This event was presented April 21-23, 2023.

So . . . By the Sea Productions is presenting Rebecca Gilman’s thought-provoking play “Spinning Into Butter” as a staged reading for three performances only on April 21, 22, and 23, at St. Peter’s by the Sea Episcopal Church Hall in Morro Bay.

And thought-provoking it is, as the audience is treated to a broad debate among five staff members and two students of a small college in Vermont, engendered by specific incidents on the campus that (it is said) the playwright modeled on actual events.

Here, a college administrator named Sarah (Nicolette Tempesta, who creditably displays a range of emotions from frustration to outrage to despair) finds herself dealing with an incident of overt racism, an incident of unintended racism, and eventually the revelation that she herself is challenged by the recognition of her own bias.

Anyone who has ever been on a college campus will recognize the academic shuffling and pompous pedagogy displayed by two other administrators who come in and out of Sarah’s office: the patronizing, clueless dean (Russell Snow displaying a pleasing variety of bow-ties and scholarly bickering) and the bureaucratic public relations expert (a satisfying Marilyn Blake, who changes scarves but not her character’s mind or anyone else’s).

Sean Shealy (reliable and relatable) plays a faculty member who evokes the best and the worst from Sarah. Rhonda Crowfoot is a staff member who provides telling commentary about her colleagues, wisely delivering a simple truth: “These people don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground.”

The two students who are in and out of Sarah’s office (played with sincere naïveté by Bryan Easton and Aaron Jackson) represent the extremes of the situation: one who feels wronged by the system and one who feels entitled to use it.

The format of the show’s two-hour (with intermission) presentation—actors on book, modest costume changes, limited action other than entering and exiting the minimal set—is an advantage in that the audience is directed to its words and the task Sarah is ultimately assigned: can we figure out how to fix racial discord and promote racial harmony?

Director Lisa Woske and her cast present this challenge to the audience with humor, honesty, and sincerity. Woske might consider taking this show on the road—even as a simple reading with no staging, it would make more than a few people think. Always a good thing.

:: Charlotte Alexander