Last weekend’s opening of “Bertha the Beautiful Typewriter Girl,” at the Golden Chain Theatre marked the return of a summer ‘Melodrama’ to the stage.
This hilarious melodrama follows bank owner Desperate Daniel Desmond (played by Peter Clarke) and his vile attempts to betray Bertha Bancroft. It’s a story of good versus evil, and the beautiful girl caught in the mix.
For Alli Ruiz, the female star of the production, this performance is particularly special. Ruiz, just 14 years-old, is taking the stage as the lead for the first time in her theatrical career. She is well prepared for the role, having been involved in all aspects of theater, including dance, since she was three years-old.
“My mom, aunt, and grandma were all very into show business and they all worked with Patti Law-Poggi, who runs the Poggi School of Dance and Drama,” Ruiz said. “It was only natural that I would follow in their steps.”
Her grandmother, Mary Ann Parks, has performed on the Golden Chain stage as a member of the Grub Gulch Garter Girls dance team off and on for the past 40 years.
Her training ranges from the Yosemite High School Theater Department, where she was a freshman this year, to acting workshops in Santa Cruz, to the Golden Chain. Each program specializes in different areas of theater and offers different types of shows, which is why her preparation for “Bertha” has been well-rounded.
“I’ve been doing month-long summer theater workshops in Santa Cruz,” Ruiz explained. “We put together a musical, and I love that, because musicals are probably my favorite type of production.”
Historically, the 48 year-old Golden Chain Theatre has not produced a lot of musicals, and is known for its melodramatic shows that encourage full audience participation.
“When the audience gets involved, it lets you know that people are interested in the play - It makes me so excited when people are visibly interested,” she beamed.
While Ruiz has experience under the stage lights, this ‘starring’ role would seem likely to make any 14 year-old performer nervous, but she waves aside the notion.
“I’ve done a lot of big roles, so I’m not too nervous. If I do get nervous, it’s usually just the day of the show, and it’s just butterflies,” Ruiz said after opening night.
In theater, there are different levels of stress and responsibility placed on different levels of roles. At such a young age, it’s impressive that Ruiz has taken on this lead role.
She has also learned a few tricks to dealing with first-night jitters.
“My co-stars will tell jokes, and make me laugh right before I go onstage, and that really helps,” Ruiz said. “Oh, and I always take a deep breath right before going on.”
In his first ever acting role, Robert Britt IV, 23, plays “Skeets” Skinner in the play. Britt, who moved to Oakhurst about 10 months ago from San Diego, calls Ruiz “amazing.”
“I have friends and family who saw the show on opening weekend, and they can’t believe Alli is just 14, because she does such a great job,” Britt said.
Matt Van De Wal, 33, plays David Desmond in the production, and admits there was some concern at the start of rehearsals that the lead role was being played by a 14 year-old.
“Those concerns went away quickly, when we all realized Alli is very poised and very good in the lead role,” Van De Wal said.
Other cast members are played by Gracie Robinson, Peter Clarke, Erik Hurtado, Roland Ott, Lee Hulbert, Miranda Simonich, Connie Collins, and Donna Cavoretto.
Ruiz said the cast works well together.
“I have had fun with this cast since our first day of rehearsal,” Ruiz said. “Every day we crack ourselves up, to the point of tears.”
Ruiz feels the entire cast did well on opening night.
“There were a few mishaps, but that always happens on opening night,.”
Despite the typical first night stumbles, Alli notes that the crowd was perfect.
“The audience loved it - they were all so involved, and everyone came up and gave us compliments when it was over.”
Although Alli might not have a favorite memory in pre-production, she laughs that her favorite memory of opening night was when she accidentally slipped and fell at a perfect time during the show making for a crazy, yet hilarious, first night.
The 12-show run is lengthy and appears exhausting, but Ruiz remains unphased.
“Each night is a new night with a new crowd, and I get my energy from the crowd,” Ruiz said. “As long as the crowd is energetic, I know I will be too.”
Ruiz plans on being a leading lady in the future, because it “helps me be the best actress I can be. When I get out of high school, I want to go to Cabrillo Junior College in Santa Cruz because they have a really good theater program. I ultimately want to make acting my career.”
“I hope those who see the show will have a good laugh, because it’s a hilarious show,” Ruiz said. “It’s filled with suspense and humor, and we have worked so hard to make it everything it has become.”
The play is Jennifer Varner’s directorial debut.
“It’s an honor to direct this show,” Varner said. “This time period has always been my favorite, and it’s been a joy to work with this amazing cast.”
The show also features vaudeville acts with songs from the 40s performed between scenes, including “Baby Face,” “You Are My Lucky Star,” and “The Trolley Song.”
“Bertha The Beautiful Typewriter Girl” continues at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 28.