CATSKILL — The Bridge Street Theatre shakes up its mainstage season with its most ambitious production yet — a family-friendly, retro sci-fi romp that features local actors.
“The Revenge of the Space Pandas” by American playwright David Mamet centers around a 12-year-old boy scientist, his female sidekick, and a sheep named Bob who stumble into Planet Crestview, only to be taken prisoner by a narcissist ruler determined to be the sole owner of a wool letterman’s sweater. The 60-minute Bridge Street Theatre production runs from July 12 to July 22, Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
The all-ages show is unique as it is geared toward kids even though it has adult sensibilities, said Steven Patterson, production director and theater co-founder, before the July 15 Sunday matinee.
“It’s early Mamet. He was well versed in theater lore, film references and vaudeville references,” Patterson said. “That’s the real spirit of this.”
The 16-person cast is the biggest in the theater’s history, bringing in a mix of professional and local student actors, some of whom have appeared in Catskill High School plays or previous Bridge Street Theatre productions.
The show is also an unusual choice for the nonprofit Bridge Street Theatre, which opened in 2014 and has developed a reputation for producing edgy and provocative plays.
“We like to keep ourselves off balance, and we like to keep our audiences off balance,” Patterson said. “We wanted to do a big community event with this show, and something people wouldn’t expect — like a children’s play by David Mamet, a playwright who is better known for his foul-mouthed adult dramas.”
Patterson collaborated with local kids to develop characters and give them life outside the page, such as a panda mom that can’t help taking selfies and texting her friends, he said.
“We wanted everybody in the cast to have their individual moments to shine, even if they don’t have lines,” he said.
The production was a community effort, including design by Rodney Alan Greenblat of The Rodney Shop gallery, 362 Main St. in Catskill, and panda costumes by New York City-based costume designer Jennifer Anderson.
“The [first four] performances have gone great, with really good audiences,” Patterson said, noting the advantage of using a local cast, who bring friends. “Live theater is really ephemeral. When you see it, you’re getting a totally unique experience that can never be repeated.”
Patterson, a 45-year theater veteran, and John Sowle, award-winning director and designer, co-founded the nonprofit theatre in 2013 thanks to a state grant from the Department of Homes and Community Renewal, aimed at revitalizing buildings in economically depressed parts of town, the Main Street Downtown Anchor project. The theater opened its third full-subscription season this year, which includes five plays produced in-house and a roster of music, magic shows, dance shows, cabaret and more.
“One of our catchphrases for this year was ‘come to our theater and explore the unexpected,’” he said. “It’s important to us that people don’t settle into a niche. We want people to have no idea what they’re going to get every time they walk in the doors.”
Over the past couple of seasons, the theater has grown in both reputation and ticket subscriptions that have almost tripled since last season, Patterson said. In addition, they’ve partnered with at least 24 local businesses that offer discounts to theater subscribers, and offer pay-what-you-wish performances for opening night and their first matinee performances.
“We didn’t want the community to feel like we’re just two guys here from the outside,” Patterson said, adding that the two have lived in the area permanently since 2008.
Patterson was drawn to the area after working with a summer theater program in Lexington in 1977, and came back to Greene County for the lower taxes, relative proximity to Albany and New York City, and gorgeous scenery, he said.
“I love the area,” Patterson said. “I have really great memories of both the creative work I did here and just how gorgeous the region is.”
Catch “Revenge of the Space Pandas” for its last four performances, Thursday, July 19, Friday, July 20, and Saturday, July 21, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, July 22, at 2 p.m. on the Bridge Street Theatre Mainstage, 44 West Bridge St. in Catskill. Buy advance tickets for $22 at pandas.brownpapertickets.com or 800-838-3006; or $25 tickets at the door if there’s space. Students under age 21 are $10 and kids from 5-10 are $5. For more information, visit the theater online at www.BridgeSt.org.