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'Book of Matthew,' 'Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter' set to open next weekend

  • Tim Kniffin and Jeff Cote in a scene from "The Book of Matthew" playing at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center. 2009 Gene Abravaya

Starting next weekend, The live theater season in the North Bay quickens its pace for spring with the openings of two new plays, one of them written by a local author, and a classic but seldom-produced musical.

The Pacific Alliance Stage Company in Rohnert Park previews the comedy drama ?The Book of Matthew? on March 19. The new play by Gene Abravaya, a former network television producer/writer and longtime local theater director, opens March 20.

?Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter,? by Julie Marie Myatt, opens March 20 at the Sonoma County Repertory Theater in Sebastopol. This drama about a disabled woman Marine returning home from the war in Iraq premiered last year at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Jon Tracy, a veteran of many Bay Area theater companies, including San Francisco?s American Conservatory Theater, directs the Sebastopol production.

Also on March 20, the Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma brings back ?Candide,? Leonard Bernstein?s Broadway musical based on Voltaire?s classic satire, which premiered in 1958 and was revived in 1974 and 1997. Cinnabar?s Elly Lichenstein and Nina Shuman direct the Petaluma production.

Through its long history, many famous writers have contributed to various incarnations of Bernstein?s version of ?Candide,? including Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman and Stephen Sondheim.

Abravaya, 58, author ?The Book of Matthew,? is less famous than those legends, but still a more experienced writer than his Sonoma County neighbors may realize. This show, his first full-length play, is the culmination of an idea that began more than 20 years ago.

?I wrote some snippets of dialog as early as the late 1980s,? Abravaya said. ?I started writing seriously in January 2007, getting up every morning at 5 a.m. to work on it.?

A former New Yorker, Abravaya worked his way up from prompter to associate producer on the network soap opera ?As the World Turns? from 1974 to 1979. Then he moved to Los Angeles to work in television production until 1989.

He worked on situation comedies like ?Family Ties,? ?Facts of Life? and ?The Jeffersons,? among others. From 1987 through 1989, Abravaya served as producer and chief writer for a series titled ?Rocky Road.?

?My introduction to writing was situation comedy,? Abravaya said, describing his own play as ?a comedy with dramatic elements.?

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