Times are tough. It’s hard to get a job. But affordable entertainment is always a welcome reprieve. This was true in the midst of the Great Depression, and we all know it’s true today.
The Lemon Grove Historical Society is doing something about it, recreating not only the early times of the Lemon Grove Theatre Guild (1934-1936) but reviving and updating a 19th-century melodrama that was a hit in the old days and is sure to be an equal delight now (as long as the audience can still boo the villain!).
The melodrama, He Ain't Done Right by Nell, comes complete with a swooning ingénue, a dastardly bad guy and a dashing hero. But wait! There’s more. The original play by Wilbur Braun has been adapted by Helen Ofield, president of the Lemon Grove Historical Society, and re-set in Olde Lemon Grove of 1906, in the heyday of the town’s citrus packing industry. She's filled the piece with names of pioneer ranchers and references to local buildings and citrus culture.
The plot, says Ofield, “hinges on the villain’s efforts to seize control of the Lemon Grove Fruit Packing Plant and win the plucky heroine, Nell. But the villain doesn’t know that Nell has connections in high places.”
Ofield has also created a companion piece to the melodramatic one-act. On the Loose in Baja is based on the writings of Amorita Treganza, co-founder of The Lemon Grove Theatre Guild, along with her first husband, Robert Turnbull III. Treganza was also a founder and charter member of the Lemon Grove Historical Society.
“Amorita Treganza was my immediate predecessor as president of the Historical Society,” says Ofield. “I came to know her in 1994 and she was a beloved friend until her death in 2002. She was an extraordinary woman, a force for good in many areas—science and medicine, philanthropy, historic preservation, lively arts. She was modern when modern wasn’t cool, to coin somebody’s phrase. At the end of her life, in ill health, she would join us at the Parsonage [the first church of Lemon Grove] to help create the museum that still shows exhibits about the history of Lemon Grove. We began the work in 1997 and opened the museum in 1999. She was there on the veranda to welcome the crowd.”
Ofield did a PowerPoint presentation about Treganza at the Congress of History in March, and that inspired the Baja piece, which is based on excerpts from her diaries from 1959-63.
At that time, Ofield explains, Amorita and her second husband, Dr. Lloyd Adams, “had such colorful adventures. Their work with the Flying Samaritans began in 1961. (They provided ophthalmological and dental work for the residents of Baja). The 20-minute piece reads like a conversation between them.”
That dramatic “conversation” will be read by Ofield, along with Corky Lang; the Lemon Grove Patch columnist is a writer and actor who plays Dr. Lloyd Adams in “Baja” and Dr. Charles Good in the melodrama.
The 40-minute melodrama Nell is directed by Josie Kane, who will also offer input on Baja, which, she says, reminds her of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, the epistolary perennial that centers on a man and woman reading a lifetime of letters to each other.
“In Baja, they talk about the weather, the fishing, the food, the Mexican people and culture, and their work. A lot of their trips are covered in this one short reading. Amorita was quite a writer; it’s very descriptive. It’s a lot of fun, often humorous, and interesting, too. It’s like a little history lesson of the time.”
Which brings us to Nell, the first show Kane has directed on her own. She has a lot of theater experience, as assistant director and stage manager, but this is her first solo flight. Her cast of seven has been in rehearsal since the end of July.
“Melodrama is kind of the original form of family entertainment,” Kane explains. “It was family-friendly at the time it was popular—and it still is.”
And the mustache-twirling villain? “That just happens to be my husband,” says Kane. “He tends to be blond, but we’re going to darken him up. A villain just doesn’t play as a blond!
“It’s going to be fun and interactive. We’re providing peanuts for the audience to throw at the villain. We expect them to boo and hiss. And some lucky responders will get Lemon Grove postcards or bumper stickers as prizes. This is a nice, compact play, just like Lemon Grove is a nice, compact little city.”
These theater productions were made possible by a $2,000 Community Enhancement Grant from the county, designed to support cultural projects that promote tourism and economic good.
“We’re doing what Treganza and Turnbull did,” says Ofield, “and that is bring theater at modest cost to a hometown audience during lean times, not to mention showcasing the talents in our midst, utilizing two local historic sites for performances, and celebrating the legacy of two notable Lemon Grovians.”
Dramatically and historically speaking, it doesn’t get any better than that.
The Lemon Grove Historical Society productions of and On the Loose in Baja will be performed six times, from Sept. 16-24.
Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., Sept. 16-18 in the gazebo courtyard. The weekend of Sept. 23-25, the production moves to the historic 1909 Forward Club, also known as Sonrise Hall at the
Tickets range from $7-10, and are available at 619-460-4353 or email@example.com.