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THEATER NOTES : Playwright Strikes Nerve With Fans Over 'Sherlock's Last Case'


According to playwright Charles Marowitz, his "Sherlock's Last Case"--which opens tomorrow night at the Ojai Arts Center--has received mixed reviews from fans of the world's first and greatest consulting detective. "It's been very disliked, because it views Holmes as an arrogant ass," said Marowitz, during a phone interview.

"In the first production that was done in London, members of (Holmes fan club) the Baker Street Irregulars picketed the play, wearing those silly topcoats and floppy (deerstalker) hats. They take Holmes very seriously, and to them, anything that sullies the image of the great sleuth is viewed as profane."

Marowitz has directed his play in London, where it debuted in one-act form; in Los Angeles, for a long run including the 1984 Olympics Festival; in Washington, D.C.; and in Oslo, Norway. The Ojai production is directed by local resident Dori Pelto.

"The difficulty is getting a balance between the grand guignol aspects, where the comedy lies, and the serious aspect," Marowitz said. "The comedy is important, but the heart of the play--the reason that it was written--is about envy and what happens to people who subdue their feelings for a long time. There's an aspect of 'Amadeus' to it."

Marowitz said that he pays a royalty to the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created Holmes. "The irony is that I'd never read anything by Conan Doyle when I wrote the play, though I had been exposed to all those movies with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. I subsequently read four or five of the stories, and found them as boring as I expected them to be."

Curtains for Dorill B. Wright?

As the city of Port Hueneme withdraws funding from its Dorill B. Wright Cultural Center, there's one more production tentatively scheduled: a musical revue entitled "17 Times a Virgin, or A Rockette to the Moon."

The show is a tribute to the late philanthropist Olga Erbit, explained production designer Justin Du Pont. "When the Gold Coast Repertory Company started at the Wright about five years ago, she was sort of a den mother for all these crazy artists, and many of them would stay at her condominium while they were in town," said Du Pont.

Additionally, Erbit--a local businesswoman, artist and former member of Radio City Music Hall's Rockettes dance troupe--would "hand out programs, attend all performances, and do all the things that volunteers do," Du Pont said.

The professional Gold Coast Repertory has disbanded, with members scattered across the country. But, Du Pont said, "When Olga died a couple of months ago, she had put aside money in her will to produce what she called her "unwritten biography," "17 Times a Virgin."

And so, members of the group, under the direction of David Mendoza--now heading his own production company and talent agency in Atlanta--will mount a revue of songs, dances and production numbers in her memory on Saturday, May 8.

It will be, Mendoza said, "the glue" tying together a filmed documentary of her life, which he is producing. "She was one volunteer who affected the lives of so many people," Du Pont said. "Everybody says they want the arts, but somebody has to get out there and do something."

In the meantime, Port Hueneme City Councilman Dorill B. Wright said hope continues for the modern 600-seat center, named for him at the close of his 17 years as mayor.

"It's not totally closing--the city will not be sponsoring events, but the facility will be available as a rental hall as we look for a full-time nonprofit support group to provide funding for the center," he said. Wright and former Mayor Ray Pruter are "very active," Wright said, in forming such an organization.

"17 Times a Virgin or A Rockette to the Moon" is scheduled for one night only, Saturday, May 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets are free, but must be reserved in advance. Call 483-2665 for further information.

Fa la la, etc., etc.

The measure for Measure Renaissance Minstrels will perform a concert Saturday night at the Livery Arts Center's Performance Studio in Ventura. According to founder Jaye Hersh, the group of 12 will be performing three types of period music: authentic madrigals, a form of group singing, she said, " . . . that came to England from Italy and was performed for only about 20 years, as home entertainment, not to be played to audiences; Scottish street songs, two of which were written by Robert Burns; and tavern songs--not 'Greensleeves,' but that kind of thing."

All will be sung in English, and all are secular. "Two of the drinking songs are real bawdy," Hersh said. "But the kids won't get it."

An outreach program of the Ojai Shakespeare Festival, the group donates all of its profits to the parent group. The performance, in full costume, begins at 7:30; all tickets are $6. The Livery Arts Center is at 34 North Palm St. in Ventura.

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