For all its boasting as a Mecca for the arts, Santa Fe sometimes has been a curiously inhospitable place for theater. Still, stage life is (quietly) booming. Granted, it really is a smallish town; there are only 67,000 of us and in any other place, the long-standing companies like Santa Fe Performing Arts, The Santa Fe Playhouse, Theater ***image1***Grottesco and Theaterwork would be enough to saturate the market. But…this is Santa Fe. All that creative energy out there inspiring people to move to the high desert and pursue their artistic and entrepreneurial dreams translates to an ongoing enthusiasm for new experience, an insatiable cram of culture-hungry minds.
At least this is what Chamber Theatre is banking on. Hatched last summer by local playwright Dianna Lewis, leading lady Lois Viscoli and Steve and Pat Kutay, this group of friends wants to bring Santa Feans what they weren't getting: No Broadway hand-me-downs. No rehashing old warhorses. No Diary of Anne Frank. Instead, Chamber leans toward reviving forgotten gems and churning out original works.
The Chamber players are able to make new plays a regular priority, due in part to their thrifty method of presentation. Each work is done as a staged reading, the actors with scripts in hand and scenery and costumes mere suggestions. This Spartan staging compliments the upcoming productions The Apple Tree and The Terrace, two one-acts by Santa Feans Dianna Lewis and Bronwen Denton-Davis.
The Apple Tree is a tightly-woven drama with some unexpected turns. Any synopsis risks spoiling the surprises, but ***image2***the sure-footed writing is matched by the perfect casting of Steve Schwartz and Lois Viscoli. Schwartz, especially, is spot-on as a creepy, uh, salesman whose even-toned delivery would make Jack Nicholson sweat.
The Terrace is a witty comedy with laugh-out-loud moments born from cattiness, wisdom and compassion by ladies who lunch on the eternal topic of men. The ensemble of actors (ranging from student Charlotte Fox to veteran actress Virginia Hall Smith) work together like a well-oiled, chatty, gossip machine.
Lamenting the state of theater remains common, but Chamber is only one element of a minor renaissance. Keep your eyes peeled for performances from Red Thread Collective and Ironweed Productions, obviously designed to thrive in whatever environment it chooses to take root in. Will Santa Fe's culture yen linger long enough to embrace such a surge? As Tallulah Bankhead said, "If you really want to help the theater, dahling, don't be an actor-be an audience."