What do audiences really want? Clearly, it’s not what they say they want.

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Main Stage West’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’

It’s a strange conundrum.

Theater audiences, when polled, frequently say they’ve grown weary of seeing the same shows trotted out every few years.

What they want, they say firmly with convincing resolve, is something new.

And yet time and time again, when companies do bring something fresh and original to the stage, audiences stay home.

Just last month, the theater community of Sonoma and Napa counties saw one of its strongest months in years in terms of the quality of shows that were playing all over the region: Cinnabar’s deeply moving Quality of Life, 6th Street’s Threepenny Opera (the company’s best musical of the year), Main Stage West’s brilliantly acted Dancing at Lughnasa, Spreckels’ dazzling Titanic: The Musical, Left Edge’s hilarious Zombie Town and Lucky Penny’s delightfully naughty Jazz Age revue I Wanna Be Bad.

All but two of these shows, Threepenny Opera and Dancing at Lughnasa, were brand-spanking new (or new to the area). All had great word-of-mouth.

All were good.

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6th Street’s 4th annual ‘Rocky Horror Show’

So where were the audiences?

Watching the World Series? Maybe.
At the movies watching the latest Tom Hanks flick? Not according to box office reports.
Keeping to themselves and worrying about the future of the country, as the most unsettling presidential election in modern history continues its train-wreck trajectory?
Highly possible.

Whatever the reason, many local theaters presenting new material, and presenting it well, just had one of their toughest months of the year. It’s a problem worth exploring. In the meantime, perhaps it’s a good thing that in the coming months, the theater scene will be seeing a whole lot of old favorites returning to the stage.

Opening this weekend at the Graton Community Club, Pegasus Theater presents Steve Martin’s ever-popular farce Picasso at the Lapin Agile, running through Nov. 27.

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‘The Santaland Diaries’ at 6th Street Playhouse (Dec. 2-18)

After sold-out houses last year, 6th Street Playhouse—currently experiencing a welcome bump with its fourth consecutive run of The Rocky Horror Show, running through Nov. 13—will bring the excellent Charles Siebert (pictured) back as Ebenezer Scrooge in this winter’s steam-punk adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas Carol (Nov. 25–Dec. 23).

In the Studio, they’ll be bringing back David Yen for the local actor’s ninth annual production of David Sedaris’s snarky gem The Santaland Diaries (Dec. 2–18).

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Pegasus Theater’s ‘Picasso at the Lapine Agile’ (till Nov. 27)

Though new-ish—everyone seems to be doing it these days—Spreckels Theater Company’s upcoming production of Peter and the Starcatcher (Nov. 25–Dec. 18), based on Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s Peter Pan prequel, brings enough pre-awareness to count as an old favorite.

And these days, apparently, counting as an old favorite is what really counts.

This article aboriginally appeared in the November 2 issue of the North Bay Bohemian

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