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A Manteca surprise behind the Fallon House curtain

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A Manteca surprise behind the Fallon House curtain

Halley Electra Mayo as Ado Annie and Jacob January as Will Parker in Oklahoma! that runs through Sunday on the Sierra Rep stage in Columbia.

Rich Miller Photography/

POSTED August 13, 2013 12:52 a.m.

COLUMBIA — It was the second to the last weekend presentation of Oklahoma at the historic Fallon House Theatre Sunday afternoon that ended with a surprise meeting with a former Manteca High English and Theatre Arts instructor from 13 years ago.

We had guests visiting from New Jersey who had a trip to Sonora and Columbia on their schedule and a promise of taking them to the ice cream parlor at the Fallon House.  Equally as worthy of note was lunch at the old Columbia City Hotel where I had the best Reuben Sandwich ever to cross my lips.  It sounded more like a belly ache on the menu, but it turned out to be a real treat.

The Reuben had sauerkraut and caramelized onions on Panini styled bread – well worth driving back some 50 miles next weekend again just for the same lunch.  It was the best I’ve ever had in a Reuben, anywhere. It goes without saying how good the ice cream can be for dessert in the lobby of the theatre. 

 I felt badly that the theatre was only half full and I really hope that doesn’t happen for the last set of performances this week, ending Saturday and Sunday.   The show was a delight with the cast leaning away from the movie and adding a large helping of humor that brought laughter from the audience. It was an audience that was seriously responsive to the acting and especially to the outstanding professional singing of both guys and gals.

As for the Manteca High connection, I met the house manager who had been at Manteca High School on the heels of the popular stage educator Dorothy Mulvihill.  Bonnie Bryson, without a doubt, has theatre in her blood.  She continued her teaching career at Manteca High in 1999 coming from a large high school in the Los Angeles area.  The principal at MHS at the time convinced her that she could rebuild the very strong program that Mulvihill had created encompassing some 30 years before her arrival.

“Dorothy attended our first production, and from then, through my entire tenure at MHS she was a theatre booster for us – lending her advice, costumes, financial donations and most of all, her inspiration,” Bryson said.

Bryson noted that she had worked hard for some five years to build the theatre program she had promised for MHS.  But, the stresses of budget cuts, class cuts and students’ conflicts in scheduling and rehearsal time wore her down.

Her heart gave out under the stress and she developed heart failure, having to retire from teaching at 55.  She had not realized her dream of creating a “top notch” program of her own in Manteca.  As she recovered from her health issues, she moved to Sonora with her personal profile of theatre education from U.C. Davis, and her experiences in Los Angeles and Manteca tucked under her arm.

She auditioned for a part in a show at Sonora’s Sierra Repertory Theatre (SRT) where she said, “The experience was so fulfilling and satisfying for me as a theatre artist that I have dedicated myself to working part-time in many different roles at SRT, including the educational outreach teaching theatre for elementary students.”

Bryson has been house manager for the last four years at the Fallon House.  In 2009 she had to halt her acting and substitute teaching.  When her heart condition worsened and she was given a pacemaker in 2010.  She said the pacemaker has greatly improved her overall health and energy levels.

“I am hoping to get back to acting again, soon,” she said.

Bryson said working as house manager on the Oklahoma production this summer has inspired her to return to doing whatever she can to promote the theatre in Columbia that she loves.

“I miss teaching theatre at Manteca High School, but it brought me to the place I am today – working at Sierra Rep, with artists that I deeply respect on top quality productions like Oklahoma,” she said.

The former MHS teacher is urging Manteca area resident not to miss the show that closes this Sunday, August 18, the last of six remaining performances Friday through Sunday.

The Sierra Repertory Theatre has two stage locations – one in East Sonora and the other in the historic Columbia State Park.  For information and a full listing of the remaining 2013 productions go to (209) 536-1672 or 

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