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THEATER REVIEW : 2 Sides of Noel Coward's 'Spirit' : Running concurrently in Santa Paula and Camarillo, the two productions of the same play do manage to be different.


Theatergoers have the rare opportunity to choose from two concurrent productions of Noel Coward's arch comedy, "Blithe Spirit": One by the Santa Paula Theater Center (reviewed in these pages July 22), and a newcomer at what now is called Dinner Theatre at Ottavio's in Camarillo.

The latter group, a reorganized version of the former Faye Renee Dinner Theatre, retains the same venue and many of the onstage and backstage participants as its predecessor, in addition to a similar menu and prices. It has, however, dropped Thursday night performances in favor of a Friday-Saturday schedule.

As for "Blithe Spirit," if you enjoyed previous Faye Renee productions, you'll probably like this one. It is director Gail James' first project for the group, but otherwise comfortably full of familiar faces.

Terry Fishman and Patricia Adrian star as author Charles Condomine and his second wife, Ruth. Denice Stradling plays Charles' first wife, Elvira, now a mischievous and jealous piece of ectoplasm conjured up by medium Madame Arcati (LaVerne Kaufmann) during a seance. The session was commissioned by Charles while researching a book debunking the spiritual world. Aha!

Also on hand are Martin Horsey and director James as the Condomines' friends, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, and Judy Weaver as the Condomines' energetic maid, Edith.

Better or worse than Santa Paula's production? The short answer is: Different.

For one thing, a couple of these English accents are authentic. Expatriate Brits Fishman and Horsey last worked together in the group's production of "The Foreigner" last year. The overall pace here also is a little less frantic, with Edith and Madame Arcati not as cartoonish.

This version additionally seemed to be generally smoother, more subtle and facile at Saturday's opening than the Santa Paulans were on the night reviewed.

Performed with the audience on three sides of the stage, this production has less opportunity for a lavish set (nice Victrola, though) or special "ghost" effects than the proscenium-mounted Santa Paula version, though there is one trick here that members of the audience might have fun trying to figure out on the way to the parking lot after the show. Hint: There's no wires, and nobody's hidden under the stage.


"Blithe Spirit" continues Friday and Saturday nights through Sept. 11 at Ottavio's Banquet Facilities, 340 N. Mobil Ave., Moorpark. Doors open both nights at 6 p.m., dinner is served at 6:30 and the performance begins at 8:15. Tickets are $25 Fridays, including a buffet dinner, and $35 Saturdays, including a served dinner. Price includes the show, dinner, dessert and nonalcoholic beverage, and a cash bar is available. For reservations or further information, call 484-9909.

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