The title character in the Gold Hill Theater Troupe's production of "Betty Jean" is an ass.
But that's not a slight on the character. Betty Jean is a donkey in the amateur acting troupe's after-dinner one-act play. She's stuffed.
"It's two feet high," said Bill Fain, troupe director and producer, "It's real cute and in the end the farmer who has been looking for the donkey finds her."
The play was written by Paul Sweetwood, Fain's brother-in-law who lives in New Jersey. The donkey was christened after their mother-in-law, who isn't entirely happy to have a donkey named after her. That's just one of the humorous aspects of the play, he said.
The troupe is known for producing off-beat historic comedies that use Comstock-era themes and characters. Their plays have titles such as "The Hanging of Gladys McGraw," and "Sue Ellen's Parlor House."
"We put on a lot of very entertaining one-act plays for our dinner guests," said troupe member Perry Arnn. "We try and give people a few laughs and maybe some dramatic moments and let them have fun."
In "Betty Jean," Arnn is a waiter who gets progressively drunk as the play goes on.
"He's the comic relief," Arnn said.
The Gold Hill troupe plays the cowboy-and-parlor girl comedies for tourists and locals who enjoy stepping into the past for .a little after-dinner fun, but Fain won't alter Shakespeare. Last summer the troupe played "Taming of the Shrew" outdoors in all its Victorian splendor. Fain said this August the troupe will perform "As You Like It."
"Sand Harbor runs 'As You Like It' as a cowboy show," Fain said of the annual festival at Lake Tahoe. "But that's not what I want to do. I'm a classic."
Fain, who owns the Gold Hill Hotel, the venue for their past 20 in-house productions, said the troupe has performed more than 150 shows in the last four years.
"The Diamond Pendant" has a cast of 15. "Betty Jean" has a cast of 12. All the players are volunteers, but sometimes they can earn $10-$15 after a well-attended performance, after all the expenses are covered. One performance can generate $200 to $300, Fain said.
"Taming of the Shrew" was a success last summer, but an expensive one. The costumes cost $5,000, which put the troupe in the hole. This isn't something that weighs too heavily on Fain's pocketbook. The Victorian costumes are an investment that will be reused for this year's Shakespearean performance.
Next spring, the troupe will perform "Gold Hill Follies of 2006," which will resemble vaudeville skits.
- Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at email@example.com or 881-1212.