Review: In Circle X's 'Hole in the Sky,' one disaster gets averted while another unfolds onstage

Michael G. Martinez, foreground, and Joseph D. Valdez are cast members in Circle X Theatre's premiere of the Octavio Solis play "Hole in the Sky," staged outdoors at a working ranch in Lake View Terrace. (Jeff Galfer)

Ah, the perils and pleasures of live theater.

Director Kate Jopson’s al fresco production of Octavio Solis’ “Hole in the Sky” was to premiere at the Courtship Ranch, a working ranch in Lake View Terrace, when it hit a snag: The mother board for Bo Tindell’s lighting design broke shortly before curtain time — a disaster that threatened to plunge the production into darkness.

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Not deterred, those behind and in front of the scenes rallied. Work lights were rigged, actors held lanterns aloft, car headlights were deployed, and a full moon pitched in. Remarkably, Solis’ drama, which depicts the battles in a rural California community torn apart by drought, did more than survive the setback. It prevailed.

Commissioned and produced here by the Circle X Theatre Co., Solis’ play is based on interviews with people in California’s drought-blighted Scott Valley, near the Oregon border. Tribal members, environmentalists, government employees and ranchers were interviewed for the work.

Even-handed in its treatment of diverse characters, the play does not seek to demonize anyone. Rather, it dramatizes an unfolding environmental disaster on a scale not seen since the Dust Bowl.

The setting for “Hole” is particularly inspired, especially considering that the Courtship Ranch came within 200 feet of being burned in the Creek Fire last year. For the resident portrayed in “Hole,” the scourge of drought is exacerbated by the fear of fire — a double-whammy of natural disasters that puts them on edge.

Lola Kelly and Joseph D. Valdez in "Hole in the Sky." (Jeff Galfer)

Connor (Lola Kelly) has survived her own twin disasters: cancer and divorce. Back at her family ranch after 10 years away, Connor finds her father (William Salyers) on the verge of default and the community in chaos.

Connor is dogged by a long-ago tragedy for which neighboring rancher Gordon (Cliff Weissman) still bitterly blames her, one subplot among Solis’ somewhat hectic story that doesn’t really bear close scrutiny. (Why, after all, does Connor make such a mystery of events from her childhood when a bit more candor could arguably clear the air — not to mention her tarnished reputation?)

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Jopson, Circle X’s new artistic director, focuses the sprawl of events into a tightly paced whole. The cast, which includes Christine Avila, Nicole Erb, Joseph D. Valdez, Michael G. Martinez and the remarkable Leon Russom in the standout performance of the evening, keeps the action as crackling as a fast-moving brush fire. Despite the lighting woes, Cricket S. Myers’ superlative sound design survived intact.

If Solis gets a bit overwrought at points, it’s because he has big issues to address. Just heed the before-show warnings not to smoke. In this drought-ravaged locale, a single spark is all that’s needed to destroy a way of life. That, after all, is the point of Solis’ play.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

‘Hole in the Sky’

Where: Courtship Ranch, 11270 Dominica Ave., Lake View Terrace

When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Sundays. Also 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 10. Ends Sept. 23.

Tickets: $35-$50

Information: circlextheatre.org

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

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