Oscar Wilde inspires an unconventional musical

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Theater is by nature a chancy endeavor, so the team working at The Alcove Theater is calling it by name with “Chance,” a new musical from Bay Area author Richard Isen, New York director Robert Kalfin and musical director Tammy Hall.

Subtitled “A Musical Play about Love, Risk & Getting it Right,” the work finds inspiration in the writings of Oscar Wilde as reflected by Isen's original music, lyrics and book.

“I think audiences are in for something a little different,” says Randy Roberts, one of the three actors in the play, which opens Friday. “It's not all in real time and it takes place all over the theater — in the alcoves of The Alcove, so to speak!”

Roberts plays a character known only as The Lady. “I did an early reading of the piece and a developmental workshop, so I know who my character is,” he says on a break from rehearsal. “It's just that the lines have changed,” he laughs.

Those changes are courtesy of some ongoing refinements being made by Isen. “I fiddle,” he admits. “A friend, a very successful dramaturge, said I should just see every performance and write down all the things I want to change, knowing that I won't be able to make the changes this time but I'll have them if there's another production.”

Not chancing any spoilers, Roberts is coy about the nature of his character. “She is an amalgam of all the glamorous movie stars from the golden age of Hollywood, but you're really not sure who she is until almost the end of the show.”

Those could be some high heels to fill, but Roberts knows how to work a sling-back pump. He's been portraying divas from Bette Midler to Marilyn Monroe for more than a decade.

“I don't care what you call me,” he says when asked if he prefers drag queen or gender illusionist. “Just call me!” Better yet, come to the solo shows he'll be performing at The Alcove on his Tuesday nights off from “Chance.”

For Isen, the play, about an isolated, middle-aged psychologist and a hustler, is an opportunity — a chance! — to reflect on surviving the hard, early years of the AIDS epidemic in New York.

“I just kind of ran away from it,'” he says.

He moved to the Bay Area more than a decade ago and launched a career away from theater. “Then I started to think about it again. I began to wonder, 'What the hell was that? What happened there?' and started piecing the story together.”

Chance

Where: Alcove Theater, 414 Mason St., S.F.

When: Opens Friday; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; closes July 28

Tickets: $40 to $60

Contact: (415) 992-8168, www.thealcovetheatre.com

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