Theater & Arts

'Barnaby's Story' gives 'Babes' an unexpected twist

Talk about full circle. In 1987, Mark Norwood was on staff at Good Company Players when he wrote and directed the play "Babes in Toyland (Barnaby's Story)." The character of Barnaby, the traditional scoundrel in the Mother Goose "Toyland" tale, was played by Dan Pessano, GCP's managing director.

Now, more than 20 years later, GCP is resurrecting the show, which opened Oct. 29 and continues through Dec. 20. This time, however, the roles are reversed: Pessano is directing. And Norwood, the playwright, is Barnaby.

We caught up with Norwood, who went on to found Reedley's River City Theatre Company, via e-mail to ask him about the experience.

Question: What's the show about?

Answer: The play really is Barnaby's story. It is told from his perspective and it is his attempt to explain what it is like to be labeled the "Bad Guy" for really no other reason than to anchor the plot. Barnaby finally decides it is time to share the fact that, in spite of his reputation, he really has a heart of gold (literally). In the end, Barnaby's gold heart wins the day and maybe even the heart of MaryMary Quitecontrary. Only time will tell.

What is the play's production history since the original Good Company production?

"Barnaby's Story" has been produced by Kings Canyon Unified and by Reedley's River City Theatre.

In the '87 production, Dan Pessano played Barnaby and you directed. Now the roles are reversed. What has that experience been like?

Working under Dan Pessano's direction has always been a very rich and rewarding experience for me. I was a very new director in 1987 and directing Dan was a little intimidating at first. Dan is the ultimate professional though and never made me question my directorial decisions.

How is the play different today from the original version?

Dan and I worked very hard on rewrites of the show over the summer. It was very important to both of us that Barnaby's story be better focused and clearer for the audience. I am very happy with this version and audiences of all ages seem to be really enjoying it. I know I am.

As artistic director of Reedley's River City Theatre, it must be a busy time for you. Your company is opening "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" on Dec. 4. How do you keep everything straight?

Reedley's River City Theatre has some amazing people giving their all to keep theater in the Reedley Opera House thriving. Sarah Wiebe, who has worked with me since she was in the third grade, is directing "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." Steve Jones, managing director (and former student as well) wears so many hats and keeps things running smoothly. My wife Denise and so many other volunteers believe in our mission and have allowed me to "moonlight" with Good Company without me having to worrying about the home fires. That is not to say that it has not been a very busy time. I am currently writing "Fanny Buys The Farm," RCTC's spring musical offering, but once "Barnaby's Story" opened at the 2nd Space, I can actually work on the new script as I have time back stage.

Anything else you'd like to say about "Barnaby"?

It was written and directed to appeal to all ages, on many different levels. Very young audiences will love the amazing set and costumes and delight in their favorite storybook characters come to life. Older audiences will enjoy the musical and dance numbers as well as the skewed nature of the story. For me, the more fun the audience has, the more fun I have.