Elsa Con, 1949-2018

By Philip Pearce

FRIENDS AND THEATER COLLEAGUES crowded into the Carl Cherry Center last Thursday to remember and honor the remarkable Elsa Con, founder and artistic director of Magic Circle Theatre in Carmel Valley.

Hosted by her husband, Bucky Jackson, four veteran actors began the afternoon with vignettes of productions which, from the mid-1990s into the early 2000s, helped make the sixty-seat theater on El Caminito Road a focus of committed and relevant theater on the Monterey Peninsula.

Rollie Dick, ebullient and smiling, recalled how Elsa Con always rejected his insistence that he isn’t Jewish and persuaded him he had to be a reincarnation of someone she knew who was. He proved how right she was with a moving and funny excerpt from I’m Not Rappaport (2013). 

Avondina Wills cited Elsa Con’s calm acceptance of the seemingly miraculous unsnarling of a casting snag that won him the role of a man named Delbert Tibbs which he acted with a clarity and a power that were evident in his excerpt from The Exonerated (2011). 

Sherry Kefalas said that at her first Magic Circle audition, she was given a monologue so funny that she had to stifle her laughter to make it work, which, having done, she got cast. She offered a hilarious rendition of “the turkey story” from Good People (2014).

Jill Jackson said sister-in-law Elsa revealed that she got cast in Magic Circle’s opening production back in 1994, not because she had yet become a seasoned theatrical personality but because, like the assigned character, “I was a hick.” It earned her the free gift of a live pet snake and the riveting role of a rural and religious snake handler in Talking With…

Once Thursday’s prepared program finished, devoted performers, directors, designers, techies and family friends from near and far spoke of Elsa Con with affection and praise. There emerged a picture of a woman who refused to give up even to the extent of closing and then re-opening Magic Circle in the face of the seemingly impossible financial challenges suffered by any small-sized theater space. If you’re fewer than 500 seats, even full houses every night will lose money every night if your tickets sell at a price audiences can pay. Thursday’s crowd remembered a woman who delighted in discerning talent in people who didn’t know they had it. They saluted her passionate love of directing and her resistance to being herself pushed into the spotlight—a  resistance that extended to hating even having to offer that generic “please turn off your cell phones” spiel just before the show began. Remembering her, speakers honored her Quixotic commitment to turning a seemingly impossible dream, while it lasted, into an impressive local artistic reality.