The North County has a new theater company, and its first show, the romantic comedy, “It Had to Be You,” is being staged at Via Vega Winery in Paso Robles. Wine Country Theatre is the result of efforts by Cynthia Anthony, who has been involved in theater in the area and around the Central Coast for three decades as an actor, teacher, director and arts administrator.
“I have been dreaming of starting a theater company in Paso Robles, again, for the past several years,” Anthony said. “Seventeen years ago I co-founded Classic American Theatre, and there were two successful theater groups in North County — CAT and Pioneer Players. After the earthquake of 2003, Pioneer Players lost its venue at Flamson Middle School. Eventually, the downtown rents became too high for Classic American Theatre to sustain itself.”
Although there was no theater company as such, the nonprofit Paso Robles Recreation Enhances Community Foundation was producing a “Play in the Park” every summer, for two nights only. Anthony directed “Man of La Mancha” two years ago and “South Pacific” last summer. That renewed her desire to found another theater group.
“As I drew together a great group of artists, plus an enthusiastic audience, I began to dream and asked myself the question, ‘Is it time? Could we get another theater company going?’ But, life being what it is — and I was teaching drama full time — I held my little wish inside and did not act upon the impulse,” said Anthony, who has taught drama at Paso Robles, Atascadero and Nipomo High Schools.
The idea for Wine Country Theatre was serendipitous, she said. Ella Gomez, who was 7 at the time, played one of the children in the park production of “South Pacific,” and she met Ella’s parents, April and Larry Gomez, owners of Via Vega Winery.
“They are incredibly innovative people and they were hoping to install some kind of stage in their warehouse tasting room,” Anthony said. “Larry had already started to build a stage — a series of platforms really, built on wine barrel racks. That, in fact, is what inspired the whole company to start.
“We had a meeting, and voila! We put up a stage, and there, amidst the wine barrels, is a fully produced set, theatrical lighting, and a theater baby has been born. Like since time immemorial — it takes a simple stage and a story to tell to do theater.”
The theater, called the Double Playhouse, seats 50. There are barrel-top bistro tables, and wine and appetizers are available.
Anthony directs the theater’s first show, “It Had to Be You,” a romantic comedy about Theda Blau, a failed B-movie actress, health food nut and would-be playwright who wants to find love and success in New York. At an audition for a commercial she meets Vito Pignoli, a successful TV commercial producer and director. After a romantic encounter, Theda holds him hostage in her apartment on a cold and snowy evening. Despite their differences, and the fact that Vito thinks she’s crazy, the two are still drawn together.
Kristen Saunders plays Theda. She recently moved to Paso Robles from the Bay Area, where she performed with Broadway West and other groups. David Norum, who plays Vito, will be familiar to Central Coast audiences, as he has appeared in many productions in the area. Tracy Mayfield of Paso Robles is also in the show.
Wine Country Theatre is now the North County’s only theater group. Brickyard Theatre in Atascadero will not have a season this summer, and Central Coast Shakespeare Festival, which had summer shows in Paso Robles, is moving to Filipponi Ranch Cellars near San Luis Obispo this summer.
Anthony said she has not been alone in the effort to get the theater going.
“So many people have helped bring this theater baby to life. My main people include Jacob Shearer, Laurie Zenobio and Kerry Mayling, all entertainment professionals and local Paso Roblans.”
IF YOU GO
"It Had To Be You"
7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and March 7, 8, 14 and 15
Via Vega Winery, 2378 Adobe Road, Paso Robles
423-2190, www.viavega.com or winecountrytheatre.com