ASR Theater ~~ Vivian Vance Comes to Life in “Sidekicked” at Sonoma Arts Live

By Barry Willis

Playing perpetual “second banana” to a superstar is a theatrical version of purgatory. In the tale of Vivian Vance, co-star of the long-running 1950s TV series I Love Lucy and its sequel, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, it’s also a recurring personal reminder that she’s gone as far as she will ever go in the shadow of comedic legend Lucille Ball.

Vance was a comedic genius in her own right—and an early advocate for people suffering from mental problems, in an era when even acknowledging such problems was a grave social error. Libby Oberlin delivers all this and more in her solo show Sidekicked written by Kim Powers, and directed by Michael Ross at Sonoma Arts Live through February 19.

Sidekicked moves along at a surprising clip…

Last seen at SAL as opera diva Maria Callas in Master Class, Oberlin is a confident performer who brings Vance to life with gusto and a palpable dose of self-deprecation.

She relates her subject’s frequent confusion—she wrote her name and address on a slip of paper and tucked it into her handbag each morning before she went out, in case she forgot who she was or where she lived. Vance endured several disastrous marriages, and chafed at the role for which she is fondly remembered, as Lucy’s neighbor Ethyl Mertz, Lucy’s frequent co-conspirator in the absurd hijinks that propelled each episode of the original series.

Vance also endured the continual bickering between Lucille Ball and her husband, director/producer/actor/band leader Desi Arnaz, and suffered mightily being cast as the wife of a man “at least 25 years older,” Fred Mertz, played by William Frawley. Powers’ script is clearly intended for an audience familiar with all the characters—and their backstories too—as Oberlin digresses into revisiting many of the show’s often hilarious setups and backstage battles.

Sidekicked moves along at a surprising clip given the constraints put on a solo performer, and provides plenty of amusement not only for a generation that saw it all unfold the first time. It’s also a show with appeal for theater and entertainment geeks who relish digging the dirt about some of Hollywood’s famous names—first, second, and third tier alike


Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:



Written byKim Powers
Directed byMichael Ross
Producing CompanySonoma Arts Live
Production DatesThru Feb. 19th, 2023
Production AddressRotary Stage: Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center
276 E. Napa Street, Sonoma
Tickets$25 – $42
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?----