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THEATER REVIEWS : Scattered Staging Depletes Camino Playhouse's 'Abundance'

September 15, 1993|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — "Abundance" is a strange play to come from the pen of the author of the very contemporary "The Miss Firecracker Contest" and the just-as-current Pulitzer Prize-winning "Crimes of the Heart."

It is set in the 19th Century and although its thrust is basically feministic, its story is of that time. The style is also filmic, covering two decades and many locales.

In a thoughtfully handled production at the Camino Real Playhouse, that cinematic form is one of two problems. Detailing the adventures of two mail-order brides in the Wyoming Territory, the action takes place on two farms, paths, fields and clearings, a St. Louis hotel and a carnival midway. The set designed by director B.J. Scott is too specific to its sites, and too busy on the stage, when a more generic background with inserted set pieces would have taken better advantage of Beth Henley's rapid flow of scenes.

The other problem is Scott's casting of the two major male roles. James Faris, as slow-witted farmer Will who wises up too late, makes too much of Will's lack of depth. Will is dumb, not imbecilic. Richard Pettigrew, as the other frontier farmer, Jack Flan, plays one macho note without much shading.

Scott, who handles the action with fluidity and some insight into the philosophical balance in Henley's Western parable, was more on target in the casting of the play's central females.

Robin J. Ward is Bess, a sweet young woman forced to marry Flan, the brother of her deceased fiance. She is later captured by an Indian brave, tattooed, ravished and lives to write a book about the experience. Janet Lee is Macon, the friend she met en route to Wyoming, who marries one-eyed Will and guides his spread to abundance.

Both actresses give interesting performances, with humor and some depth, and keep the wandering play alive. Bess' later celebrity and abundant wealth, and Macon's sad fall from her full life require changes in performance and style that the actresses handle with ease.

Reed L. Royalty is properly self-effacing in the small role of the professor who gets Bess' story published, and Diane Green's costumes are just right. Michelle D. Evans' lighting provides some of the muscularity in the drama that the scattered setting denies.

* "Abundance," 31776 El Camino Real, San Juan Capistrano. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sunday matinee Sept. 26, 2 p.m. Ends Oct. 2. $10. (714) 489-8082. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Robin J. Ward: Bess Johnson

Janet Lee: Macon Hill

James Faris: Will Curtis

Richard Pettigrew: Jack Flan

Reed L. Royalty: Professor Elmore Crome

A South Orange County Community Theatre production. Drama by Beth Henley. Directed by B.J. Scott. Costumes: Diane Green. Lights: Michelle D. Evans. Setting: B.J. Scott.

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