As I write this, I need to keep reminding myself this isn't an obit -- Diablo Theatre Company is taking a one-season break from performing at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center and will be back next year if all goes right.

But even a year is too long for this pioneering, ever-improving musical comedy troupe, because theater and all art, unlike some other public resources, are not things you can switch on and off at whim.

Besides, this is a company that has inspired and nudged other companies to strive for excellence and, with only a few others, created a vibrant arts scene at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts and has been a force in creating the lively downtown scene in Walnut Creek. There are numerous restaurants, bars and other businesses that owe a significant debt to Diablo Theatre and other companies.

The company said in a news release that its rent at the Lesher is too high to afford producing shows next season. And beyond?

Diablo Theatre is launching a donation drive in hopes of returning to large-scale productions that typically cost six figures to stage. Perhaps that will work, but it crosses my mind that governments, of all varieties, owe the arts considerable support -- it often turns out to be a good investment.

That's as far as I'll go there; I obviously don't know the financial details involved. But I will point out, since this is an opinion column, that theater and the subsequent thought and reading I've done after seeing shows have brought me more education than any school I ever attended. This goes back to my young days, back to the Tracy Community Players teaching me about the Scopes trial and the controversy over evolution by casting me in "Inherit the Wind."


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Where does a company that specializes in musicals and comedy enter into this? Looking at Diablo Theatre's history, I recall the production of "Ragtime," a musical that delivers perhaps the most inspired history of the United States in the Gilded Age. "Guys and Dolls," Diablo Theatre's most recent production, taught me many things and introduced me to the works of Damon Runyon (from whose Broadway-centered stories the musical was adapted).

Diablo Theatre says it will continue its youth programs and education, but for many reasons -- including its productions "Singin' in the Rain," "White Christmas," "West Side Story" and even "Peter Pan" -- I will miss the company a great deal, even if it's just for a single season.

The company and I go back to the old nut-house days (the city's first playhouse in the 1960s was a converted walnut storage barn), so we've been together for a long time. Besides, I have already bid farewell to too many groups, including the sorely missed Willows Theatre and Lois Grandi's Playhouse West, which taught the area that good things, even big musicals, can come in small packages.

To donate to Diablo Theatre, or for more details on the fundraiser, go to www.diablotheatre.org.

"RUDDIGORE": What is perhaps the silliest of all of Gilbert and Sullivan's creations opens April 18 in Danville's Village Theatre.

This is the show that followed the duo's beloved "Mikado" and was thrashed by critics and an opening-night audience that booed and demanded "Mikado" be given back to them. But the show ended up running for a year in the late 1880s.

And when it was revived in 1937, the duo's supernatural tale of good and evil, with bridesmaids and pictures coming to life (just go see it; the show is really silly), the operetta received glowing reviews and comments that it was no less important or well-done than any of the other G&S shows.

In the Role Players Ensemble productions of Gilbert and Sullivan, "Ruddigore" also follows "The Mikado," something artistic director Eric Fraisher Hayes felt was important to give audiences an idea of the G&S continuity.

More important, he also wants to show the audience, as he did with "The Mikado," how well a large-scale show can be adapted to a smaller stage with a smaller cast.

"Ruddigore" plays in the Danville's Village Theatre at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, April 18-May 10. Tickets, at $20-$28, may be reserved at 925-314-3400 or www.roleplayersensemble.com. The company is offering a free sneak peak at 7 p.m. April 10 in the Danville Library.

Contact Pat Craig at pjcraig495@yahoo.com.