Recently, I had the pleasure of experiencing one of the most unique theatrical events in the country, the Mountain Play in Marin County, California. A Broadway classic, Guys and Dolls, marked its return to the Mountain Play after last being seen here in 1995.
An annual event, the Mountain Play’s thousands of patrons come from all over the greater Bay Area and beyond.
The performances are held near the top of Mount Tamalpais in the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre, which seats roughly 3,500 people. With views of the San Francisco bay and the forest, the setting is remarkable.
The seats consist of stone and grass, so the most prepared patrons bring cushions. While we neglected to bring cushions, we did bring a delicious picnic lunch and a bottle of wine.
Of course, the main event was Guys and Dolls. For the unlucky few who have not seen this great musical, the story revolves around the gambler, Nathan Destroit, who is desperate to find money to pay for his floating crap game. He bets Sky Masterson a thousand dollars that Sky will not be able to take a local Salvation Army girl, Sarah Brown, to Cuba. Sky ends up falling in love with Sarah and tries to reform his gambling ways. He bets all the members of the floating crap game that if he wins his roll of the dice, they will all have to go to church and repent. If he loses, he will give them each a thousand dollars. He ends up winning and all the gamblers repent and become changed men.
Because of the distance between the stage and audience, the artistic staff and actors were given a very challenging task. Luckily for the audience, they succeeded mightily. The show was great! A special ‘hats off’ to choreographer Rick Wallace and costume designer Pat Polen. The actors moved brilliantly in exaggerated and extreme ways. In a small theatre, this movement would look weird. But in a giant outdoor amphitheatre, the movements worked well. Meanwhile, the costumes consisted of suits and dresses in sharply contrasting colors red, yellow, blue and green. This brilliant costuming made the show fun to watch, even from hundreds of feet away.
The Mountain Play occurs every summer on Mount Tamlpais and is not-to-be-missed!