Lying in State, funny and great! On Stage Theatre needs to be rescued!

The Willows Theatre Company is currently presenting “Lying in State”, an outrageous comedy about truth and lying, living and dying, the unvarnished state of politics and political corruption today. A show that you will be “dying” to tell others about!

Poking fun at politicians is and always has been one of our favorite pastimes. We have such high hopes when we go to the poles that the current crop of political upstarts will start something new, that they will stay free from the corruption and represent us in the manner they promised us when they solicited our votes. Unfortunately, more often than we like, it doesn’t seem to take long before the power and prestige prostitutes the political process.

This highly convoluted farce revolves around a Senator, a governor, the women they’ve loved, and their political advisor’s plans to get a replacement candidate to take the Senator’s “seat”. The Senator has just died in the middle of his re-election campaign.

The action occurs in a funeral home where the incumbent Senator is presently “Lying In State” (aka, lying in repose) following his unexpected and untimely death. The Senator’s ex-wife, Edna (Deobrah Del Mastro), arrives to find her ex-husband’s political advisor, Herb (Chris Hayes), brainstorming with a newspaper reporter and co-incidentally the Governor’s son, Wally (Chris Libby), as to what they will do to salvage the Senator’s momentum in the upcoming election. It becomes apparent that if the party doesn’t put up an immediate replacement candidate to take the Senator’s place on the ticket, the opposition candidate will walk away with the election. Harry approaches Edna in an attempt to convince her that she would have a large appeal to women voters as the apropos person to replace her husband. Specifically, this is due to the fact she had a long time exposure to the political process through her husband and also due to the fact, that before their divorce, he “accidentally” shot her in the derriere, ergo, a sympathy factor as well!

It doesn’t take very long before the insanity starts. An attractive and sexy, but not overly bright lady, “Buttons” (played brilliantly by Yvonne Campbell), shows up at the Senator’s viewing in a very, very short skirt. In ”short” order, we discover that this lady was the Senator’s secret fiancé and among other things, a semi-erotic dancer. When she announces that the Senator told her he wanted her to have his seat in congress, Harry’s response is immediate, - - - find the Senator’s seat (it’s probably in a back room in the capitol building) and give it to her, and get her out of here!
The Governor’s brother, Harry (Ken Baggott), shows up, anything but upset about his brother’s death. In fact, he is the perfect picture of an executive who has made too much money, drinks too much booze and loves any excuse to party. He can’t stay at the funeral parlor very long, because he has to attend a fundraiser for his (now deceased) brother, at a local bar. Ken delivers a great job in his performance!

The Governor, Fred (played by Michael Medici), is planning to show up at the funeral home to hold a press conference to express his condolences and take advantage of a press photo opportunity at the same time. When camera and lighting crews and the press show up at the funeral home, the chaos really goes nuts, especially when Harry and Edna and Buttons discover that the Senator’s body has disappeared, or been misplaced, or stolen and replaced with a stranger’s body!

Another distraught and highly confused widow, Margo (Cynthia Rogers Baggott), whose deceased husband is lying in an adjacent parlor in the funeral home, wanders into the Senator’s parlor, excited over the prospects of viewing a dead Senator! She exclaims that she is just a “common housewife”, but it becomes apparent that she is a housewife with a big prescription drug problem. Margo is pure bonkers, an absolute delight.

Somehow, the Senator’s casket turns up for a public viewing at the capitol rotunda, with a full honor guard and even the President planning to attend, but the body in the casket is not the Senator’s. Whoops!

This is a terrific comedy and a great opportunity to let go, at least temporarily, of the seriousness of the current political and financial crises. “Lying in State” is purportedly based on an event that actually happened, but probably without the exotic fiancé. Author Hyer’s promising career was cut short by his death in 2003. This was his second play, a play that has become a great success in regional and community theatre across the country. Hyer began writing plays shortly after he retired as an executive with 40 years dealing with governmental affairs related to the petroleum and savings-and-loan industries. His work gave him special insight into the inner sanctum of politicians and governmental affairs.

Director Richard Elliott has selected an exciting and professional level troop of actors and actresses to deliver what has to be one of the funniest shows of the year! The first act was a little long, but it definitely picked up momentum in the second act.

Yvonne Campbell, who plays the role of “Buttons” the dancer, is home from New York where she has established herself as a successful stage actress. Campbell is the daughter of Pleasant Hill’s Pat and Shirley Campbell, the benefactors for whom the Campbell Theatre in Martinez, home of the Willows Cabaret, is named. Yvonne told me after the show that she began her acting training under the tutelage of Diablo Valley Drama Department head and esteemed instructor, Harvey Berman (a Rossmoor Resident), before she moved on to studying Shakespeare at the London University and is also a graduate of the New York University, known for its outstanding acting training program. Her credits for performances in theatrical productions in New York and across the nation are extensive. A very talented “home girl” from Pleasant Hill has favored us with an outstanding and outrageously funny portrayal.

Deborah Del Mastro, (who plays Edna) has appeared as Sister Robert Anne in all the Nunsense shows at the Willows Cabaret, and will return to that role this holiday season when the Cabaret stages Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical.

Chris Hayes is terrific as the Campaign manager and political advisor, Herb. You may remember Chris from his excellent performance in an earlier production as Oscar in “The Odd Couple” at the Willows Theatre.

“Lying in State” is a laugh a minute, great medicine for whatever ails ya! This production plays Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and with matinees on Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 3:30 p.m., now through Sunday, November 2nd. Call 798-1300 for reservations or visit their website at for additional information. The theatre is located in the Willows Shopping Center, located at 1975 Diamond Blvd, next to the REI sporting goods store.

The On Stage Theatre in Pleasant Hill is being condemned!

I have spoken many times of the terrific theatrical opportunities available to my readers here in the East Bay, due in large part to the many theaters and the opportunities they provide for actors to learn and fine-tune their craft. One of the favorites on my list of local theaters, one to which we as theater-goers owe much, is the “Onstage Theatre” at 2050 Oak Park Blvd, in Pleasant Hill. I want to alert all of you the Artistic Director of this theatre, Helen Means, has just been given notice by the Pleasant Hill Parks and Recreation Department, that her building is being condemned and that her current show, “Helen’s Most Favorite Day”, will be the last show she will be able to mount in this theatre.

Apparently, an engineer hired by the Pleasant Hill Parks and Recreation Department, has examined this community building and determined that it is not safe for public attendance and all operations will cease there following the closing of this show, on October 11th.

I am not convinced that the City of Pleasant Hill can afford to give up this facility, a venue that has provided a very healthy and safe environment, with ample, convenient parking, and a place that provides community entertainment at a price seniors can afford. This theatre has always been known as a “Little Theatre That Could”, a little theatre that could produce a great theatrical experience, while working on a shoe-string. Further, our Rossmoor Residents have bought many, many a ticket there, a place that both Rossmoor and Pleasant Hill seniors love to attend.

I will be attending the Parks and Recreation Department meeting on October 9th, hoping to voice my opinion that they reconsider and find a way to make necessary repairs to preserve this facility. The meeting will be at 7 p.m., in the park building, next to the swimming pool, across the street from the Pleasant Hill City Hall, on Gregory Lane.