Pasadena is known for three of the biggest and best theaters in Southern California, with the powerhouse triumvirate of the Pasadena Playhouse, A Noise Within and Theatre @ Boston Court. But for the past 16 years, the Parson’s Nose Theatre has been building a fan base as well, bringing classic comedies to life cabaret-style in venues including the Lineage Performing Arts Center.
Last month, they finally established a home of their own following a two-year process in which they found and renovated a prime space in Pasadena’s historic Civic Center. Operating out of a former mortuary chapel, founder Lance Davis and his troupe proudly launched their new season Oct. 21with “The Government Inspector” by Nikolai Gogol, and look forward to a full slate of other shows.
“We never had a real home of our own, and were looking for a new place in Pasadena when we finally walked into the Abbey complex at Holly [Street] and Marengo [Avenue],” says Davis. “It’s got a perfect location, because it’s a block from City Hall and the Memorial Park Metro stop, and is just two blocks from Colorado Boulevard.
“We’re in an old mortuary chapel, an ivy-covered, red-brick building with a spire reaching out from the top of it,” he continues. “It’s just perfect for what we want to do. We seat 40 people in a cabaret setting, we take a play 2 ½ hours long and adapt it down to 80 minutes plus intermission — so in 90 minutes you’ve seen an 1836 Russian play classic and had a glass of wine, and had a fun evening.”
Davis crafts all the adaptations himself, building on a 40-year career of making complex plays more accessible to the masses. He is careful to maintain the actual dialogue of the plays in the scenes that remain, but seeks to trim them down to a length that is less daunting to today’s attention-challenged audiences.
“I want to keep these plays alive because they were the precursor to Norman Lear and so many other great comedies today,” he explains. “If you take Moliere’s ‘The Minder,’ which was written in 1660, you can trace the lead character to Scrooge, Jack Benny, Scrooge McDuck and Mr. Burns in ‘The Simpsons.’
“These same characters keep appearing, and there’s a wonderful joy to looking at today’s material and seeing that back in 1836 a Russian writer like Gogol still has wonderful resonance and is very funny today,” adds Davis. “It’s a story about small-town Russia that’s wickedly corrupt, and a clerk they think is a government inspector checking out the town. It’s like ‘Undercover Boss’ on TV today.”
While “Inspector” runs through Nov. 12, Davis is also looking forward to the rest of his eclectic season. He continues the theater’s long-running “Readers’ Theatre Series” on Dec. 9-10 and 16-17 with a staged reading of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” before staging a full production of Moliere’s “Too Learned Ladies” from Feb. 10-March 4.
The troupe then presents its annual production of “An Irish Celebration,” which offers a collection of poems, stories and songs from Ireland March 16-18. The season will close with a full production of “Clearly Classic-Twelfth Night,” bringing Shakespeare’s play to life from May 19- June 10.
“I’ve been in these plays all my life, and I know them really well, so I have ridiculous fun finding the comedy in them,” says Davis. “Audiences get to sit 10 feet from the stage, cabaret-style, while having a drink and can use the intermission to socialize rather than bury their face in their phones. It’s a great night out.”
Parson’s Nose Theatre presents “The Government Inspector” at 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and 2 p.m. Sun. at 95 N. Marengo Ave., Pasadena. Tickets are $15 to $30. Call (626) 403-7667 or visit parsonsnose.com.