Arts and Entertainment

WICA takes on challenging two-plot production in ‘City of Angels’

Deana Duncan sings to Tristan A.B. Steel during a scene in “City of Angels.” The show opens on Friday, Feb. 7. - Celeste Erickson / The Record
Deana Duncan sings to Tristan A.B. Steel during a scene in “City of Angels.” The show opens on Friday, Feb. 7.
— image credit: Celeste Erickson / The Record

Before the lights go down and the theatre goes silent for opening night, the stage is noisy, props are dropped, cues are missed. It’s all part of the long rehearsal process for the cast and crew members involved in one of Whidbey Island Center for the Arts’ largest theatre productions, “City of Angels.”

Creating the Tony-award winning show has been one of director Elizabeth Herbert’s biggest endeavors. With a cast and crew totaling more than 40 members, Herbert uses every part of the theatre in the show. She aims to have elements constantly moving from the stage itself to above and even within the audience.

“There are so many little parts, it’s incredible,” she said.

“City of Angels” features big-band jazz music under the direction of Sheila Weidendorf, choreography by Chelsea Randall and Dwight Zehm works as the stage manager.

Written by Larry Simon Gelbart in 1988, the adult-themed play is made up of two plots performed on a bisected stage. On the left is old Hollywood and on the right is the setting of a black-and-white film. The massive set includes 42 set changes made possible by three portions of the stage rotating to reveal a new scene.

The play takes place in 1948 in the captivating world of Hollywood and follows a budding novelist named Stine, played by Bob Atkinson. Stine tirelessly works to write a screenplay for a hotshot movie producer. The working screenplay is acted out in a parallel plot depicted through the black-and-white film noir setting on the right side of the stage.

Actors double their roles in both sections of the play. Herbert said she intentionally cast such a large group because she likes seeing action in the background — similar to a movie — because it enhances the show.

Herbert also put a lot of effort into the details of the production. She, along with a few of the actors, poured over black-and-white films to study everything from the Mid-Atlantic dialect to props of the time.

“It’s a really collaborative effort with a lot of energy,” she said.

Each set is filled with antique props from the time period, including staplers, cigar cutters and microphones.

Atkinson, a lead actor, spearheaded the prop gathering effort for the production, which he described as a scavenger hunt. 

“I have a very active Amazon and Ebay account,” he said.

Atkinson has performed with WICA several times, but said this is one of his most challenging roles yet. With four songs, two solos and more than 25,000 words to memorize, Atkinson’s nerves are beginning to rattle a bit.

“It’s daunting and intimidating,” he added.

The cast and crew began rehearsing in November, with a brief break in December. Since the reprieve, they have rehearsed for more than three hours every day, including some weekends.

The main cast also includes Jim Carroll, Jim Castaneda, Karla Crouch, Deana Duncan, Gabe Harshman, Mikkel Hustad, Lars Larson, Savannah Randall, Ryan Saenz, Tristan A.B. Steel and Carrie Whitney.

Christina Parker, member of the ensemble cast, is thrilled to work with Herbert again in a production. Her last performance was in Herbert’s “The Full Monty” last year.

“I love the collaboration of Sheila and Elizabeth, they’re a marvelous team,” she said.

Parker also added she enjoys being part of such a large cast because of the different generations involved — including her daughter Sarah.

“It’s very fun to do this as a family,” she said.

Parker first joined theatre productions because of her daughter’s own commitment to the stage. Sarah, 15, has been acting since age 5 through WICA and Whidbey Children’s Theater and has fallen in love with every part of a production, from acting to stage lighting. She began working backstage in the seventh grade as part of an internship.

“Before that I thought I knew everything about theater,” Sarah said. “Then I went backstage. It’s a completely different world with a headset on — a different world no one gets to see.”

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