We are in the Golden Age of Sacramento theater tonight and all this weekend.
The high levels at which performing arts groups are working feel especially noteworthy considering the region's lack of corporate arts support along with a corresponding obsession for professional sports.
But it's no matter to area theater companies, which are turning out some of their strongest work ever. The variety of productions and the strength of performances on stage are the obvious reasons the season has started so strongly.
Also giving it a satisfying luster is the enthusiastic support of audiences turning out in significant numbers.
Looking deeper, one finds theater companies that know themselves and their audiences extremely well. In several instances companies have issued challenges. Capital Stage, the B Street Theatre (on two stages) and New Helvetia Theatre all are offering entertaining and provocative work and audiences are embracing them.
An extraordinary level of talent is on stage across the region at all the theaters, not just in lead roles, but in support, as well. Capital Stage's raucous satire "Enron" created an auspicious opening for the fall season with bravura performances from Jonathan Rhys Williams and Aaron Wilton. Audience response to director Stephanie Gularte's production has been so strong that the show has been extended, for three more opportunities to see the show this weekend at 8 p.m. today and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets are available at the Capital Stage box office, by phone at (916) 995-5464 or at www.capstage.org.
Also getting an extension is New Helvetia's moving musical drama "Next to Normal," the company's first production at its new home at the Studio Theatre on R Street.
The 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner starring homegrown Melinda Parrett takes up the issue of bipolar disorder, showing how one modern family deals with its repercussions.
A seasoned and not easily impressed observer of musical theater remarked to me last week that he thought Parrett gave a more compelling performance than did the Tony-winning star of the play's Broadway production.
The rich-voiced Michael Hunsacker, who co-stars, is himself a performer boasting a Broadway résumé. The show at the Studio Theatre has been extended for one more week, through Nov. 3.
Shows this weekend are at 8 p.m. today and Saturday, and a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee. Next week performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and the final show, Saturday. Go to www.newhelvetia.org for more information.
B Street, which runs two stages for adults, is doing itself proud at the moment as well, which says something for the company, which thrives on a high level of consistency. Much of that consistency comes from its talented acting company, which is on display on its main stage with Jason Kuykendall shape-shifting through several characters in the moody "The K of D: an urban legend" and in the B3 Series offering "The Price" by Arthur Miller, starring Dave Pierini, Elisabeth Nunziato and David Silberman.
Each show also has a strong non-company member bolstering the cast. Tara Sissom, a former B Street intern based in Chicago, leads "The K of D" as both the narrator and the mysterious young girl who holds the story's key. Sissom just won a prestigious Jeff Award for best ensemble in Chicago as part of the Goodman Theatre's production of "The Iceman Cometh."
New Yorker Brian Dykstra smoothly transitioned from Mark Rothko in B Street's "Red" to the successful Walter in the "The Price," who tries making amends with his brother, Pierini's disillusioned Victor. Call (916) 443-5300 or go to www.bstreettheatre.org for more information.
The Sacramento Theatre Company's "The Miracle Worker" also rises on the strength of its cast, particularly Brittni Barger's finely tuned performance as Annie Sullivan and the fine support of Gary Wright and Michele Hillen under Greg Alexander's lucid direction.
There are four more performances this weekend, 8 p.m. today and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Call (916) 443-6722 or go to www.sactheatre.org for more information.
If all that's not enough tonight, California Stage opens Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking" with the incomparable Janis Stevens taking the stage in the one-woman show. Call (916) 451-5822 or go to www.calstage.org for information.
Finally, Sacramento theater legends Ed Claudio and James Wheatley also get into the act as they hit the boards in a production by the Actor's Workshop of Sacramento of Cormac McCarthy's "The Sunset Limited." It opened last week and continues at California Stage's Three Penny Theater, 1723 25th St., Sacramento.
Performances are at 8 p.m. today and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday; the show runs through Nov. 19. Tickets are $17. Call (916) 501-6104 for more information.