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THEATER REVIEW 'PRIME RIB WEDDING' : Ersatz Nuptials : This matrimonial comedy makes the audience part of the entertainment. You might even get served hors d'oeuvres.


You know that a rocky road lies ahead when groom-to-be Frank Russo declares that "we're gonna keep the word obey in the wedding vows."

Frank and Angela Fiore are two working-class Americans of Italian descent who stumble down the aisle in "Prime Rib Wedding," the latest production in the Plaza Players' continuing Theatre Lab workshop series.

The one-act play is presented Saturday afternoons and Sunday nights, occupying the same set as the Players' continuing production of "The Oldest Living Graduate."

An original work by its director, Linda Pallotta, "Prime Rib" covers a lot of ground in well under an hour: The cast is alternately on the stage, in front of the stage, and up and down the aisles.

Reminiscent of the long-running production "Tony 'n Tina's Wedding," which originated in Toronto and moved to Los Angeles before its current New York run, "Prime Rib" involves a certain amount of audience participation.

There's also physical violence (though not with the audience), a flashback scene and hors d'oeuvres, which are served to at least some of the spectators. All that's missing, gimmick-wise, is the prime rib.

Pallotta has worked and had her works produced, both off- and off-off Broadway. And there's practically nowhere in the United States that's further off Broadway than Ventura County. But the playwright-director acknowledged that the Plaza Players Theater is a considerably more comfortable facility than she, a newcomer to Ventura, is used to.

Amusing in spots and harrowing in others, "Prime Rib Wedding" depends more on its characters than on the plot. Jesse Jenks is very funny as thick-witted Frank, and Kathryn Dippong is effective as the long-suffering Angela.

Leslie Vitanza plays Angela's mother, and Amber Kaufman is the relentlessly perky wedding coordinator.

Bernard Boulanger, a homeless man who achieved some local notoriety when washed out of his Ventura River-bottom abode by the Feb. 12 flooding, cuts an imposing figure as Frank's father. Like most of the cast, what he lacks most is the kind of confidence that comes with rehearsal and experience in front of an audience.

Mike Santillo and Keith Johnson are the waiters who attend to the audience.

Pallotta shows skill as a writer, particularly in creating her characters. It would be interesting if she, as a director, followed the precedence of some earlier productions in the Theatre Lab series and held after-show discussions involving herself, the cast and audience.


"Prime Rib Wedding" continues Saturday afternoons at 2 and Sunday nights at 7 through March 22 at the Plaza Players Theater, 34 N. Palm St., Ventura. All seats are $5. For reservations or information, call 643-9460.

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