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Posted on Fri, May. 07, 2004


WHAT HAPPENS when Oakland is taken over by a bumbling, self-absorbed intellectual who spouts Latin non-sequiturs while being attended to by a lecherous assistant? Well, the dynamic duo tries to turn the Fox Theater into an Indian gaming casino, of course -- at least according to Judith Offer's new musical comedy "Casino!" which opened last weekend in the Glenview Performing Arts Center.

The show is, frankly, a must see to any serious Oakland-ophile. So, if you've gotten even half-a-whiff of what's been going on in our town during the reign of King Jerry, then you should run, not walk, down to the Glenview and buy yourself a ticket. Heck, buy a block of tickets and bring the family, or buy tickets for your whole block and bring the neighborhood. Let's get the play extended till at least the reign ends. ("Casino!" is currently slated to run through May 16 -- at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 and 7 p.m. on Sunday.)

Offer has tenaciously been working on this show since the plan for a casino surfaced early during the mayor's first term. I'd gone to a staged reading way back when and was a tad worried. I thought it was a limited concept, and not worth the creative energy.

But she's done a lot with it since then (with still more to do). I found myself laughing out loud so many times during the first act that someone might have taken me for a shill.

There are so many in-jokes that even the in-jokes have in-jokes in them. It's a little bit like Saturday Night Live meets Rogers and Hart meets Jeannette Sherwin after they've all had a few stiff drinks and decide to write a play about Oakland together.

The basic scenario is that Mayor J.B., a well-cast Ralph Scott, and his sidekick, the unctuous Jack Az (C. Conrad Cady) bring developer Ace Trump (Robert Sholty) into town to develop the casino at the Fox. They draft a naive Web site developer, Sam San Miguel (Abraham Aviles-Scott), to be their token Indian. Meanwhile, San Miguel falls in love with the lovely Lupe Guzmán (Lisa Pan) who is the assistant to councilwoman Nancy Tenacity (Carol Drumond). Tenacity and the gals at FOOF (Friends of the Fox) learn about the plan and try and cut it off at the pass. All the silliness flows from there.

In the end, in inimitable Oakland fashion, the ensemble celebrates "another big nothing" after the plot is foiled and nothing comes of the casino.

"Another big nothing," they sing, a perfect metaphor for our hapless leadership.

Perhaps the real star of the show, however, is the music. Joyce Whitelaw's melodies are often quite good and sometimes memorable, and many in the cast have fine enough voices to do them justice. Without the music, the show would be an amusing diversion. With it, it becomes something more.

The ensemble cast is quite good, though uneven in the "community theater" sense. Cady's bald-headed Jack Az (best character name in the show) keeps the humor flowing (even if it tends to be one note) and Scott's J. B. has just the right distracted cerebral buffoonery for the king, er mayor. Pan and Aviles-Scott both sing and move extremely well, making even their romance believable. There's a walk-on by Gina the Rotweiller that will leave you howling.

Casino may be a trifle provincial and probably isn't headed to Broadway (other than Oakland's Broadway), but it's a really delightful romp through the sordid tale of our body politic.

If you have any civic pride (or civic shame) then you simply must go. It's the kind of show that you want to talk about with your neighbors. "Do you remember the City Council scene when ... ? But, they have to see it for the conversation to work.

So, invite them and get in the loop. Oakland has a show. It's by us and for us and about us, and the joke's even on us. What more can you ask?

(Oh, ask for one of the giant homemade chocolate chip cookies being sold in the lobby. I'm dreaming of it right now. Just another reason to see Casino! again.)

• • • 

Celebrating 30-years of anything is momentous nowadays, but 30-years of an art organization is unheard of. Pro Arts has somehow survived and prospered that long, something of a millennium in art-organization years.

I'm going to date myself and recall when organizers opened their first gallery in West Oakland. I actually plastered their walls for them, though I doubt anyone remembers me or my plaster. It seems like three lifetimes ago.

Well, ProArts is still alive and well and bigger than ever. The group's also moved, having left its Ninth Street digs for the trendier Jack London area (550 Second St.) in the old Whales & Friends location, with the aim of serving 30,000 visitors a year.

This weekend, there's a celebration of the move and the group's first 30 years of leading the arts community in Oakland. The ProArts 30th Anniversary Gala starts at 5 p.m. this Saturday in Jack London with hors d'oeuvres, champagne and wine, music, dance, and, of course, art. Folk, both famous and obscure, will be on hand to appreciate. Hope to be there myself. Either way, my appreciation, unlike my walls, still stands.

Appreciate your comments at

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