During the week, pretty much from dawn to dusk Niles Canyon Road is a two-lane commute alternative to Interstate 680. Both are clogged with traffic, but the canyon road is a whole lot prettier.
It's so pretty that a scenic train runs through the canyon some weekends, and on those same weekends the road between Sunol, near Livermore and Niles, where they made silent movies a century ago, is also much less crowded.
You actually don't need an excuse to travel the road and visit Sunol and Niles -- both towns are interesting enough on their own. But if you need an incentive to make a day of it, Sunol Repertory Theatre is presenting its annual melodrama to benefit Sunol Glen School on weekend evenings March 8-29.
So that'll give you a full day's prowling of the antique stores in both towns, a reason for dinner in one of the pleasant restaurants and something to do after dark -- the opportunity to see "Hotel Escargot," an old-time-style melodrama with a modern sense of humor playing at the school.
It's been a tradition around Sunol Glen for at least a couple of decades and was once a staple of American drama, before Eugene O'Neill came in and made everything make sense. America, with its melting pot of languages couldn't get too serious, so anyone who wanted to come in and cheer the hero and hiss the villain could be pretty sure of understanding the plot.
As you might guess, "Hotel Escargot" is on the French Riviera, where the wealthy and Hollywood High Rollers are gathering for the annual Kantz France International Film Festival, and hotel owner Wynona Elmsley, along with her exhausted and downtrodden staff and a couple of klutzy jewel thieves, is bent on making a fortune at the festival. The rich and famous are all there, being interviewed by the media, talking deals ("How 'bout "Gone with the Wind II?") and appearing in film clips.
And, behind the scenes, Elmsley is trying to figure out who is the undercover reporter from Elegant Hotels Magazine who will file a secret report on Hotel Escargot, which may be cause for the proprietor to worry.
"Hotel Escargot" was written by Andrew Ross. The show plays in Sunol Glen School, 11601 Main St. in Sunol; with doors opening at 7:30 and curtain at 8 p.m. Show dates are March 8, 14-15, 21-22 and 28-29. Tickets, at $15, may be reserved at 925-862-0664 or www.brownpapertickets.com/event/562791.
THE SECRET GARDEN: The story by Frances Hodgson Burnett, adapted for the stage by Thomas W. Olson, will be presented by Civic Arts Stage Company in partnership with Bay Area Children's Theater beginning Friday.
The childhood classic is recreated on stage as a musical, which has orphan Mary Lennox returning to England to live with her reclusive uncle and his invalid son, Colin. There she discovers a magical secret garden in this tale of forgiveness and renewal.
"Secret Garden" will be performed on stage at the Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave. in Pleasanton, at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays this week through March 8; and at 2 p.m. March 1-2 and 8-9. Tickets are $12 to $18 with child or senior admission at $6 to $12. They may be reserved at 925-931-4848 or www.firehousearts.org.
Contact Pat Craig at email@example.com.