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
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
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
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
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
(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
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
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.