Two of the stages are in a circular building for which the townspeople of Santa Maria floated a special bond issue. The third, the same size and thrust shape as the older 450-seat one, is in Solvang, the Danish community 30 miles north on Route 101, which presents eight of the group's current plays in repertory on its 700-seat, open-air stage as "Solvang Theaterfest."
Other works include "How to Succeed in Business," "Fiddler on the Roof," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "The Winter's Tale," "Raisin" and "A View from the Bridge," as varied a program as any American theater boasts. Prices range from $6 top to less than half that for groups, students and seniors. Marley aims to get ticket prices down to those of the movie houses.
For such conditions major players and craftsmen from New York to Texas and Oregon seem delighted to join for three-to-four month stretches.
"Judas" was offered for workshop performances after author Patrick visited to see PCPA's version of "Kennedy's Children." A second, more elaborate version of his play now shuttles the highway between Santa Maria and Solvang these midnights.
Patrick's "Judas" centers on the equivocal role of the faithless disciple in scenes the Gospels do not record, seeing him as a highly intelligent youth pulled from his traditional, emotional Jewish heritage into the pragmatic, intellectual Roman empire. A novel view of Mary, mother of Jesus, seen almost as a Yiddishe Momma, personifies the first strain.
The play is tipped, unavoidably, by the presence of Pontius Pilate, to whom Patrick gives brilliant dialogue and Laird Williamson incisive acting. Surely the Gospels hold no more stimulating hints of character than Pilate's and, in our pragmatic times, Pilate proves as dominating a figure as Gen. Burgoyne and Andrew Undershaft have been to "The Devil's Disciple" and "Major Barbara." The production situation is almost a Shavian paradox and Williamson's portrait is gorgeous. Still, Mark Harelik's Judas is a sensitive, compassionate man who, as seen here, was only accidentally a traitor to his savior.
"The Alcestiad" is equally stimulating. Wilder uses the legend about the sacrificial wife to imagine scenes which reveal here as a universal, timeless woman. In her the moods of the play, now antic, now tender, require the most confident of transition. In the role, as long as that of Hamlet, is le Clanche du Rand (of Arena Stage's "The Tot Family"). She is superbly adroit. her technical skills (clarity of speech, fluidity of movement) and personal perceptions create a figure of ageless wisdom. Brought down from royalty to slavery. Alcestes can say: "There is only one unhappiness and that is ignorance."
Originally performed at the 1954 Edinburgh Festival but never in this country, the play was released for publication only after Wilder's death last year, and here it is performed as he wrote it, including the traditional satyr play as finale. Wilder titled his "The Drunken Sisters" and thanks to Powers Boothe as a lively Apollo, the transition, baffling to today's audiences, is swift, audacious and workable.
With such assured productions of new, offbeat works, Marley's Santa Maria PCPA is a stirring example of what can be achieved from humble, patient beginnings. Visalia has a lesson to learn in the Santa Ynez valley. Anthony Quayquayle does, too.