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THEATER REVIEW : Play Pokes Fun at Ojai's 'Eccentricities' : Few aspects of community life are left unskewered in this strictly local musical production.


A rousing ovation for the Ojai Chamber of Commerce, who have mounted the original revue "Ojai Eccentricities of 1993."

With a script that takes shots at local politics and what's portrayed as a quite rigid and rather silly social structure, it's not the sort of thing with which a Chamber of Commerce might be expected to associate. On the other hand, it says a lot for the group--and the Ojai citizenry--that they're able to chuckle at themselves.

An amateur effort in the best possible sense, "Eccentricities" was written by long-time local social observer and Ojai Valley News columnist Mel Bloom, with lyrics to some songs contributed by the show's director, Beverly Rose Gidlow. The melodies are from familiar pop songs, show tunes and the like.

Don Scott portrays the publisher of a fictional Ojai newspaper, narrating the show with his wife, played by Debra Massarella.

Scott's character tends to emphasize the, uh, peculiar aspects of life in Ojai--such as the abundance of New Age philosophy. Massarella's character stresses the positive ("We have people who would kill to keep an endangered species alive.").

In addition to the two principals are perky and energetic singer-dancers Bob Aviles, Matt Hagg, Vanessa Hughes, Jeff Lathrop, Neta-Lee Noy, Jackie Warner Ringhof and Sarah Seebirt. Dressed in white shirts and denim pants, they sing songs and act out sketches depicting situations ranging from "The Folks from Meiners Oaks," portrayed as bikers and hippies who can't afford to live in Ojai proper, to the local planning commission, a ripe subject for ridicule in any community.

Though such matters (and others, like struggling for a good seat at the Fourth of July parade) can be understood by anybody, other issues, including plans to develop the Sespe and the Seniors on Patrol sponsored by the Little House community service agency, are of more parochial interest--though the idea of vigilant seniors keeping an eye on vacationers' homes does present opportunities for parody, none of them left unexamined here.

Though the Weldon Canyon dump issue was (temporarily) shelved on the show's opening day, the song commemorating it will remain, says producer Evelyn Raft.

Musical accompaniment is provided by Fern Barishman on piano and accordion, and percussionist David Gidlow. Hughes, Massarella and Ringhof supplied the snappy choreography, and D'Anida Weisman designed the functional set.

Very funny overall, "Ojai Eccentricities of 1993" is a must for locals--those with a sense of humor about themselves, at least--and should be only slightly less entertaining to outsiders. Could it become an annual tradition? Only if residents of The Ojai and environs continue to behave a little bit differently. And who knows, maybe other communities could put together similar looks at themselves.


"Ojai Eccentricities of 1993" continues through July 31 at the Ojai Center for the Arts, 113 S. Montgomery St., Ojai. Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 and Sunday matinees at 3. For reservations, call 646-8126.

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