The Circle Bar B Dinner Theatre, with its delicious tri-tip, its bracing Refugio Canyon location, and its hearty dramatic fare of traditional genre plays, has to be experienced in order to be properly understood or even believed. It’s an authentic throwback to a time in the theater before the advent of digital anything, never mind the Internet or Netflix, and it delivers the kind of satisfaction that only comes from something that’s a true labor of love. The couple now responsible for selecting and producing each of the theater’s four-show seasons (which run from Apr. until Oct.) David and Susie Couch have been involved with Circle Bar B as actors, directors, and now producers for 20 of the venue’s astonishing 40-year history. Every year, they gather the intrepid folks who design, direct, and perform these plays for another round of productions, each selected with an eye toward fulfilling one of the theater’s traditional slots.
This year, the season will open on April 6 with Wally’s Café, a three-person comedy written by Sam Bobrick and Ron Clark that debuted in New York back in 1981 with James Coco, Rita Moreno, and Sally Struthers in the cast. “It’s a perfect April show for us,” said Susie Couch when I reached her by phone last week. “It’s got three great, really funny roles, and it reflects what Circle Bar B is about, as it chronicles 40 years in the life of a roadside diner.” She went on to say that the show, which uses three acts separated by significant lapses of time — from 1940 (Act 1) to 1958 (Act 2) to 1981 (Act 3) — is “about friendship and families and love, but more about the kind of families you make, rather than the ones you’re born with.” According to Couch, “Each scene gives a different character a chance to shine.” The roles will be played by three Circle Bar B stalwarts: Sean O’Shea as Wally, Jean Hall as his wife, Louise, and the ever-lively Tiffany Story as Janet, the Hollywood hopeful who is the couple’s first customer.
As with any Circle Bar B production, Wally’s Café reflects the efforts of an entire creative team. “Bill Egan is directing,” said Susie, “and William York Hyde, who has done so many great things for us over the years, has created the set, which is amazing. The diner has one of those classic checkerboard linoleum floors, and, of course, he’s found all kinds of clever ways to indicate the passage of time with each act.”
Wally’s Café is only the start of what promises to be an especially interesting and rewarding season for Circle Bar B. As Susie told me, “We know what we’re expected to do, and we appreciate that, but we are also always interested in moving our audiences into a more open-minded direction as far as what a Circle Bar B show can be like.” To that end, in addition to Wally’s Café, the shows booked for this year include Regrets Only, a topical comedy by Paul Rudnick that’s set on New York’s posh Park Avenue; Postmortem, a Ken Ludwig thriller with a Sherlock Holmes connection that’s based on a true story; and Any Wednesday, a romantic comedy from the mid 1960s that once starred a young Jane Fonda. Of the final show, Susie said, “I think of it as a bubbly glass of champagne.” For your fill of champagne, theater, and tri-tip this spring and summer, head to Circle Bar B.
Wally’s Café opens at Circle Bar B (1800 Refugio Rd., Goleta) on Friday, April 6, at 7 p.m. Call 967-1962 or visit circlebarbtheatre.com for tickets and information.