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THEATER REVIEW / 'FIVE SHORT PLAYS' : Inge Sampler : Short works by the quintessential American playwright get a snappily paced staging at the Arts Council Center.

March 11, 1993|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

By the time of William Inge's 1973 suicide at age 60, the playwright had fallen from the crest of his popularity. But during the '50s, Inge was celebrated as the author of such well-known works as "Come Back, Little Sheba," "Bus Stop" and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Picnic."

At his best, Inge was a most American of American authors; his plays brought to the stage the same kind of ordinary folks that populated the novels of John Steinbeck.

A quintet of Inge's briefer works is being presented by Gothic Productions this weekend and next at the Arts Council Center in Thousand Oaks. Although some of the plays are so wispy that "sketches" would be a more appropriate designation, the compilation is a snappily-paced and interesting two hours of work deserving more exposure.

Best-known of the five is "Bus Riley's Back in Town," a one-act production (as are they all) that was lengthened into a film starring Ann-Margret and Michael Parks.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 1, 1993 Ventura County Edition Ventura County Life Part J Page 5 Column 1 Zones Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong actress--A recent review of "Five Plays by William Inge," produced recently in Thousand Oaks, misidentified the actress in one of the plays. Bobbi Van Eman portrayed Viola in "In Memory of Summer."

Here, Allison Levine stars as Jackie Loomis. Her father once owned the small Texas town in which the play takes place, but he--and the town--have fallen on hard times. Some time back, she and Bus Riley (James Michael White), a lad of low degree, had a fling; Jackie's father arranged for him to be jailed. After a subsequent stint in the merchant marine, he's back.

The question now is: Is the old flame still burning?

Two of the plays, "A Social Event" and "To Bobolink, for Her Spirit," deal with the issue of celebrity from different perspectives. The former play finds two Hollywood stars, married to each other, grasping for the social cachet they once enjoyed. "Bobolink" surveys a group of autograph hounds perched outside of 21, the fashionable New York restaurant.

"A Social Event" is a wry comedy, enhanced greatly by director Bianca Jansen and her cast's use of pantomime, which adds as much to the characterizations as Inge supplied with words. Wes Deitrick, Kristen Scott and Debra Hickey all are funny as the two vain used-to-bes and their cook.

"Bobolink," directed by Gothic Productions' Michael Jordan, is more of a social study. Jordan, too, has given the play a wry twist through a very appropriate casting trick, which came from his own mind and not Inge's. Although we won't reveal what it is here, the playwright most likely would approve, however, and enthusiastically. (The dopey title refers to a character played here by Theresa Secor, as the main autograph collector).

The evening's end pieces, "Memory of Summer" and "The Mall," both take place in seaside resorts. Directed by Jordan, "Memory" stars Jennifer Marie Lester as a somewhat faded beauty trying desperately to hold onto her youth. A woman straight out of one of those reeking-of-magnolias Tennessee Williams plays, she flirts with a young lifeguard (Tony Grande) who wears the evening's most popular costume: a sailor's uniform that Grande wears again as a different character in "The Mall." That costume, in turn, gets passed on to Bus Riley somewhere in the middle.

"The Mall," directed by Jim Diderrich, looks at love through several perspectives, with commentary by a pair of female street people and a slightly surrealistic touch.

There are several notable performances during the evening: Berit Moore and Secor as the above-mentioned street people, Grande as an easygoing cowboy in "Bus Riley," and Diderrich, slyly underplaying as a traveling salesman in the same play.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"Five Short Plays" by William Inge continues weekends though March 21 at the Arts Council Center, 482 Greenmeadow Road in Thousand Oaks. Curtain is 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $8 general admission, $7 for students and seniors. For reservations (a good idea) or further information, call 499-4355.

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