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THEATER REVIEW : 'Star-Spangled Girl' Retuned for the '90s : References to computers and AIDS add a contemporary tone to the '60s comedy that mixes politics and romance.


In his current production of Neil Simon's "The Star-Spangled Girl," director David Douglas attempts to bring Simon's 1967 sensibilities into the present.

While the changes don't hurt anything, nobody's going to confuse this with David Mamet.

The play is in production at the Ojai Art Center Theater.

Andy Cobart and Norman Cornell share a San Francisco apartment, also headquarters for "Fallout," a small leftist political magazine they publish.

Moments into the play, a newcomer moves in next door: Sophie Rauschmeyer. Just in from Little Rock, she's a former Olympic swimmer who's engaged to a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton. But shortly after introducing herself to the two men, Norman, who writes the magazine, develops a full-out crush on her. High-jinks ensue.

While on the surface it's a simple enough (and sporadically amusing) comedy, the years and director Douglas have lent some texture to Simon's work. Back in '68, for instance, Norman's pursuit of Sophie--watching her through a telescope and following her to work--might have seemed to reflect an innocent infatuation; today he would very likely be turned in to the police as a stalker.

And make no mistake, the play has been updated: Douglas has inserted references to computers, Tonya Harding and AIDS. Also, in this production, Norman and Andy appear old enough to be Sophie's father--probably an accident of casting rather than an attempt at significance.

Doug Friedlander and Rodman Castleberry portray Andy and Norman as a couple of old fussbudgets; politically, they're more like leftover '30s Communists than members of the '60s radical left. (One might question whether bringing these politics into the '90s is even appropriate.) Jennifer Jennings brings fire to "The Star-Spangled Girl" as Sophie, who is staunchly independent though politically conservative.

Pacing is everything in a play like this, and last Friday night's performance--the cast's third before the public--faltered a bit, especially in some clumsy sound effects cues.

All in all, this "Star-Spangled Girl" provides a diverting enough evening's entertainment, and kindles the desire to see future work, especially by Jennings and director Douglas.


* WHAT: "The Star-Spangled Girl."

* WHEN: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., though March 26. Also 2 p.m. Sunday and March 20.

* WHERE: Ojai Art Center Theater, 113 S. Montgomery St., Ojai.

* COST: $8 general admission; $6 for seniors, children and Art Center members.

* FYI: For reservations or further information, call 649-1107

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