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Stepping—or jumping—into what we had

By John Pixley
Beatrice Casagran was jumping up and down. Literally.

There she was, on stage, jumping up and down, jumping for joy. She was thrilled, estactic, to be inviting us to the Ophelia’s Jump latest production, “The Hall of Final Ruin.” Not only did she direct the play. Not only was this the play’s west coast premiere. Not only was the playwright, Kelly Mcburnette-Andronicos, in the house.

All this was exciting enough. What Ms. Casagran was so delighted about was that this was Ophelia’s Jump’s first live, in-person, indoor production at its Upland venue in two years.
Indeed, it had been two years, probably to the evening, since I was last there to see its excellent production of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in which, in fact, Ms. Casagran played Martha. My one gripe was that the show let out after 11, but I shouldn’t have complained. If I remember correctly, two days later, on Sunday night, the theater and every other theater and almost everything else in the state — or the county? — closed because of the coronavirus.

There we were, two years later — not two weeks later or even two months later, as we all assumed or hoped — back inside the theater. Sure, the company had hosted a couple Zoom productions and some outdoor productions, including its summer Shakespeare plays at the Greek Theater at Pomona College. But having live audiences back in its theater was definitely worth jumping up and down about.

(I was a bit uncomfortable that most people weren’t wearing masks, but I wore one, and proof of vaccination was required.)

It turned out that there is even more to celebrate. It was revealed that Ms. Casagran sat down during the downtime and wrote grants like crazy, raising $20,000 for the company. But that’s not all.

When I arrived at the theater, the entrance was through another door. I was told to wait, that there was a step, “and we don’t have a ramp yet.” Say, what?

I was led through the original door, which is now the backstage entrance. In addition, it was immediately apparent that there is construction underway. Something was definitely up.
Indeed, something is definitely up. Something big, although the big news was a bit lost amid the excitement over returning to the theater.

Construction is very much underway — on a new 99-seat theater next door. As was mentioned during the pre-play spiel, this will be in addition to the current very small theater, which will be used for improv shows and the like.

This is long way from when Ophelia’s Jump, which was started in Claremont, was an orphan theater company, when it had to hunt down venues for its shows, moving from one to the other.
Clearly, Ms. Casagran and the company spent the downtime during the pandemic quite wisely and most productively.

No matter where they were performed, this company’s shows have pretty much always been strikingly impressive. I’ve always said it’s like seeing a play in L.A without the drive. Now, who knows what they can come up with two venues of their own.

“The Hall of Final Ruin,” a rambunctious, comedic western in Spanglish with a bit of the supernatural, including a hilarious female grim reaper, is no exception. Set in the southwest just before the area became part of the United States, the play is about the feisty, gun-toting-and-shooting proprietor of a brothel preparing for her death. The set makes ingenious use of the tiny stage, although I do wish the sound (not counting the plentiful gunfire!) was better. Also, the live band playing at the Last Name Brewery across the way could be heard from time to time. The production, the first of the season, runs through April 10.

Things definitely seemed to be on a roll on that Friday evening. Just the previous weekend, there was a flurry of activity at the colleges. It was as if the colleges were finally, suddenly coming to life almost two months into the new semester, just before spring break.

It was another jolt as we stumble, haltingly or not so haltingly, either slowly, warily or eagerly on a sprint, out of the last two years of pandemic downtime.

The two orchestras at the colleges — the Pomona College Orchestra and the Claremont Concert Orchestra of the other undergraduate colleges — usually give each other space, intentionally or not, and don’t play on the same weekend. But apparently this wasn’t a normal weekend. I went to Little Bridges on Friday night to see the Pomona College ensemble and to Garrison Theater on Saturday night to see the other college’s orchestra. Both were excellent, with Saturday night’s concert ending with a masterful rendition of Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger.” These two concerts in one weekend were a reminder of how lucky we are in this small town.

As if this wasn’t enough, the colleges’ theater program, based at Pomona College’s Seaver Theater, was presenting “The Last Best Small Town” on the large, main stage. As my grandmother used to say, this was gilding the lily that weekend. I squeezed the play by John Guerra in on Saturday afternoon between the two concerts. I found the acting better than the play, which is set in Filmore and is much, perhaps too much, like “Our Town” and has a cop-out ending. The spare set may have played better in the small, intimate Allen Studio.

What’s remarkable or not remarkable is that this was all pretty much like what I was doing in the before times, as they say, before the pandemic. Indeed, this was what I was doing before the lockdown, with an Ophelia’s Jump production and the colleges presenting a bunch of performances before spring break. I remember the three weekends before everything was shut down as being booked solid with attending performances.

I don’t know if we’re close to going back to that, I don’t know if I’m ready for being back there. Even so, this was a sweet, if bittersweet taste, a sweet, if bittersweet reminder of what will come back, hopefully sooner than later. And, at least at Ophelia’s Jump, even better.

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