When the actors of Limelight last stepped on the downtown Gilroy stage, it was for one of the final rehearsals for “Tigers Be Still,” which was set to be the theater company’s first show under the direction of South Valley Civic Theatre.
But just days before the opening night on March 20, 2020, a performance that would have marked the highly anticipated debut of the stage’s new layout inside the Gilroy Center for the Arts, Santa Clara County announced its first shelter-in-place order in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, effectively ending theater productions and other large gatherings.
Now, nearly two years after SVCT assumed management of the theater company following the retirement of longtime Limelight leader Kevin Heath, the stage is back to life.
“Ripcord” opens Sept. 10, with shows through Oct. 2 at the center, located at 7341 Monterey St. in Gilroy.
Limelight by SVCT Managing Director Robin Bezanson said some of the performances have already sold out, with each show having a 50-person capacity, pointing to the enthusiastic response the theater company is receiving from audiences craving a return to in-person performances.
Attendees are invited to bring their own dinner to the show, which is a staple of Limelight performances. Under the new guidelines, all audience members, as well as cast and staff, must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
In its new iteration, Limelight has extended the stage area out into a thrust formation, with the audience seated cabaret-style at small tables on three sides of the action. The stage also features new lighting thanks to a grant from the Gilroy Foundation, and expanded bar service.
Bezanson said the layout allows audience members to feel like they are part of the action.
“We’re really excited about this,” she said.
“Ripcord” Director Angie Higgins agreed.
“There’s something very personal and intimate about it,” she said. “You do feel like you’re in the room. You get to see these micro-expressions almost like you would see in a film.”
“Ripcord” follows Abby Binder (played by longtime Limelight actor Rosalind Farotte), an irritable woman who has long been kept in a room to herself at the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility. But when the always-cheerful Marilyn Dunne (Christy Wait) is placed in her room, Abby tries her best to force her new roommate out. The two women make a bet: if Abby can make Marilyn angry, Marilyn will move out. But if Marilyn can frighten Abby, who claims to be fearless, she will get the bed by the window.
The cast also includes Limelight favorites Roberta Vinkhuyzen and Bruce Pember, along with newcomers Andre Leben and Erik Browne.
Bezanson said the reopening of Limelight with a comedy was deliberate, giving audiences some much-needed laughter after a difficult year-and-a-half.
“It’s nice to open with a funny show,” she said. “We need some laughter after this horrible hiatus.”
Higgins said the show is a comedy with heart and depth, making the characters more relatable and giving audiences a human connection that had been lost in the recent era of social distancing and virtual performances.
“The best comedies are the ones that have a little bit of drama mixed in,” she said. “It has that. The writing is very sharp and witty.”
Higgins, who is directing her first show with Limelight, has been at the helm of shows with other companies in the past, including recent virtual productions.
“The virtual shows are definitely making the best of difficult circumstances,” she said. “But no matter how much you put into it, nothing replaces in-person. The energy you get from a live audience, there’s just nothing like that. It’s been a breath of fresh air.”
She praised the cast and crew, who after a long hiatus from the physical stage, quickly got back into the groove during rehearsals.
“It’s almost like riding a bike,” she said. “That’s probably because everyone involved is just so happy to be doing something they love. They love that sense of camaraderie, they love creating art, they love sharing it with an audience.”
“Ripcord” runs select days from Sept. 10-Oct. 2. Admission is $25. To purchase tickets, visit svct.org/2021_ripcord.