That inventive theatre company, Unbound Productions, presents a new staging of its 2012 hit History Lit., at the Pasadena Museum of History. As with its perennial fall favorite, Wicked Lit., which is staged at the Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery, the talented creators adapt three short stories from well-known authors and stage them in various locations in and around the old mansion that is the heart of the museum. With cast members guiding them, the audience is split into three groups that move with the actors from place to place following the action. The great thing about the experience is the chance for the audience to be in close proximity to the players, often within literal arm’s reach.
This year’s History Lit. revives two plays from the last production in 2012, The Garden Party, adapted from a story by Katherine Mansfield and directed by Aurora Culver, and Two Pictures in One, directed by Darin Anthony, from a Harriet Beecher Stowe short story. The new play, adapted by company co-founder Jonathan Josephson and directed by Paul Millet, is L. Frank Baum’s The Girl Who Owned a Bear.
In The Garden Party, a young girl from a wealthy family, Laura (Summer Ruyle) learns a lesson in humility and humanity when she discovers that, while her long planned garden party progressed with gaiety and a band, a nearby working class family was suffering tragedy. Her mother (Hannah Whiteoak) and father (Raymond-Kym Suttle) resist her intention of visiting the family, thinking it an inappropriate mixing of the classes. Her visit with a member of the nearby family (Cheryl Ann Gottseig) changes her perspective.
Two Pictures in One presents two families of two different eras of American history in one room at the same time. The story brings home two aspects of the American tragedy. The setting is Boston. One family suffers the privations and uncertainty of the Revolutionary War. The mother (Madeline Fair) makes do while her husband is off fighting. Her younger son (Bradley Bundlie) is an irrepressible seven year-old, while her older son (Connor Scott) yearns to join his father and fight. In the year 1850, the other family, working class African Americans, is doing well for the time. The mother (Jacquelin Schofield) is strict but loving with her teenaged daughter (A’lasia Simone), while the father (Tony Williams), a former slave from Georgia who escaped, has enjoyed twelve years of freedom. A knock on the door leads the audience into experiencing the greatest of America’s primal sins. Together, the two stories are a gripping, heartrending experience.
Staged in Pasadena Museum’s Kathryne Beynon Exhibition Hall, L. Frank Baum’s The Girl Who Owned a Bear is a comic romp. A willful, sassy girl (Morgan Zenith) gets her comeuppance when a writer (Chairman Barnes) gives her a book after being rejected rudely by her publisher father. It is the writer’s purpose to wreak revenge on the father through his daughter. The book is illustrated with characters that suddenly come alive and threatening – a Clown (Elyse Ashton), a Bear (Mr. Barnes), a Donkey (Mark Bate), and a Monkey (Melissa Perl). It is a little scary and awfully funny. The show coincides delightfully with the current exhibit, “Flying Horses & Mythical Beasts: The Magical World of Carousel Animals.”
With some years now under their collective belts, Unbound Productions knows how to make this unusual and audacious program of staged stories work. The creators know their business and the technical staff – KC Wilkerson (lighting), Drew Dalzell and Noelle Hoffman (sound), Christine Cover Ferro (costumes), Jeff G. Rack (set and production design), and Julie Pound (makeup) – is first rate.
History Lit. continues through July 31 at the Pasadena Museum of History, 470 W. Walnut St., in Pasadena.