This year's Mad River Festival starts this Saturday with an appearance by Hollywood's Tim Robbins and several other members of his L.A.-based theatre group, The Actors' Gang, who are coming to receive the international Prize of Hope. Denmark's Institute of Popular Theatre has been giving this award since 1987 mostly to European ensembles, but in 2005 it was presented to Dell'Arte. This year the Denmark organization asked Dell'Arte to select another U.S. winner and present the award here.
Dell'Arte chose The Actors' Gang for its "powerful combination of contemporary immediacy, public engagement and great theatrical craft." Plans are for the award to alternate annually between Denmark and Blue Lake.
Most of us know Tim Robbins as an actor in such popular films as The Shawshank Redemption and Bull Durham, but he's also directed two of the more intriguing political films to come out of Hollywood in the '90s or since: the all-too-prophetic Bob Roberts (1992) and Cradle Will Rock (1999), the latter about a forgotten moment in 1930s America when musical theatre and social awareness came together and were quickly forced to go their separate ways.
Robbins and friends started The Actors' Gang in 1981, and have adapted, created and performed some 70 plays since, including their current production based on George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Let's hope they enjoy their visit enough to bring a production up here.
The event Saturday begins at 6 p.m. with a catered dinner and a speech by Tim Robbins in the Carlo Theatre. Seats are limited and admission is pricey ($75 to $150, since it partly a fundraiser). But beginning at 8:30 p.m. the event moves out back to the amphitheatre where The Joyce Hough Band will perform and the award will actually be presented. Admission to the outdoor component is $15. The whole event will also be streamed on the Internet. [Ed. note: Go to northcoastjournal.com - streaming starts at 7:30 p.m.]
Then, the following week, the Festival begins with its theatrical centerpiece — Korbel IV: The Accident, the latest installment of Dell'Arte's local soap opera, on the amphitheatre stage. The saga of the Dugan family in the mythical (but strangely similar to Blue Lake) North Coast town of Korbel began in 1994. So before describing the new play, here's a primer on the story so far, based on Michael Fields' recollections:
Korbel I: The Funeral was centered on the funeral of the Dugan clan's matriarch, Dorothy, who in financial despair had committed suicide. Flashbacks revealed the truth about her son Terry, a transsexual Lesbian. Her other son, Tommy, was a logger "who was missing many of his body parts due to logging accidents, and was incapable of doing certain things," though evidently that didn't include fathering a child, because...
In Korbel II: The Wedding, Tommy had to get married in order to keep his child, but elsewhere the Southern Korbel Unorganized Militia (SKUM) was planning a disruption. Meanwhile there was a fight at the wedding, and agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms invaded ("We had people rappelling off the roof at Dell'Arte"). "Where's Tommy Dugan?" the ATF demanded, and in a response that Fields says was stolen from the Spanish Baroque playwright Lope de Vega, but which most of us remember from Spartacus, several members of the cast — beginning with a 7-year-old boy — proclaimed: "I'm Tommy Dugan! I'm from Korbel!" Then, Fields recalls, members of the audience spontaneously repeated it themselves: "I'm Tommy Dugan! I'm from Korbel!"
In Korbel III: The Birth the only industry left in the town was a company that dug a deep hole in the ground and dumped stuff into it. "Nobody knew what was going into the hole, but it was a business, and it was in Korbel," so it was accepted. Until people noticed that no babies had been born since the company came to town. But Dorothy Dugan returned from the dead (as she had in Korbel II), to miraculously cause people to give birth. "We gave little water balloons to people in the audience, and everybody was giving birth — including her son."
That installment ran nearly a decade ago, and the series seemed to have run its course with what Fields admits was its weakest script. But several factors converged to bring Korbel back this summer. For one thing, there were local events that begged to become part of the saga, like the ongoing drama of Blue Lake's disgraced police chief, the continuing transformations associated with the Blue Lake Casino, and the rise of the marijuana grow house economy. "Kevin Hoover wrote a long article about grow houses in the Arcata Eye awhile back, and suggested in it that Dell'Arte should do a play about it," Fields said. "The last line of the article was: 'Are you reading, Michael?'"
But another impetus came from an unlikely source: the Campaign for Love and Forgiveness by the Fetzer Institute, and a series of local forums on the subject sponsored by KEET. The Dell'Arte School hosted one of the sessions, so Fields attended. Eventually he went to all of them, and realized there was dramatic material there. "It seemed fitting to do it as a Korbel piece, because it has a past, and forgiveness is a lot about holding onto something or letting it go. You can't change what happened, but how do you move on? There's a great quote — I think it was Confucius: 'Forgiveness doesn't change the past, but it enlarges the future.'"
(Actually, Dutch botanist Paul Boese said that, but Confucius does have a great quote on the subject: "Never does the human soul appear so strong as when it forgoes revenge and dares to forgive an injury.")
The question now is, as Fields recognizes, "if comedy and the theme of forgiveness can exist at the same time." We'll all get a chance to find out, starting June 26, with the premiere of Korbel IV: The Accident. The emergency room of Korbel's new for-profit hospital and casino, St. Mo's (she's the patron saint of gamblers) is suddenly filled with victims of an accident when a mysterious taco truck driven by the police chief and filled with machine guns runs over several people. But since every second home in Korbel is now a grow house and uses seven times the power a normal home uses, there's a blackout — only enough power at St. Mo's to run three life support systems (and of course the slot machines) — but there are four criticals: so somebody has to die!
There are plenty of local references, Dorothy's obligatory return from the dead and, especially, lots of songs by a trio of nurses played by three of the best-known singers around: Joyce Hough, Jayse Lecyour and Lila Nelson. The cast features original Dell'Arte ensemble members Joan Schirle, Michael Fields and Donald Forrest, and local all-stars Jackie Dandeneau and David Ferney, Bob and Lynne Wells, as well as Jane Hill, Lynnie Horrigan, Soren Olsen, Josh Salas and Calder Johnson. Fields promises a spectacular stage set, designed by HSU's Jody Sekas: "It's what Vegas would look like if it came to your hospital."