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'Island' Cast Captures Its Audience

June 20, 1987|LYNNE HEFFLEY

"The Island," a new children's play at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, has no bright sets or costumes. Instead, it has the colorful Glorius Players, an engaging, talented cast of young people who overcame a slow first half Saturday to pull their audience into a wacky "message" tale of misfit islanders, greedy real estate agents and helpful dolphins.

It's a common element of children's theater: actors on a bare stage, no props or sets, relying on imagination--its own and the audience's--to tell a story. It's not as simple as it sounds. Good intentions and jolly faces won't do the trick. If the actors can't get the audience to actively participate, the whole experience can be an ordeal.

The Glorius Players caught the audience early with pre-show banter, lost it setting up the action--the cast initially overwhelmed the small Odyssey III theater space, garnering a certain wary watchfulness from some children--and then midway, with the appearance of a campy, comic villain who gave the play a dash of much-needed vinegar, won the audience's willing participation.

Living on a mythical island are a giant (Ginny Clarkson), an actor who can't say the letter "s" (Jay McAdams), an introvert (Cheryl Crabtree) who copes with scary situations by pretending to be an animal and a character who is not too bright and painfully aware of it (Donna L. Stevens).

Each islander has retreated from the "mainland" where they have trouble fitting in.

Playing dual roles, Clarkson, McAdams and Crabtree are also real estate company yes-men, while Stevens plays villainous J. B., the company's heartless president.

The audience members are told they are dolphins in the ocean surrounding the island and are called upon during the play to give advice, throw "banapples" at the bad guys and help the islanders foil the real estate agents, intent on redevelopment and the establishment of a dolphin burger chain.

At the end, J. B. is deposed, his staff sees the light and the islanders each have learned something about themselves that enables them to cope with the "mainland"--the real world.

With the Glorius Players, artistic director Debbie Devine, a professional actress, president of the Women in Theatre board and a teacher of creative dramatics for young people, has set out to establish a children's theater program that encourages a child's natural penchant for playacting, involves them directly as audience and impromptu actors and says something about real life.

That's a big order, and the first performance of "The Island" was too anxious to fill it. It didn't need to be--when the cast relaxed, so did the audience.

Performances continue indefinitely at 12111 Ohio Ave. on Saturdays at 1 p.m. Tickets: $5, (213) 826-1626.

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