THE PETRIFIED FOREST at Novato Theater worth a visit.

Full cast of The Petrified Forest at Novato Theater Company Playhouse

THE PETRIFIED FOREST by Robert Sherwood and directed by Terry McGovern. Presented by Ken Bacon and the Marin Actors Workshop at Novato Theater Company Playhouse, Pacheco Plaza Shopping Center in Novato, CA. (415) 883-4498.

THE PETRIFIED FOREST at Novato Theater worth a visit.

Terry McGovern, a legend in the Bay Area as a performer, radio/television broadcaster, voice-over expert and head of the Marin Actors Workshop has put together, with producer Ken Bacon a note worthy production of The Petrified Forest. Do not expect the quality of Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart who played the leads in the 1934 Broadway production and later in the 1936 movie. However, this ambitious undertaking, especially with a cast of 18 with speaking parts is very entertaining garnering unexpected laughs that diminish the drama. McGovern is to be congratulated for his ability to move his many characters about the charming set on a miniscule stage.

The time and place is 1934 in Black Mesa Bar-B-Q, gas station and lunch room owned by Jason Maple (Montgomery Paulsen) in the eastern Arizona desert on the edge of the Petrified Forest. Eugene De Christopher’s set design captures the era and depressing mood of Sherwood’s characters living in the time of the Great Depression. Within this diner, where not a lot happens – except on this particular day, there are dreams within disillusionment. McGovern emphasizes this point by having the lovely Ariana Hooper playing Gabby, Jason’s daughter, perform a ballet solo before the action of the play begins.

The action that is to ensue builds up as a gradual up-swelling with minor characters setting the stage for the entrance of Alan Squier (Ken Bacon in the Leslie Howard role) an unsuccessful, penniless writer on the way to nowhere considering the Petrified Forest as a symbolic place to end ones life. He orders food, that he cannot pay for, and is engaged in conversation by Gramp (Wood Lockwood) whose claim to fame is being missed in a shootout with Billy the Kid and brings him up-to-date on the approach of the mass murderer Duke Mantee (Daniel Flores).

Gabby and Alan spill out their past history (Alan say’s ''There is something here that stimulates the autobiographical impulse,''). Gabby tells about her ambition to go to France to study painting, after he notices her reading the poetry of a French writer. He tells her that he wrote one novel and then lived in France for eight years trying to write another, with the wife he stole from his publisher. Love blooms within the short time they are together she asks “Wouldn’t you like to be loved by me?’’ Yes he says, but he must move on and asks her for a kiss, which is interrupted by Boze (Jeff Taylor) a former football star at a undistinguished local college and now works in the gas station and is desirous of Gabby.

Into this setting arrive wealthy tourist Mr. and Mrs. Chisholm (Mark Shepard and Stacy Thunes), who offer to take Alan with them. When Duke and his gang burst in, the Chisholms and Alan are forced back to the café where the significant plot interaction unfolds admist much drinking by Mrs. Chisholm and Alan. Alan toasts Duke as “he last great apostle of rugged individualism” suggesting a similarity in personalities.

Ariana Harper gives verisimilitude to Gabby while Ken Bacon and Daniel Flores seem superficial and uncomfortable as the other leads. The secondary characters steal the show and Stacy Thunes as the inebriated Mrs. Chisholm turns in a magnificent performance as she attempts to seduce Duke, and lashes out to her husband against her present life. She has to share accolades with Wood Lockhart and Jeff Taylor who play the roles of Gramps and Boze as if they were born to their parts.

There are many levels to The Petrified Forest and Sherwood’s sometimes didactic dialog reflects the world of 1935. Never-the-less you can appreciate this well constructed, competently acted play as just that. Some of the lapses can be credited to director McGovern but be assured he has kept the evening enjoyable. Running time less than two hours.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of