by Elizabeth Schwyzer
Every Santa Barbara theatergoer knows the Garvin Theatre’s steeply raked stage and the quality productions that tread its boards each season, but fewer realize the S.B. City College Theatre Group is the longest-running theater company in town. Founded in 1978, it’s been under the direction of well-loved SBCC faculty member Rick Mokler since 1990. With a new season about to open, Mokler, who once claimed to have “one of the best jobs in the country,” shared his thoughts on what makes for good comedy.
Why did you choose The Foreigner to open your new season? When you put together a season you try to find some sort of balance we wanted a big, traditional comedy, and they’re hard to find. We actually did this play in ’92 with success — around the same time it had been done off-Broadway with Matthew Broderick. In 2006 it’s particularly timely, given the current debate around immigration and foreigners. It’s also a really funny play … and it’s a charming story, not just a goofy comedy. There’s quite a bit of heart to it.
What’s the key to making comedic theater actually funny? The casting. It’s all about casting. It’s also helpful if the play is well-written, but you have to put the right people in the right spot. Good actors can make mediocre jokes work well, but bad actors can’t make good jokes work at all.
So do you have good actors? Oh yeah — in fact, Devin Scott, who did a breakthrough performance in the role of Ellard when he was a student here in ’92, has returned to play the role again. He looks exactly the same as he did 14 years ago and he provides a level of comedic work that everybody else strives for.