Mixing Paint & Pain

Montecito is all over the theater scene this week, what with the final weekend of “Fifteen Rounds with Jackson Pollock,” produced by Jerry Oshinsky’s DIJO Productions and starring Montecito-based thespian Ed Giron, and the second-season premiere of “Theatrical Treats,” the monthly matinee staged reading series which Oshinsky and Montecito theater maven Elaine Kendall co-produce.

Giron, who furiously inhabits the abstract impressionist Pollock in “Fifteen Rounds,” also stars in next Wednesday’s TT show, which pairs Woody Allen’s “Riverside Drive” with Frank Gilroy’s “A Way With Words.”

One wonders how Giron switches between virtually simultaneous roles. Especially after he revealed to the audience the other night of his process for Pollock: “You think of all the things you don’t like about yourself, and bring them to the forefront. I only hope I can stop doing that when the run of the play is over.”

Meanwhile, “Fifteen Rounds” playwright Bruce Clarke was in town last weekend for what is only the second mounting of his opus on Pollock, following its debut two summers ago at a regional theater in Washington, D.C.

Clarke told me that when he actually finished writing it back in 1999, the play drew the attention of a high-powered producer who was interested in staging it right away in town.

“There were some big actors interested in the role,” Clarke said. “But financing never came through, and after it was delayed a number of years, I just said ‘The hell with it,’ and moved on.”

The D.C. production only came about because the producer there stumbled upon it in his own research. It hasn’t gotten a whiff of attention in New York, which it seems it should, in the city that is the conflux of art and theater, at least on Long Island, where doubtless people still remember Pollock.

“I haven’t sent it out. I haven’t tried at all,” Clarke said, begging off that he’s just been too busy with work, and has really put theater on the back burner. In fact, he made it to Santa Barbara only because he had a concurrent business meeting in Long Beach.

Still, we had to ask. How did the productions compare?

The main difference is that the current show is about a half-hour shorter, he said.

“That’s due largely to the handling of the ellipses in the script in Pollock’s lines. In Washington, they used them for long pauses, plenty of time for contemplation. Here it was much more truncated and compacted. It’s just a different approach.”

Community Theater Conundrum

“This is How it Goes” is the title of Neil LaBute’s brilliant, incisive, and thought-provoking comedy-drama that closes out the current season at the Ensemble Theatre now through June 24, but it also could describe the thought that must run through theater artistic managers’ minds in a town like Santa Barbara.

It’s quite a quandary for a community theater. On the one hand, if you stick to bland or tried-and-true fare and classic plays, you run the risk of seeing your audience dwindle off with no fresh blood to replace them. And on the other, if you book risky, daring plays that take on real issues such as the sexual nature of race relations – as in LaBute’s latest, which also serves up more than its share of filthy language and uncomfortably manipulative situations – you might alienate your core supporters. (It wasn’t a surprise at all that the night I attended I overheard an older gentleman muttering how the cuss words and racial stereotypes weren’t his cup of tea.)

But ETC artistic director Jonathan Fox’s sensitive direction and the clever staging of “This is How It Goes” – in which the big twist isn’t quite as shocking as in his previous works but is complicated by a participant/narrator who never lets on just how much of what we’re seeing actually transpired – deserves plenty of kudos and applause. As with the best theater, the questions linger long after the lights come up, even when the specific situation might be something you don’t relate to.

Go, and let them know you appreciate what they’re doing.