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Sneaking back into the theater under cover

“The theater (pronounced thea-tah), the theater,

What’s happened to the theater?”

— Danny Kaye as character Phil Davis in “White Christmas.”

These days I’m hanging with the masked and distant, like a lone hombre from a Clint Eastwood western.

That’s why when Collaborative Theatre Project announced it was opening up for “Radio Days” shows, Lane and I cautiously decided to sneak back into the theater incognito.

I’ll admit to having slight jitters as the evil numbers mount. I mean, is it even worth the chance, sitting inside a small theater hoping, methinks, the players don’t project too much?

A couple of community venues, Oregon Cabaret Theatre and Collaborative Theatre Project, have gingerly reopened their stages with the desire to resuscitate live theater by putting common sense front and center. The Cabaret currently offers “The Odd Couple.” What more appropriate vehicle for these insane times? Oscar and Felix run amok through Sept. 6. Seating is limited.

I spoke with Susan Aversa-Orrego, director of Collaborative Theatre Project, located in the The Village at Medford Center. Susan explained how removing a row of chairs allowed for a third aisle. She assured me they had sanitized the entire space, would clean each occupied seat after every performance, and planned to sell only enough tickets to allow for ample spacing between parties. Masks are a given.

That all sounded pretty dang tight to me, so Lane and I masked up and met in front of the theater. We received instructions about entering the theater one way and exiting the other. As we were ushered to our seats, I cautiously looked around at other masked, play-starved souls and couldn’t help wondering how odd this all is. Odd or not, there we sat, second row center and waiting to be entertained.

CTP’s “Radio Days” hearkens to the times when family and friends gathered around the radio to listen to various dramatic and comedic programs. Sometimes well-known movies were recreated over the wire. Listening in required imagination. The stage holds few props — a desk with an APPLAUSE sign that lights when we, the radio audience, should clap, usually for the sponsor. In this case we applauded Petrified Wine Co., I think. Various sound effects were used for people walking, doors closing, etc.

A row of four old-timey microphones stood with actors behind them voicing the various roles, and quite convincingly, too. We were seated in the presence of the great Sherlock Holmes played by Tom Woosnam and his intermittently capable sidekick, Dr. Watson, played by Geoff Ridden. The two are the real deal Brit-wise, who repaired us all to 1800s London to witness part one of “His Last Bow.” Though the shows can be enjoyed individually, the final performance of part two happens Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

Susan says there are other small productions in the works for summer. They’re planning to perform bilingual children’s classics like “Where the Wild Things Are.”

The intimate theater seats 92, and they’re averaging about 20 patrons per show. That should give you an idea of how much room there is. Had I been an utter lout, I could have removed my shoes, stretched out across a few more seats with a pillow and blankey and still had space for a snack table.

Following the performance, when they opened things up for Q&A, I couldn’t help myself. I tried imagining how we appeared from their standpoint. Since they had microphones and stood well back on stage, they did not wear masks. That would have been strange. I wondered how on earth they could prevent cracking up, looking out at an audience of masked faces. But when I asked them, they politely remained mum, except for founding member Pam Ward, who said, “I feel guilty.” No need, Pam. Thank you all for going the extra 30 or 40 miles necessary to bring quality entertainment to a small but rapt (wrapped) audience.

On my way out, I bought a comedy/tragedy mask with their logo. CTP is doing all it can to remain Theater Strong.

Peggy Dover is a closet ham. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.