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On Stage in October 

Hunchbacks, Brigadoon, 39 Steps, a reading and another musical

At Dell'Arte for two weekends beginning Thursday (Sept. 28), the physical comedy ensemble Under the Table presents The Hunchbacks of Notre Dame. Yes, that's "hunchbacks" plural (three to be precise.) It's an adaptation of the Victor Hugo classic created in Blue Lake with Dell'Arte's Ronlin Foreman. It's performed in the Carlo, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Oct. 8.

Also on Saturday, Oct. 8, Playhouse Arts and Four on the Floor Theatre present Elemental, an "outdoor community theatre spectacle" featuring giant puppets, stilt walkers, a paper lantern procession, a giant shadow play and a fire performance. The procession starts at 6:45 p.m. on Taylor Way in Blue Lake near the Mad River Brewery. Lantern building workshops take place from 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Arcata Playhouse and the next day, Sunday, Oct. 2, at the Mad River Grange in Blue Lake.

Two young men from high-pressure, speed-obsessed Manhattan are discussing their disillusionment on a hike in the Scottish highlands when suddenly there's music in the air, and a timeless enchanted village appears, offering them different lives and loves. This contrast of choices animated the musical Brigadoon when it opened in 1947, and the alternatives are drawn even more starkly in the upcoming HSU production, which updates their habitat to the 2011 career- networked, smartphone-dependent, twittered city of New York.

Brigadoon has itself become a kind of timeless alternative to the ironic and even cynical musicals of recent decades. It was the first big collaboration of lyricist Alan J. Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe, a team that later created My Fair Lady and Camelot. It features dancing (the original choreographer was Agnes DeMille) and real songs, including the classic "Almost Like Being in Love." It's got comic bawdiness and several pairs of lovers, with conflict that is resolved in a happy and uplifting ending. In other words, it ain't Sondheim.

Co-directors Bernadette Cheyne and Richard Woods, musical director Elisabeth Harrington, choreographer Jeff O'Connor and orchestra conductor Paul Cummings are the principals in this HSU collaboration involving the Music and the Theatre, Film & Dance departments. Heading a large cast are romantic leads Brandy Rose and Miles Raymer. Brigadoon runs two weekends in the Van Duzer Theatre beginning Oct. 13: Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30, with 2 p.m. matinees on both Sundays. Tickets at 826-3928; information at

In his published conversation with Alfred Hitchcock, fellow director Francois Truffaut observed that in the spy thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps, Hitchcock was willing to "sacrifice plausibility in favor of pure emotion." "Yes, that's right!" was Hitchcock's entire response. On stage, there's no theatrical form more willing to sacrifice plausibility for emotion than farce, if the result is laughter. And it's farcical comedy that Ferndale Repertory Theatre presents with Patrick Barlow's stage version of The 39 Steps, in which four actors play 150 characters.

Well, it's more like three actors playing 149 characters. Well, really it's two actors playing 147 characters. You get the idea. There are four actors playing a lot of people -- especially spies and femme fatales -- in a lot of different places, including a train and an airplane. The story more or less follows the plot of the movie (and the novel) at breakneck speed, in a script praised for its hilarity. Catching all the Hitchcock references is apparently a bonus.

"What I like in The Thirty Nine Steps are the swift transitions," Hitchcock told Truffaut. "You use one idea after another and eliminate anything that interferes with the swift pace." Chances are he would have loved this play. The 39 Steps opens at Ferndale Rep on Friday, Oct. 14 at 8 p.m., and plays weekends through Oct. 30, including Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets and information: 786-5483,

In October 1936, there was a singular event in American history: one play opened simultaneously in 18 American cities, to overflow audiences. There was a Yiddish version in New York, a Spanish version in Tampa and an African American production in Seattle.

It was a stage version of It Can't Happen Here, based on a novel about how fascism might take over the United States, written by Sinclair Lewis, the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

That event was organized by the Federal Theatre Project, part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's attempt to provide jobs for the unemployed millions in the Great Depression through the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Though it was only a tiny part of those efforts, one observer called it "surely one of the largest coordinated theatrical experiments in the history of the world." Apart from 1200 productions in 35 states that reached an audience of 3 million in just four years, it sewed the seeds of theatre education, and regional and community theatre across the country.

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of this moment, and to remember the Federal Theatre Project, public readings of It Can't Happen Here will happen all over America on Oct. 24, including at Dell'Arte in Blue Lake. Dell'Arte is one of the sponsors and Joan Schirle one of the organizers of this 2011 nationwide event. Schirle will direct the local reading, which also features Michael Fields, Lynne Wells, Jackie Dandeneau, Marjorie Armstrong and other Dell'Arte company actors as well as community members, including me. (But don't worry, mine is a very small part.)

It Can't Happen Here will be read on Monday, Oct. 24, at 8 p.m. in Dell'Arte's Carlo Theatre. Free admission, but reservations are recommended: 668-5663,

Coming at the end of the month and running into November, a Redwood Curtain production of The Last Five Years, a one-act musical by Jason Robert Brown. Dianne Zuleger directs the song-cycle story of the dissolution of a marriage, opening Thursday, Oct. 27 and running through Nov. 19 at Redwood Curtain: 443-7688,

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William Kowinski

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