Stage Figures: Solo shows explore creative work

By Harry Duke

What do a 20th-century Midwest American housewife-turned-author and a 19th-century, one-eared Dutch Post-Impressionist painter have in common? Well, they’re the subjects of two solo shows running now on North Bay stages.

Napa’s Lucky Penny Productions is presenting Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End for a short run, while Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse brings Vincent, a look at Vincent Van Gogh through the eyes of his brother, to their Monroe Stage.

Erma Bombeck turned her musings about life as a housewife and mother into a thrice-weekly, nationally syndicated newspaper column that, in its heyday, ran in over 900 newspapers, as well as into books such as The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank. Sisters Allison and Margaret Engel have taken Bombeck’s bon mots and turned them into a stage show.

The play follows Bombeck from her difficult childhood through her college years to building a family and achieving fame and fortune as a commentator. Much of the play’s dialogue is pulled directly from Bombeck’s writing.

Barry Martin directs Jill Wagoner in the short 65-minute production, which is a good, though somewhat-static trip down Memory Lane for those familiar with Bombeck’s work.

Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy spent a good deal of the time between his television and film careers touring in Vincent, his adaptation of a play based on letters written between brothers Vincent and Theo Van Gogh. It’s a tale of sibling love through adversity played out against a backdrop of magnificent art.

Jean-Michel Richaud plays Theo, desperate to bring some meaning to the circumstances of his brother’s death and appreciation for his life. He shares letters they wrote to each other, as Vincent’s work is projected on large screens behind a simple set of a table and chairs.

The self-portraits are particularly evocative when paired with Van Gogh’s written thoughts. 

Richaud’s passion for the piece, and the brothers’ love for each other, comes through and grips the audience for the show’s 75-minute running time, dissipating only with the incongruous choice of ending music.

One needn’t be an art connoisseur to appreciate the work being done here.

“Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End” runs through Oct. 30 at the Lucky Penny Community Arts Center, 1758 Industrial Way, Napa. Thurs-Sat, 7pm; Sun, 2pm. $25–$42. 707.266.6305.
“Vincent” runs through Nov. 14 on the Monroe Stage at 6th Street Playhouse. 52 W. 6th Street, Santa Rosa. Fri & Sat, 7:30pm; Sat & Sun, 2pm. $23–$34. Also available for streaming.  707.523.4185.
Masking and proof of vaccination are required to attend both shows.