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FAMILY : Uneven 'Fables' Gives Hint of Promise


Imagination Station, a new children's theater company, kicks off its inaugural three-play season at Santa Monica's Morgan-Wixson Theatre with an uneven but likable "Aesop's Fables."

The fox and the elusive "sour" grapes, the nightlife-loving city mouse and his countrified cousin, the slow and steady tortoise and the overly confident hare go through their paces, along with other Aesopian moral tales, played for laughs aimed at both children and adults.

It's a good-natured ensemble effort that moves quickly, presented as a series of loosely connected vignettes punctuated by clever musical riffs and keyboard sound effects, although weakened by sporadic, unmemorable songs. It doesn't help that Shari Getz, who is otherwise entertaining as the Country Mouse, has the weakest voice and the most to sing.

The scant, hourlong show (and that includes a 15-minute intermission) is presented with a minimum of props and costumes. In addition to Getz, the adult cast includes veteran storytellers Jennifer Brandt and Jon E. Reed. Gregory Kemper plays the affable Lion, Jongiorgi Enos is a tango-ing Fox, Brandt plays the vain Crow and the stalwart Tortoise and Kristina Steward is both a demure Duck and a feline Mae West.

Reed is a comical standout in his dual roles as a foot-thumping, hyperkinetic Hare and a know-it-all, sarcastic City Mouse.

There's nothing new here, however, and the obligatory aisle chases are too screechingly loud and frenetic, a regrettable and common fault in theater aimed at young children. But the cast is polished and there's genuine humor and intelligence at work that may auger well for future growth. The company's next show, an original comedy called "The King Who Couldn't Dance," opens July 15; "Puss in Boots" opens Sept. 16.

* "Aesop's Fables," Saturdays at 10 a.m. and noon through June 17. $5 per child/$7 per adult. Birthdays accommodated. Reservations: (310) 828-7519 (Wed.-Sat., 3 to 7 p.m.). Running time: 1 hour.


Cut-Away Look: For young theatergoers who wonder where the scenery, costumes and props come from, how actors "fly" or who operates the spotlight during that special big night out, a beautifully designed new book, "Behind the Curtain," is just the ticket for a backstage tour. As the orchestra tunes up and the houselights dim, illustrator Christian Thee and author Robert Levine give readers age 8 and up a "trompe l'oeil," cut-away look behind the scenes at a production of "Hansel and Gretel," complete with program notes and simple descriptions of various theater jobs and terms.

* At major bookstores. Workman Publishing Co., $17.95.

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