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The first time director Gary Davis directed Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operetta "H.M.S. Pinafore," he had just finished his master's degree at Occidental College in Eagle Rock. That was in 1969.

Since then, he's been teaching drama at Mount San Antonio College and has directed other plays. Now, the 45-year-old director has returned and is again sailing the ocean blue on that saucy ship at Occidental as part of the college's Hillside Repertory summer festival, opening Saturday.

"I remember very little of the first production," Davis said. "I feel very refreshed coming back to it. For me, it's a very new and very fresh experience."

The plot, and the term is used loosely, concerns love and position.

"The basic theme that (the play) is satirizing is the over-importance that the British placed on class distinction in the 1870s and 1880s, and it spoofs that unmercifully," Davis said. "The admiralty's first lord of the navy comes on board the H.M.S. Pinafore to marry

the captain's daughter, who is in love with a sailor."

The sailor, sadly, is from a much lower station in life than the captain's daughter, who is from a lower station than the first lord of the navy.

"Ultimately, of course, the heart wins out and everyone ends up with who they should," Davis said.

As director, he has tried to return to the show's historical roots. When the operetta was written in 1878, Davis said, acting was more akin to what one associates with bad "mellerdramers."

"Things were very broad and aimed right at the front," he said. "It's like you're moving from one pose to another. We in the '90s view that style as a little bit overboard, and it's kind of fun."

The Pinafore docks at 8 p.m. at Occidental's Remsen Bird Hillside Theater, 1600 Campus Road. Tickets are $16 for reserved seats and $11 for general admission. Reservations and information: (213) 259-2922.

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