If you checked your patriotic spirit after your last errant firework scared dogs through the neighborhood, it's time for a new proposal. Rather than "piddle, twiddle, and resolve," solve the problem of what to do this weekend by heading to Ovation to catch "1776" before its run ends.
If that's a little rah-rah for you, consider the tale being spun at the 19th Street theater. The dramatic retelling of the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence is a popular one but gets a fresh spin here with its all-female cast. Although that's been done in other productions elsewhere, it's the first for it in Bakersfield. And in a town usually cast as conservative, it's nice to see a diverse group of women discuss politics and the importance of freedom without rude interruptions — even if it's a scripted show.
The Ovation shows I've seen have featured strong female voices ("Jesus Christ Superstar," "Gypsy," "Bonnie and Clyde") and this feels like the apex of talent. Kat Clowes, as the "obnoxious and disliked" Massachusetts delegate John Adams, leads the cast, a mix of Ovation regulars (if you can say that yet of the nascent theater) and newer faces to the theater.
Director Maria-Tania Bandes Becerra Weingarden makes the most of her accomplished troupe. She told The Californian before the show opened: "I have a group of intelligent, talented, witty women who are able to take these words and bring them to life with a unique perspective."
Clowes and Rene Cleek (as Benjamin Franklin) are standouts, landing most of the laughs, and Kelsea Johnson and Amelia Mejia (as Thomas and Martha Jefferson) make a compelling pair, with her offering some insight into the quiet Virginia delegate's appeal. Jennifer Neil and Michelle Weingarden-Bandes deserve special note for delivering compelling performances of delegates for whom you're never going to cheer (except at curtain call).
Weingarden-Bandes' powerhouse performance of "Molasses To Rum" is one of the production's finest moments. In a show taking place almost entirely in the Second Continental Congress' overheated chamber, the number transports the audience beyond Philadelphia to the heart of the Triangle Trade, through artful choreography and lighting.
There is an economy of staging and performers, many of whom serve double duty, deftly switching between roles with a quick removal or addition of accessory. Although that was at first jarring, it quickly became clear which role was at play and each actress kept the story moving. Performers using the aisles and upper levels to maneuver between scenes gives the audience the feeling you're a part of the action (although the well-maintained AC kept anyone from feeling like the beleaguered delegates).
There's more that made this a great evening, including pre-show and intermission performances of songs from "Hamilton" (credit to my fellow theater-goer for recognizing those), but rather than reading more, pick up your ticket and find out for yourself. Consider it your patriotic duty.