Jim’s Picks: New Shasta College Play and Original Senn Jazz

The five actors in the cast of Shasta College’s new spring play “Circle Mirror Transformation” could each probably teach acting at the Redding junior college. That might be part of the point.

Shasta theater instructor Robert Soffian occasionally gathers a skilled community cast and directs a dynamic contemporary play. For students working on the production, it’s a window into the craft of theater at a high level.

For audiences, it’s typically a chance to see a really excellent play.

“Circle Mirror Transformation” opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday (March 10) at the Shasta College Theatre. It continues Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday, as well as 7:30 p.m. March 17-19.

The play, written by 27-year-old Annie Baker, won an Obie Award (Off-Broadway Award) for best play in 2009, and has only been produced about 20 times in various theaters around the U.S., Soffian said.

“She’s a hot playwright,” Soffian said. “In this play I think she’s really talking about language and how we communicate beneath the words. It’s a real interesting tour de force for the actors and I’m fortunate to have a really excellent cast. The characters are very complex. It’s not a formulaic play.”

The play stars John Truitt, Dean Williams, Eve Beck, Eilyne Davis and Julie Ricker. Auditions for the play were tremendous, Soffian said. He added that he could have cast it three different times with three different groups and it would have been strong.

Playwright Annie Baker

The story takes place in a fictitious town in Vermont where a woman is teaching an acting class for a small number of students. The play takes place over six weeks and the lives of the characters transform significantly over that time.

Despite the setting being an acting class, the show is really more a character study than an ode to acting or theater. There are several long pauses in the dialogue built into the play and Soffian said he’s being very true to the script’s direction.

Truitt and Williams, two of the area’s finest actors who have been performing for decades, are on stage together for the first time since 2005’s “Sylvia” at the Cascade Theatre.

“This play is great because I’m working with a small cast of solid actors,” Williams said. “The hard thing about this play is that it has 31 scenes and it’s a little hard to keep it all straight. Each one is a vignette and they don’t always make a logical connection to the next scene. So we’re fumbling around in the blackouts between scenes, trying to figure out where we go next. But it’s subtly written and done in a natural, non-stagey style.”

Soffian called his cast “intelligent actors who have chops.”

When Soffian has brought these types of elements together in the past, the results have been strong. He directed Truitt and Williams in “Art” about eight years ago and it was sensational. Put Davis, Beck and Ricker in the mix and that’s a lot of acting talent on the same stage.


Who is this Paul Senn and why does he make me so happy?

Paul Senn

He’s a 20-something Redding trumpet player with deft musical instincts and a ton of chops. He seems incredibly wise beyond his years.

He arranged all the music for last Sunday’s jazz concert at Old City Hall in Redding (part of Dave Short’s Jazz at Old City Hall Series), and his Mardi Gras selection of New Orleans music was just fabulous (and fabulously fun).

You know you’ve got a good thing going when your band includes these names: Bruce Calin (bass), Joe Larson (trombone), Jeff Jones (sax), Matt Scallion (drums), Pat Karch (piano) and Sacramento vocalist Angie Bryan. It’s the Original Senn Jazz Band!

I couldn’t help but think you could place the Original Senn Band anywhere you want in the Big Easy (even on Fat Tuesday) and people would say “Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler (let the good times roll) — this group is legit!”

In addition to blowing out those infectious combined Dixieland leads with Larsen and Jones, the gang was throwing out beads and coins to audience. Calin was also playing tuba and having a ball. Karch was running all over the place with an accordion (when not at the piano).

Even Senn's music posters are extra cool!

At the break, Jones told me the group had rehearsed, um, like once. What a high level of jazz cats.

Paul has a Facebook page you can check for updates on the next show (don’t think anything’s on the books yet). Bernie’s Guitar is also a good source for learning about jazz shows in the area.

Simpson University percussionist Dwayne Corbin is bringing in the Southern Oregon University Jazz Ensemble for the next Dave Short jazz series show. Stay tuned to A News Café or visit Short’s website for more information.

Jim Dyar is a news, arts and entertainment journalist for A News Cafe and the former arts and entertainment editor for the Record Searchlight. Jim is also a songwriter and member of the band Muletown. He lives in Redding. E-mail him at jimd.anewscafe@gmail.com.

Jim Dyar

is a journalist who focuses on arts, entertainment, music and the outdoors. He is a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding and can be reached at jimd.anewscafe@gmail.com

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