Williamstown West, a Theater Awakening

The folks who gave the new Vineyard Valley Theatre Company its name certainly didn’t pick it by accident. Call it the “Sideways” effect.

“The Santa Ynez Valley has always had a lot to recommend it – wonderful small communities, the beautiful scenery and countryside,” says Robert Egan, the new venture’s artistic director, who also holds the same position at the Ojai Valley Playwright Conference. “But the growth of the wineries and the culture that has come as a result of Sideways has really made the Valley something of a destination spot.”

However it came by its name, with this weekend’s initial offering the new theater company is certain to make a splash bigger than the blowback from the spit bucket actor Paul Giamatti poured over his head in the film. “Troubled Love,” a series of short scenes and one-act plays created and directed by Egan, stars a list of actors whose credits run to several pages, headed by Emmy Award winners Dana Delany (“China Beach”), Bradley Whitford and Allison Janney (both “The West Wing.”)

Also on the bill are Brooke Adams (“Days of Heaven,” “Monk”), Jane Kaczmarek “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Pleasantville”), Sharon Lawrence (“NYPD Blue,” “Desperate Housewives”), Tony Plana (“Lost,” “24”) and Valley resident Noah Wyle (“E.R.”). Valley thespian Polly Firestone-Walker serves as master of ceremonies.

“The idea was to see what happens if we bring these caliber people up to the Valley,” says Egan, who has worked with all of the actors either during his 19 years as producing artistic director of the Mark Taper Forum or in Ojai. “We think if we can attract this sort of professionalism to the Valley, there will be an audience and an appetite for quality theater.”

The Memorial Day Weekend events are meant as both a test to determine the interest level and a catalyst to generate support, financially and otherwise, says Egan.

“We’re basically taking our first steps and dipping our feet into the waters,” he says. “Nothing is signed in stone, and we haven’t booked a season or set a budget, although I hope that’s coming. But I’ve been in regional theater for many years, and I know that the way to start them is to get a group of concerned citizens who are willing to be the trustees and put themselves on the line to make it happen. We’re trying to put that group together.”

The works from “Troubled Love” include the one-acts Donald Margulies’s “Dinner with Friends” and “Pitching to the Stars,” John Patrick Shanley’s “Red Coats,” two from Julia Cho, Christopher Durang’s “Lunch at the Russian Tea Room,” plus excerpts from Shakespeare.

“Everything deals with the concept of love, but in usual ways,” Egan explains. “It could be romantic love or your passion for your art.”

It’s just the first in what Egan hopes will turn into an ongoing slate of theatrical events that is loosely modeled on Williamstown Theater Festival in the Massachusetts Berkshires.

“I’ve always wondered what could happen if you had something like a Williamstown West, a summer theatre festival with big names combined with the talented actors who live in the area,” says Egan. “I talked to lots of actors and playwrights in Los Angeles who all said if I started something like this – a fully professional theater that does an eclectic mix of plays between classics, contemporary and some brand new – that they would love to come. It’s a great destination, just a nice drive up the coast. I’ve been doing this a long time and I have a long list of people I’d like to get in a venue like that.”