It’s been a couple of years since Oregon Contemporary Theatre premiered Paul Calandrino’s Shrimp & Gritts: She’s Gone. This week, the Not Ready for Retirement Players will offer audiences the sequel, Shrimp & Gritts: The Long & Winding Trail.
The story picks up two years after the previous play, set in the same fictitious Oregon beach town. (Who are we kidding? It’s set in Yachats, in a bar very much like the Drift Inn.)
“I love the insularity of the small Oregon towns,” Calandrino says. “They serve as a perfect incubator for the Oregon psyche in all its forms.”
So where are we since we left Yachats two years ago?
“Gritts’ girlfriend of 15 years, Serena, left him without warning, and his best friend and drinking buddy Shrimp admits that she’d been having a 15-year affair with Serena,” Calandrino says.
I’m watching an early rehearsal for the show at Capitello Wines. Twinkly overhead lights cast a cheery mood, and director Chris Pinto coaxes the actors to tackle a scene one more time, to its emotionally charged reveal.
“I was intrigued with the fight tonight — it took a different tone,” Pinto says. “So I want to see that again.”
You couldn’t ask for two finer sparring partners than William Campbell, in the role of Gritts, and Rebecca Nachison, reprising her role as Shrimp.
“Having the opportunity to play Shrimp for another time is a treat,” Nachison says.
Added to the mix are two new characters: Kandy (Melanie Moser), the manager of the Sandraker Inn, where all the play’s action takes place, and her newish boyfriend, Breech (Benjamin Sanders).
“Kandy is working on a line of gourmet treats (or amuse bouche) that she hopes to sell to a big food conglomerate,” Calandrino says. “While Breech has his mind set on building a scenic memorial trail along the coastline on the north side of town.”
Calandrino says playwriting has always been a vehicle for exploring the little obsessions that occupy his mind.
“For example, for many years my partner Cai [Emmons] and I have discussed a phenomenon we call ‘the cult of the best,’” he says. “You know, these people who are such aficionados on the best wines, the best charcuterie, the best bathroom rugs, the best mantras. The effeteness and snobbery of it all. It kind of drives me crazy. People who mail order the best avocados from South America to slice on their toast.”
Call it playwright’s revenge.
In this new play, there’s an entire scene called “Cult of the Best” in which the characters — who are salt-of-the-earth working class folks — explore the topic and compare such things as “Parmigiano-Reggiano made by blind eunuch monks in the Dolomites” with quarter-pound burgers with cheese.
“But the main theme that I keep coming back to over and over again, in Shrimp & Gritts and other plays, is the impossible challenge and greatness of love and relationships,” Calandrino says. “The play is no rom-com, but there’s a lot about romance and love, and how we break ourselves, and others, in the pursuit of them.”
And, he adds, “All of the characters are deeply in love and make lousy decisions based on that.”
Shrimp & Gritts: The Long & Winding Trail runs Feb. 22 – March 3 at Capitello Wines Tasting Room, 540 Charnelton Street; $17 general admission, $28 VIP includes a glass of Capitello wine and table seating. Tickets available at 541-520-3092 or eventbrite.com. To arrange seating with other patrons at a specific table, please call Capitello Wines directly.