A number of events around town this weekend are focusing on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York. For me, one of the more unusual offerings is "With Their Eyes," which opens Friday at Bakersfield Community Theatre.
The play was developed by students whose high school was only a few blocks away from ground zero on Sept. 11, 2001. It grew out of a series of monologues written by members of a drama class at Stuyvesant High School and was first presented in February 2002.
Given that the script reflects the impressions of teens and that it's the first show in BCT's current Youth Series, I figured the cast members were fairly young at the time of the disaster. David Lollar, the director, confirmed my assumption and said his actors range in age from 14 to 24.
"Since it was 10 years ago, yes, they were very young," he said. "They have very similar stories, being out here in Kern County and in -- or on their way to -- school when the news hit. The older ones seem to have been more affected by their teachers' reactions than with the actual event."
To help his cast get a better idea of the scope and gravity of the disaster, Lollar showed them an HBO documentary called "In Memoriam." He emphasized, however, that the play itself is not all gloom and doom.
"This play is a lot more light and funny than you'd imagine because the reactions are those of teens, tough little kids with no idea of what it all meant at the time," he said. "And that makes it so much more poignant as a celebration of life, hope, and belief in America's spirit than you'd imagine."
Material for the monologues in "With Their Eyes" came from interviews the New York students did with fellow students, teachers, administrators, cafeteria workers, and custodians. The action takes place in a sparsely furnished classroom with two tall ladders representing the Twin Towers in the background.
Although the cast is truly an ensemble with no one person playing a lead role, Lollar did list some members who are more well-known to local audiences. Among them are Ben Lejeune, a film and television actor who recently returned to Bakersfield; Kara McDonald, who starred in BCT's "Seussical"; Hannah DiMolfetto, a Six Flags "Fright Night" actor; and Mike Bedard, who will be off to UCLA in a few weeks.
Latina drama at Spotlight
Opening Friday at the Spotlight Theatre is "Real Women Have Curves," a drama about Latina women working in an East Los Angeles sewing factory. It's set in September 1987, a time when federal laws regarding some illegal immigrants were eased.
"It was after the amnesty law was passed," said Maria-Tania Becerra, the director.
In one scene, she added, the women suddenly realize they don't need to worry about immigration officers anymore and one says: "Wait a minute -- we're legal now.' "
The story revolves around a character called Estela, played by Linda Lara, a senior English major at Cal State Bakersfield, who appeared last year in Spotlight's "Harvest Moon," also directed by Becerra.
Estela's story is told through the eyes of her sister, Ana, portrayed by DeNae Brown, a CSUB theater arts student who also has been in shows at The Empty Space and Bakersfield Community Theatre. Also in the cast are Frances Quiroz, Monica Martinez and Alisha Mason.
An interesting side note: The 39-year-old Becerra, who teaches theater at CSUB, told me she was born in Nicaragua and didn't learn English until she came to the U.S. at age 13. She had no immigration problems, however, because her mother was born in New York City.
New art exhibit at BC
As its first exhibit of the 2011-12 school year the Jones Gallery at Bakersfield College is presenting "Surface," the work of three out-of-town artists. Being shown are paintings by Ellen Soffer, who is based in Louisiana; drawings by Dennis Sopczynski, a Californian; and Oregon printmaker Brett Anderson.
It opens this evening with a reception at the gallery, which is located inside the library building on the northwest side of the campus.
Curator Margaret Nowling said in an email that she was attracted to the work of these particular artists because of the surface texture of their pieces.
"Soffer's and Sopczynsk's (works) emphasize the two-dimensional nature of painting and drawing," she said. "In both cases you can see the movement of the tool that is dragged across the surface. Anderson's work, although there is depth being portrayed, calls attention to the surface due to the nature of relief printmaking."
The exhibit can be seen at the gallery through Sept. 29. Regular gallery hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Monday-Thursday.
Double auditions this weekend
Tryouts for two radically different shows, "A Christmas Carol" and "Hair," are being held this weekend at The Empty Space.
Brian Sivesind is directing the Charles Dickens' classic, with performances scheduled for Dec. 9 to 24. Bob Kempf is doing the 1960s-era rock musical, slated for production Feb. 11 to March 3.
Each director is asking potential actors to prepare certain material for the auditions, and appointments are requested. For details call the theater at 327-PLAY or visit their website, esonline.org.