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THEATER REVIEW / 'PATENT LEATHER SHOES' : School Days : An enthusiastic cast--many new to the Plaza Players--offer up a pleasing first-night performance.


Nature commemorated the 45th Anniversary Season of the Plaza Players--and the 69th birthday of founder and creative director Michael Maynez--on Saturday night with a rainstorm. The Plaza Players themselves celebrated it with their first-night performance of "Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?"

It's a pleasant, though inauspicious, start to the company's new year.

John R. Powers' script is based on his book of the same title, a memoir of growing up in Catholic school. The play began as a highly successful local production in Chicago, moved briefly to Broadway, and has been a standard in community theater for many years.

It's a slight story at best, laden with the usual references: strict disciplinarian nuns (one of whom wears sneakers), randy boys, sexually repressed girls, even bingo.

Many members of the opening night audience did seem to find the play amusing, perhaps subscribing to the theory that one person's cliches are another's universal experiences.

The cast of 12 is slightly reduced from the original's 16 members. Four men and four women play classmates in elementary and high school. And four more adults play the three nuns and a priest.

Doug Stuart is Eddie Ryan, the thick-witted protagonist, who doesn't really appreciate Becky Bakowski (Ann Grindinger) until she's shed some weight during the summer vacation between eighth and ninth grades. Then he appreciates her a lot, which leads to the bittersweet love story that is the play's strongest aspect. Ken Volok plays geeky Felix Landor, Robert Reilly is chubby, enthusiastic Louie Schlang, and Glenn Moore portrays Mike Depki, who's even dopier than Eddie.

The other "girls" are as stereotyped: Denise Santoyo as teachers' favorite Mary Kenny, Wendy Halvorsen as athletic Virginia Lear, and Terrie Reed as late-bloomer Nancy Ralansky. Yvette Evans, Sharon Reinhold and Judy Walters portray nuns, and Braden McKinley plays the priest.

It's an enthusiastic cast--many of them welcome new additions to the Plaza Players--doing the best they can with a mediocre script and music that's well below that level.

The songs, by James Quinn and Alaric Jans, sound like first drafts: the opening number repeats the title endlessly, and "Don't tell your pop, don't tell your mom, we're gonna have fun at the Senior Prom" is about as witty as the lyrics get. The play itself has one good joke: "My aunt went into mourning by buying a black Pontiac with the insurance money." More typical is Catholic girls are "like whiffle balls: They don't go very far."

Maynez directed with a sure hand, and Barbara Swanson doubles as musical director and offstage pianist; thankless jobs, both, considering the material.


"Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?" continues Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. through May 8 at the Plaza Players Theater, 34 N. Palm St. in Ventura. Tickets are $7 Wednesdays, $9 Fridays, and $10 Saturdays. For reservations or further information, call 643-9460.

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