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THEATER REVIEW 'NUTS' : Courthouse Star : A drama can still be caught at the old Simi Valley court building, but this time no one goes to jail.

March 21, 1991|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Only by the standards of rapidly growing Simi Valley can the community's "old courthouse" be judged old--it was built in 1968.

With a new courthouse now functioning a few miles away, the former site is being appropriated by the local S.A.V.E. (an acronym, if you're fussy about such things, for "Stage and Video Educational") Theater group.

The company's current production, Tom Topor's 1980 "Nuts," takes place in a courtroom, and is being performed in the courtroom.

It's a gimmick, of course, but one that works. The room isn't so large that dialogue disappears into the ceiling, and director Sid Haig has arranged things so that the action is believable in context.

The focus is New York City's Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, where the fate of a thirtyish woman, Claudia Draper, is being decided by a judge.

Is she a paranoid-schizophrenic, as the two state psychiatrists who examined her contend?

Or is she sane enough to stand trial on charges of manslaughter?

Many of us might wonder which decision would leave Draper better off. Draper prefers to be judged sane so she can plead not guilty and take her chances before a jury.

Does she succeed? Let's just remind you that Barbra Streisand produced and starred in the 1987 film version.

Diedra Miranda, who plays Draper, resembles Streisand physically and in her accent and mannerisms.

Those distractions aside, she handles the part well, although Draper doesn't really have very much to say or do until her lengthy third-act monologue.

Also to her credit, and in contrast with a couple of the other actors in important roles, Miranda remembered most of her lines during Saturday night's performance.

Topor has some surprises in store for the audience. But the attorneys are drawn so broadly that prosecutor Franklin Macmillan (David Newcomer) and public defender Aaron Levinsky (Grant Tomerlin) might as well be wearing black-and-white hats, respectively, with Newcomer twirling the ends of his mustache--if he had one.

And anybody who places psychiatry in a class with astrology, phrenology and transplanting goat glands will take delight in the characterization of Bellevue staff shrink Dr. Herbert Rosenthal by playwright Topor and actor Paul Forster.

Carol Forster (Paul's wife) and Richard Hoyt portray Draper's mother and stepfather, whose parts were written rather more enigmatically and acted more naturally. Hoyt's comparatively subtle revelation of his character provided some of the show's best moments.

As the judge, bailiff and court recorder, actors Rusty Perry, Gregg Anderson and Phyllis Hoyt, respectively, appeared to be listening, and reacting, to the other cast members' dialogue.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"Nuts" will be performed Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. through April 20 at the former courthouse, 3190 Cochran St. (between the Mann's Theater complex and the police station) in Simi Valley. Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and students. The company has appropriated the motion picture industry's NC-17 rating; some of the language might embarrass parents who bring youngsters along. For reservations or further information, call (805) 527-7071.

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