Arts & Theater

Playwrights work with Sacramento theaters to craft premieres

Idaho-based playwright Robert Caisley
Idaho-based playwright Robert Caisley Special to The Bee

Sacramento-area theatergoers have had a bounty of brand new plays to appreciate this theater season. Sacramento Theatre Company commissioned and produced “Of Kites and Kings” by Grass Valley playwright Gary Wright, and Capital Stage is preparing for the rolling world premiere of Steven Yockey’s “Blackberry Winter” this weekend. B Street Theatre alone has produced 12 world premieres – three of which now occupy all its stages, including Robert Caisley’s “Mastepiece of Comic ... Timing.”

The out-of-town playwrights have been on hand during rehearsals at Capital Stage and B Street, allowing for more collaboration and opportunity to develop the work.

The creatively busy Yockey wrote “Blackberry Winter” for Out of Hand Theatre with support of the National New Play Network, an “alliance of nonprofit theaters that champions new plays.” Blackberry Winter” will receive seven productions with eight NNPN member theaters, a record for a rolling world premiere.

Out of Hand Theater in Atlanta, Ga., where Yockey is the playwright-in-residence, approached him about creating a play that explored Alzheimer’s disease.

“Honestly, I was extremely hesitant initially because there are already so many quality scripts exploring the subject,” Yockey wrote in a email. “But when the idea of writing from the perspective of caregiving churned to the top, the play really sparked to life in my mind as a kind of mythic story following one woman wrestling this enormous beast every day. The play lives at that intersection of the intimate and the epic.”

The play is directed here by Jonathan Williams, who scheduled it in his last season as producing artistic director at Capital Stage. Amy Resnick stars as Vivienne Avery, the woman dealing with her mother’s mental decline. Yockey said he has long been a fan of Resnick, who works often at B Street, and has not been disappointed by her in rehearsals.

Yockey also wrote that Williams has given him just what he needs from a director: “Respect for what’s on the page and a healthy curiosity about what’s not on the page. In this process, Jonathan is providing both in spades.”

The playwright made slight adjustments here to the script, which is in its fourth production.

“The play is still changing, so I’m always looking for greater clarity or anything I can do to strengthen the script,” he wrote. “Beyond that, I just like to be a resource for the director, designers and cast as they navigate the play. Every production will be different, and that’s the beauty of theater.”

Because B Street is the first anywhere to produce Caisley’s comedy “A Masterpiece of Comic ... Timing,” the play was not so far along as Yockey’s work when it arrived here. It is available through NNPN, but no other theaters have picked it up yet. The writer spent a week with the company as they rehearsed and he was able to craft the work even more.

“This is the first time I’ve heard the text,” Caisley said during a break in rehearsal. “It’s a broad comedy so I’m looking to maximize the jokes. Anything that gets in the way of a joke, or is not setting up a joke, I’m cutting it. It’s a lot of precision work, stopping and tinkering and going back and hearing it again and refining the lines so I can finesse the comedy as much as possible.”

Caisley said some directors see new plays as “something that needs to be fixed,” but he doesn’t need that from a director.

“If there’s anything in this play that needs to be fixed, I will figure it before opening night, and it’s my job to fix it, not anyone else’s job to point out how they might write the play, but to do the play as written,” Caisley said.

Busfield and the actors whom the director has assembled have been just what he needs at this point in the process, the playwright said.

“For a play like this, you need a dramaturgical director, and Buck is that,” Caisley said. “He sees the play has a certain rhythm, a certain pulse. … (It’s) a little bit like learning a musical score, and he’s very good at helping the actors get down the music so that I can hear if that’s the way I want it to sound, and if not, then recalibrate.”

He said the work in rehearsals was where playwrights have it all over novelists.

“That collaborative experience with the actors – particularly with a group of actors like this – they can almost immediately improve what’s on the page and bring it to life, so this is like being in a candy store right now,” Caisley said.

Marcus Crowder: 916-321-1120, @marcuscrowder

A Masterpiece of Comic ... Timing

What: The world premiere of Robert Caisley’s new farce set in 1963 with Dave Pierini, Jason Kuykendall, Andy Lee-Hillstrom and Elisabeth Nunziato. Buck Busfield directs.

When: Through Sunday, April 17, at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays

Where: B Street Theatre Mainstage, 2711 B St., Sacramento

Cost: $23-$35, $5 student rush

Information: 916-443-5300;

Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, including one intermission


Blackberry Winter

What: The National New Play Network rolling world premiere of Steven Yockey’s drama. With Amy Resnick, directed by Jonathan Williams.

Where: Capital Stage, 2215 J St., Sacramento

When: Previews 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, March 17-18; opens Saturday, March 19; continues through April 17 at 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays.

Tickets: $20 preview; $40-$45 opening night; $25-$35 remainder of run.

Information: 916-995-5464;