I was sitting in the front row watching a performance of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” when it dawned on me.
The Sierra Repertory Theatre is on par with the best San Francisco’s Theatre District can offer.
It was perhaps my 30th visit to Sierra Rep as well as Fallon House in nearby Columbia State Park that the theatre company also operates.
I remember chills going down my spine as the actors delved into the drunken rage dialogue feet from where I sat. The acting was all encompassing from the tone, physical presence, and the passion. So much so I was unable to see the second act. That’s because it was so real to the lady accompanying me that she couldn’t stand to watch it anymore. We left at the end of intermission.
It’s an understatement to say the quality of acting is powerful. And that goes for whether it is a full blown comedy or a musical.
The Sierra Rep staging of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” doesn’t even come close to making the top 10 of my favorite performances over the years at the fairly intimate 202-seat East Sonora Theatre. I use it as a tape measure given I have seen Edward Albee’s play performed twice before – once in a Geary Street venue in San Francisco’s theatre district and once at a college. The Sierra Rep production was riveting to the point you almost forget it was a play.
And as for the big screen version of the complexities of the middle-aged couple’s relationship played by Richard Burton as the history professor and Elizabeth Taylor as his boozy wife, it seemed tame in comparison.
It’s been a year since I’ve talked someone into joining me for a Saturday drive up to Sonora to take in a Sierra Rep matinee and then enjoying dining afterwards in downtown Sonora. It’s just a short drive via Highway 120/Highway 108.
I definitely plan to make up for lost time in 2019. Not because it is the 40th season of what is arguably the best professional theatre company in the 209, but because of the offerings. One of my favorite comedy-dramas of all time — “Guess who is Coming to Dinner” — as well as “Grease” and “The Wizard of Oz” are among the nine productions being staged at either the East Sonora Theatre or the Fallon House.
I’ll admit it’ll be tough for Sierra Rep to top Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, and Joanna Drayton but I’m willing to bet a $35 ticket that they’ll make the story of a liberal couple dealing with their latent racism when their daughter brings home her fiancé for the first time much more riveting than Hollywood ever could. As for “Grease”, it is my all-time favorite movie musical. I think I can sing (or at least what passes for singing) every song verbatim. The “Wizard of Oz” is something I’ve seen on TV dozens of times and wonder what it would be like to see it staged live.
The other shows are “A Chorus Line”, “Route 66”, “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”, “Ripcord”, “Cabaret”, and “The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical”.
If you can’t wait until 2019 there are three shows still left for the current season. Playing at East Sonora from Oct. 12 through 28 is “Intimate Apparel” while “Away in the Basement — A Church Basement Ladies Christmas” runs Nov. 2 through Dec. 9 at the Fallon House. “Holiday Jukebox” ends the 2018 Sierra Rep season at the East Sonora venue from Nov. 3 through Dec. 23.
Ticket prices typically range from $32 to $37 with senior, student and rush ticket discounts available. For tickets and information visit www.sierrarep.org or call the Box Office at 209-532-3120. The Sierra Rep box office is open Tuesday through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is also open two hours prior to Sunday show times at East Sonora. The Fallon House box office is open two hours prior to show times at that venue.
The East Sonora Theatre is at 13891 Mono Way in Sonora while the Fallon House is at 11175 Washington Street in Colombia.
For more information, go to sierrarep.org or call (209) 532-3120.
You need to note there is a world of difference between the East Sonora and Fallon House venues. The East Sonora theatre doesn’t have a bad seat in the house for sight lines or for acoustics. The same can’t be said for the Fallon House. But then again the Fallon House is a complete treat considering it is a true Gold Rush era venue that is in a 120-year-old theatre that’s part of an honest-to-goodness 1860s town preserved as Columbia State Historic Park. Sierra Rep carefully picks the shows produced at Fallon House to take advantage of that magic. The “Church Lady” series of comedies, for example, shine in a setting like the Fallon House. Plus there is the added bonus of strolling through the park after the show and partaking of food and beverage in restaurants housed in 160-year-old buildings.
As for the East Sonora Theatre’s exterior appearance, don’t let the metal small industrial building exterior full you. It’s 100 percent top notch inside with seating to match.