The new year continues to churn out new shows to help shake off the winter doldrums. Adding to the busy slate this weekend are two shows: "The Foreigner," a comedy at Bakersfield Community Theatre, and the mythic "Almost, Maine" at Stars West Comedy Theater.
Director Porter Jamison describes the 1980s play as "an under-heralded American classic comedy."
"(It's) generally sweet, very funny, aware of audience sensitivities about language and violence, and is just as relative to today as the original was to its time, if not a little more so," he wrote in an email.
The show follows Charlie (Travis McElroy), a meek proofreader for a science fiction magazine who has escaped to a lodge in remote Georgia. Depressed by the news that his beloved wife might be dying, he wants to retreat into himself and not interact with any of the other guests. A fellow traveler, Staff Sgt. "Froggy" LeSueur (Adam Fernandez) tells lodge owner Betty (Heather McCarthy) that Charlie does not speak English since he is a native from an exotic land.
That lie leads to Betty and the lodge's other guests becoming fascinated by Charlie, who struggles to maintain the ruse, even as a racist town resident, Owen (Josh Carruthers) threatens him.
"Foreigner" also stars Faith Hall, Carl Schmeil and Juan Quinonez. Jamison said he had been excited to see how the cast keeps bringing the show to fresh light.
"Our actors are all showing new aspects of their strengths and making new character discoveries every night," he said.
This comedy, like the others of BCT's 90th season — "The Desk Set, "Luchadora!" and the upcoming "Godspell" — explores how the individual and society change the other, Jamison said.
"This show's story is precisely that while also finding lots of laughs," Jamison said.
The director also hopes that the viewing experience continues to resonate for audiences after they've left the theater.
He said, "I hope that people seeing 'The Foreigner' have a good time, and later realize how relevant the story is to us all today."
"The Foreigner" runs Fridays and Saturdays through Feb. 17 at 8 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on Feb. 11 at BCT, 2400 S. Chester Ave. Tickets are $10-$14 in advance (at squareup.com/store/bakersfieldcommunitytheatre) or $12-$16 at the door.
Like Jamison, director Cherish Jessee, who is helming the production of "Almost, Maine" at Stars West has similar hopes for her show.
"I hope the audience is able to relate to one of the characters and is able to learn more about themselves through the show," she wrote in an email. "If not, have a good time laughing and crying with us!"
The production, comprised of a short plays, takes place in the mythical and slightly magic small town of Almost. Through the show, the residents people stumble in love and out of love in kooky and slightly bizarre ways. Although the show is a favorite among high school theater departments, Jessee said she aims to showcase it in a different light.
The intimacy of Stars West, which seats about 50, also supports the production.
"I don't think this show would do as well in a big theater because it's supposed to feel quaint, like you're peeking in at someone's life," she said. "That offbeat feeling translates better on a small stage and intimate theater!"
Jessee said while preparing, she connected with the relatable short play "Getting it Back" and the more complex "Her Heart," but can't narrow down a favorite in the show since her actors helped her "fall in love with each and every scene."
The cast of nine includes Eli Castillo, Trayvon Trimble, Perrin Swanson, Brian Purcell and Kiera Gill.
Nearly two weeks before opening, the show — and theater — faced a setback after a break-in resulted in the loss of their technical equipment, including the lighting system and board, sound board and speakers.
Jessee said the hard work of theater manager Mark Price and aid from the theater community kept the show on track.
"I am so thankful and overwhelmed with the amount of support we got from The Empty Space, Ovation, BCT and, of course, Stars," she said. "I was in tears of joy to see so many people leap at the opportunity to help us!"
The director also credits her talented cast and crew to bringing the show to the stage, including
Swanson, who runs the lights as well as acts; Hannah Schill, who came down from Fullerton on weekends to help create the physical theater portions of the show; and assistant director Madeline Engel, who did the costumes, props and "every little thing I threw at her," Jessee said.
"She was at the theater painting the set in a dress at one point! She is the true MVP and I feel so lucky that I have her."
"Almost, Maine" runs Fridays and Saturdays through Feb. 17 at Stars West, 2756 Mosasco St. Tickets are $20 available at bmtstars.com.
Also taking place at the Stars facility, which also houses the Stars School of Performing Arts, is the upcoming Stars Elite Performing Arts Workshop.
Now in its second session, the six-week program will be led by actress and singer Amy Adams, who has also served as a performance coach and mentor for students for nearly a decade. Children ages 8 to 18 will enjoy professional stage and entertainment industry training such as mentoring in vocal performance and dancing with working professionals, including Natalia Mallory, a dancer/choreographer and "So You Think You Can Dance" alum. All the training will culminate in a performance showcase.
Running through March 12, the workshop meets Mondays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the school, 2756 Mosasco St.
Tuition is $365, which covers training, performance showcase, headshots, group photo and T-shirt. Tuition must be paid by the first day of class on Monday. For more enrollment information, visit bmtstars.com/education/starselite.