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THEATER REVIEW : Funny 'Social Security' Targets Today's Art, Stereotypes of Aged : Bright performances enliven Plaza Players' production of a play by accomplished screenwriter Andrew Bergman.


For their first production of 1994, Ventura's Plaza Players are presenting a play that's as funny as it is unambitious. While "Social Security" isn't exactly intellectually challenging, give the company credit for finding a property that hasn't been overdone by local theater groups.

Set in contemporary New York City, "Social Security" takes on as its main targets contemporary art and stereotyping of the aged. Author Andrew Bergman paints with a broad brush (so to speak), and in doing so manages to cover his targets quite thoroughly.

While his is hardly a familiar name among playwrights, filmgoers know Bergman's work well--he was a co-writer on "Blazing Saddles," and subsequent scripts for "The In-Laws," "The Freshman," "Soapdish" and "Honeymoon in Vegas."

Christy Bell and Hugh McManigal star as Barbara and David Kahn, owners of an upscale Manhattan art gallery. The action begins when Barbara's sister, Trudy Heyman (Linda Lacey), and her husband, Martin (Jereme Leslie), stop by to deliver the sisters' mother. Sophie (Terri Sheridan) has been living with the Heymans; now it's the Kahns' turn. And, of course, the Kahns want no part of it, aware that Sophie has been terrorizing the Heymans for years.

Hijinks ensue, most of them the result of a visit by Maurice Koenig (James Leslie), a 100-year-old, world-renowned artist.

McManigal and Bell are well cast as the upwardly striving youngish couple, and Lacey and Jereme Leslie turn in very funny performances as their more strait-laced counterparts from the provinces. Sheridan plays Sophie without too much caricature (that's good), and James Leslie deserves extra credit for playing a character several decades older than he is without hamming it up or using any of the tricks often used by amateurs (a stoop; halting speech) in the same circumstances.

One cavil: The script quite clearly describes two paintings on the wall as solid blue and white, respectively. The choice by director Michael Maynez and set designers Steve Aguilar and Bill Bostick to choose multicolored abstract works instead turns exchanges of dialogue referring to the paintings into gibberish.

The play takes a while to get going, and the actors' timing was still off a bit on opening night. But overall, "Social Security" is good fun and bodes well for the Plaza Players' upcoming season.


* WHAT: "Social Security"

* WHERE: Plaza Players Theater, 34 N. Palm St. (in the Livery Arts Center), Ventura

* WHEN: Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., through Feb. 12

* ETC: $7 Wednesdays, $9 Fridays and $10 Saturdays. For reservations or information, call 643-9460.

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