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THEATER REVIEW 'DEADWOOD DICK, OR A GAME OF GOLD' : A Youthful Novelty : The Young Artists Ensemble production is an old-fashioned, lusty melodrama with all the trimmings.


A lusty, old-fashioned melodrama, "Deadwood Dick, or a Game of Gold" is even more a novelty in the hands of a cast of teen-agers. Though not particularly written with young audiences in mind, this production by the Young Artists Ensemble of Thousand Oaks is a treat for the whole family.

Not surprisingly, "Deadwood Dick" has also been performed by the Moorpark Melodrama, though not recently.

Someone has been disguising himself as Deadwood Dick--a sort of Robin Hood of the Black Hills--and has kidnaped a wealthy heiress. It's up to handsome Ned Harris to straighten things out.

Based on the works of popular 19th-Century dime novelist Edward L. Wheeler, Tom Taggart's play is full of good guys, bad guys and dance hall girls. There's a lost gold mine, a lost daughter and lots of gunplay.

There's also a Chinese cook, who is so stereotypically portrayed that it could set Sino-U.S. relations back a century.

A fair amount of implicit violence didn't seem to faze even the youngest audience members at Saturday afternoon's performance.

Director Mark Andrew Reyes works with a cast whose ages range from 10 to 19 years, all in adult roles and giving this production a bit of the flavor of the film "Bugsy Malone," in which even younger children played an otherwise straight gangster story.

Most are capable enough, but a few are outstanding--among them, reed-thin Mark Bergem as villain Blackman Redburn, a mustache twirler of the old school. Jeannine Marquie is notable as blind heroine Lily Blossom, and Denise Packard is a regular pistol as Teetotal Tessie, a Carry Nation-type crusader against evil alcohol.

Jeremy Resnick is properly dashing as Ned Harris, as is Christian Isely as sidekick Wild Bill Hickock.

Sarah Jo Marks slinks away with most of the scenes she's in as saloon girl La Paloma.

At Saturday's performance, piano music was supplied by Zachary Spencer, filling in admirably for Jeffrey L. Paul II.

The Young Artists Ensemble is a cooperative venture of the Conejo Recreation and Park district, the Arts Council of the Conejo Valley, and the Conejo Valley Unified School District.


"Deadwood Dick, or a Game of Gold" continues through March 28 at the Waverly Adult Center, 1025 Old Farm Road, Thousand Oaks. Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2. Tickets are $5.50. For reservations or further information, call 499-4355.

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