top of page

Sierra Madre Playhouse's 100th year begins with hilarious 'Confessions of a Prairie B*tch'

Alison Arngrim as Nellie Oleson (Photo courtesy Arngrim Archives)

This article was originally published in Mountain Views News, vol. 18, no. 5, Feb. 3, 2024, p. 8

Alison Arngrim’s one-woman show “Confessions of a Prairie B*tch”—which completed its run at the Sierra Madre Playhouse last weekend—was surprisingly fitting for the venue celebrating its centennial.


Arngrim’s show, and her book of the same title, is based on her seven years playing Nellie Oleson on the 1970s hit television show, “Little House on the Prairie.”


Nellie was the notoriously mean and snobbish golden-haired daughter of the rich Olesons, who owned the mercantile of Walnut Grove, the pioneer town described in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 1930s book series.

Arngrim hilariously recounts in her show how she’s been called a “b*tch” ever since, beginning when she was only 11. Rather than take offense, Arngrim owned the moniker, noting at the end of the show that she’d rather be that than someone who never speaks up for herself.


But rather than making a shrill personal statement, Arngrim’s 90-minute performance is enjoyable stand-up comedy, which she’s been doing since she was a teenager, with video clips from “Little House” and other shows sprinkled in, including another iconic 1970s series, “Fantasy Island.”


Arngrim makes fun of the fact that she played a prostitute on that show, being sold at auction to a bunch of businessmen while her mother, played by Eve Plumb (who performed as Jan on “The Brady Bunch” and who Arngrim says was the same age as her) tries to save her.


Alison Arngrim performing in "Confessions of a Prairie B*tch" (Photo courtesy Arngrim Archives)

Arngrim’s show is thus a nostalgic flashback of her life in showbusiness, beginning with her parents. Her mother was the voice of Gumby and Casper, the Friendly Ghost, among others, and her father was an agent for singer Liberace.


She also answers audience questions about “Little House,” including whether something was wrong with the Ingalls’ youngest daughter Carrie (no) and whether Michael Landon deliberately took his shirt off to appeal to fans (yes).

But it’s her deftness as a stand-up comedian that makes Argrim’s performance not just funny but warm and upbeat.


That inviting tone—and how Argrim looks back at the past 50 years to a show based on a nearly 100-year-old book series—is a fitting way for the Sierra Madre Playhouse to begin its own centennial year.

Centennial celebration


Founded in 1924—even before Laura Ingalls Wilder published her books, and nestled in a village not unlike Walnut Grove—the nonprofit Sierra Madre Playhouse offers a variety of entertainment, including music, drama, comedy and family-friendly shows like Japanese taiko drumming, magic and storytelling.


This season’s lineup continues with a silent-film series on Feb. 3 and 4 featuring live piano; jazz, baroque and international music performances; stand-up comedy; and Bob Baker Marionette Theater for families on Saturday mornings.


The upcoming silent-film festival includes a free hour of Charlie Chaplin shorts on Saturday, Feb. 3, followed by films that include three Harold Lloyd comedies and a Centennial Celebration Gala, featuring a 1920s speakeasy and champagne dinner.


Pianist Frederick Hodges is set to play music to accompany the silent films and film historian Lara Gabrielle, who curated the series, plans to guide audiences through the two-day festival.


“We are thrilled to honor the deep and lasting roots, colorful history and important cultural role of this magnificent venue that has evolved into the award-winning Sierra Madre Playhouse,” Board Chair David Gordon said of the celebration.


Also beginning in February, the playhouse is offering its 23rd year of after-school youth acting and musical theater workshops for ages 9 to 16, culminating in student showcases in May.

Photo courtesy Sierra Madre Playhouse

Matthew Cook, the venue’s newly appointed artistic and executive director, said he plans to expand the playhouse into a full performing arts center as it heads into its 100th year as a “Southern California gem and one of the region’s oldest cultural venues.”


Cook reflected on the playhouse’s founding in 1924, having taken over the building from a furniture emporium originally constructed in 1910.


“This spring,” Cook said, “we are honored and excited commemorate the milestone 100th anniversary of its evolution from a silent movie house to a leading performing arts venue with an array of diverse programming that reflects the playhouse’s unique trajectory and the community it serves.”


Sierra Madre Playhouse is located at 87 West Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre. For tickets and information about upcoming events and educational programs, call the box office at (626) 355-4318 or visit


bottom of page