theater. Dott will also read some poetry.
The third, a scene from Molière’s comedy, “The Imaginary Invalid,” will feature Brown and Edward James. The two have both directed in Astoria — often each other — but haven’t acted together since a Pier Pressure production of “The Monkey’s Paw.”
A change of pace will feature Jessamyn Grace West, one of the three owners of the Odd Fellows building which houses the theater.
“She said, ‘I want to perform on that stage,’” Brown said, delighted to give her the opportunity.
A dance instructor, West researched and learned “Shamadan,” an old Egyptian belly dance which features an elaborate headdress.
Three more musical selections are planned. Lira and Bowman will perform a duet, guitarist Niall Carroll will sing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and Patrick Lathrop, executive director of Cannon Beach’s Coaster Theatre, will sing a piece from the comedy-musical “La Cage aux Folles” and perform a monologue from a baroque play.
“We are very fortunate to have him as part of this,” said Brown. “I am so excited for that.”
She is enthused at the mix of familiar performers with newcomers.
“It is such a healthy thing for the theater,” Brown said. “We have our ‘old guard’ and some new faces — that can’t be anything but good for a community theater.”