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THEATER REVIEW 'THE OLDEST LIVING GRADUATE' : All in the Family : The play's central character resembles Archie Bunker, combining bigoted opinions with a softer side.

March 05, 1992|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An elderly, wheelchair-bound man blusters onto the stage with all of the cranky, self-assured fury of Sheridan Whiteside in "The Man Who Came to Dinner."

The difference is that ColC. Kinkaid is nobody's unexpected guest: This is his house, and his own family that he's making miserable.

And, while "The Man Who Came to Dinner" was a comedy, "The Oldest Living Graduate" turns all serious halfway through. The play is the current production at Ventura's Plaza Players, directed by Michael Maynez.

"Graduate" is the third chapter of the late Preston Jones' "Texas Trilogy" and is centered on retired Army Col. Kinkaid, a World War I veteran who was also the protagonist of the preceding installment, "The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia."

All three plays appeared for a two-month run on Broadway in 1976, following stints at Kennedy Center in Washington and the Dallas Theater Center, where they originated.

"Graduate" stands alone, though knowledge that the Knights of the White Magnolia (who don't come up here) were a racist group similar to the Ku Klux Klan helps explain the colonel's character. And it may influence how sympathetic he, a former member of the disbanded group, is to the audience.

Kinkaid is a bigot, and many of the play's laughs are the nervous type, like those generated by Archie Bunker's quaint notions. Yet, like Archie, there's evidently a soft side to the colonel that other members of his family, and the audience, are supposed to cotton to. He is, after all, kin.

The Kinkaid family would probably be fairly miserable even without the colonel. Son Floyd and his wife, Maureen, relatively well-to-do Texans, are bored with life, and Floyd's relationship with his father is, shall we say, strained.

Floyd's friend and business partner, Clarence Sickenger, looks and acts like the world's most stereotyped used-car salesman. In truth, he and Floyd are interested in developing some lakefront property. Some--including the colonel--say such an endeavor would elevate them into a higher rank of sleaziness altogether.

Clarence's wife, Martha Ann, is a stereotype of another sort: all honeysuckle and affectionate as a li'l ol' puppy dog.

The Plaza Players' production is broadly played, which is par for the company and appropriate enough for this show. (The group's last production, another parody of Southern life, "Peacock Hill," was even more broadly played).

This production also features some of the Players' most appealing acting, right down the line from Ernest Huntley's crusty old colonel to Ron Randolph as a military school cadet.

Ronald Rezak, one of the Plaza Players' more reliable actors, is here seen as Floyd Kinkaid. He was recently featured in the Santa Paula Theater Center's "A Doll's House."

Many of the production's comic highlights are supplied by Cecil Sutton and Tracey Maron-Anthony as the Sickengers: he in his silver-tipped turquoise leather boots and a belt buckle so large that it might embarrass Wayne Newton, and she hitching up her dress at every opportunity so as to flash just a little more calf.

Mary Super plays Col. Kinkaid's stoic, long-suffering daughter-in-law, and Glenn Moore is hired hand Mike Tremaine. Braden McKinley plays Maj. Leroy W. Ketchum, commandant of the military school of which Kinkaid is "the oldest living graduate," a distinction that sets the play in motion.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"The Oldest Living Graduate" continues on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights through April 11 at the Plaza Players Theater, 34 N. Palm St., in Ventura. Show times are 8 p.m. Tickets are $7 on Wednesdays, $9 on Fridays and $10 on Saturdays. For reservations or information, call 643-9460.

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