New Random People Show Aims to ‘Disturb’

A singer at a hotel bar interacts with patrons.

A celebrity seeking privacy checks into a hotel under an assumed name but is soon recognized by a young woman, who is immediately awestruck. After a funny incident involving the hotel’s desk clerks, the celebrity makes a proposal.

A blowhard politician named Arnold Thump strides into a hotel and dominates the scene, provoking a challenge from a local.

These are just three of nine vignettes in this year’s version of the Random People Theater Project. Entitled “Do Not Disturb” with a slash across “Not,” the roughly two-hour production is taking place at the Redwood Playhouse this weekend. The Friday and Saturday shows begin at 7 p.m. (an hour earlier than last year’s production). A matinee on Easter Sunday starts at 2 p.m.

Tickets, available at the door, will be on a sliding scale between $12 and $20. The doors will open 30 minutes before each performance.

With the exception of one monologue, all the pieces in this year’s production feature a cast of two or more. One of the more ambitious, a farce having to do with gender confusion titled “Womyn Gone Wild,” includes a cast of eight.

Marilyn Foote, one of the producers, said the show overall is a mix of the sober and the not-so-sober. “Womyn Gone Wild” — womyn is spelled that way “to get the man out,” Foote explained — is in the more playful category. “It’s foremost a comedy. It’s tongue-in-cheek,” Foote said.

Margo McReynolds, one of the actors — she plays Coco Kaboom/Betsy, an astrophysics student who’s putting herself through college by being an exotic dancer — provided a little more detail.

“The concept the writer came up with is that there are different kinds of feminists, not just the stereotypical grungy-looking feminist,” McReynolds, 20, said. “It’s very comical. There’s a lot of sexual humor.”

“Day of the Sun,” written by Patricia Macdonald and directed by Jenny Edwards, is more on the dramatic side.

“It’s the most serious piece, the most dramatic. It’s the darkest [piece] in the show,” revealed Foote, who said that Macdonald “likes to play with the dark side.”

“It’s a challenge for her to do scriptwriting. She usually does narrative,” Foote threw in.

Loosely based on newspaper accounts about a real-life drug deal gone bad out near Alderpoint, the piece “has a redemptive quality at the end,” Foote added.

Besides “Day of the Sun,” a couple of the other pieces “give nods to the local scene,” said another one of the producers, Joshua Golden, who also did much of the set design.

“Look! Sharp!” written and directed by Golden, includes some out-of-towners who are incredulous at the slow police response time to a burglary. And “Dogtown Inn and Saloon,” directed by Foote and the only piece set in the past, is both a humorous and serious representation of the racist attitudes toward Native Americans that prevailed in Southern Humboldt in the late 19th century.

Referring to the title for the overall show, Golden said that it works because many of the vignettes contain “some element of disturbance.”

“Several pieces have misunderstandings or misapprehensions going on. There’s a disturbance to the flow of reality.”

Like previous productions, this one has a unifying setting: All the pieces take place in a hotel. That’s similar to last year’s show, which took place in a public park, and the one before it, set in a hospital.

That obviates the need for major set changes — there’s no need, in other words, to black out the stage and scramble between performances. Additionally, a series of short offerings with small casts has an advantage over a single long play with lots of performers: It’s easier to get people together for rehearsals.

On the other hand, since each of the pieces requires their own rehearsals, the total number of rehearsals needed is not small.

Most, by the way, have taken place at the Redwood Playhouse — a good thing, as far as Foote is concerned. “It’s nice to rehearse on the actual stage” in which the performances will take place, she remarked.

While the Mateel Community Center can hold more people — the Mateel is where previous Random People performances have been staged — both Foote and Golden said the Redwood Playhouse is preferable in a couple of ways.

For one thing, it’s a theater rather than a multipurpose space. “It has a stage and a fairly spacious backstage area,” Golden commented. It also doesn’t have windows on the scale that the Mateel does.

“The Mateel has wonderful windows, but they’re deadly for theater. You don’t want light seeping in during matinees,” Foote chimed in.

Instead of having to put black plastic over the windows, she said the playhouse “has nice curtains that slide into place.”

As with past productions, much of the cost of putting on this year’s show — a cost that’s in the $6,000 range — has come from the expense required to rent rehearsal space. Last year’s show “came close to breaking even. We had close to 90 to 100 people a night,” recalled Foote.

Random People’s varied format dovetails with its main mission of providing an opportunity for those in the community who are theatrically inclined to hone their skills.

Those skills include screenwriting — Edwards headed up a writing workshop last summer that served as the incubator for some of the scripts that the upcoming production is based on.

Foote said that at least 12 people took part in the workshop, although not all of them actually produced a finished script. For the first time, she added, the workshop featured an “editing committee [so that participants] had feedback to make things better.”

Script writing can be challenging for a number of reasons. “You learn that writing for the stage is different than writing a memoir or a short story. It’s not narrative. It’s all dialogue,” Foote explained.

There are 22 actors in this year’s production. They include teenagers, seniors and those in-between.

One of the younger ones is 22-year-old Arturo Lopez, who also took part in last year’s production.

Among other things, his Random People experience has helped him deal with stage fright.

“I’m a huge introvert,” shared Lopez, who studies bookkeeping at College of the Redwoods and hopes to eventually become an accountant. “It’s all very nerve-wracking until the first show. It helps being in costume and it helps that everyone else is nervous. And seeing people’s reaction [in the audience], especially their laughter, also helps.”

At 65, Marcia Mendels has something in abundance that younger members of the cast don’t have so much of: experience.

In the opener to the show, “Soundtrack of Life,” which she wrote, Mendels plays the role of the piano player in the hotel’s bar. That’s something she’s actually done in real life.

“I’ve been a piano player in a lounge,” she related. “If you see people aren’t having a good time, you change the music, you play something uplifting. If you see that there’s tension, you play something soft and soothing. You’re trying to create an atmosphere.”

Speaking of atmospheric, Mendels also wrote the show’s closer, “The Ghost in the House,” a monologue starring Ann Cecil. She came up with the idea for the script after learning that this year’s Random People would be anchored in a hotel.

“Lots of older places have history — people have died there. So I thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if a ghost managed to make herself visible to someone? What would the ghost’s story be? Why is she still there?’”

Mendels’s script is one of the ones that grew out of last summer’s writing workshop. “I love the creative process they go through,” she said, explaining that Edwards “was helpful in the critiquing process.”

Among other things, Mendels learned to keep in mind who her audience is and how a character is going to move on stage.

“It’s not static. There is someone performing it. It’s not someone reading what you’re writing.”