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THEATER : NOTES : VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND : Follow-Up Play Explores Anger of AIDS Patient : The Ventura College drama department presents the moving piece which picks up where Larry Kramer's 'A Normal Heart' left off.


Too many plays opened last weekend; reviews of "The Fantasticks" and the Moorpark Melodrama's "Cinderella Meets the Wolf Man" will appear next week.


Destiny Calls: Larry Kramer became the first American playwright to deal successfully with the AIDS crisis, with his largely autobiographical "The Normal Heart." Ventura College's drama department staged that one last year; now, Art McDermott again appears most effectively as Kramer's alter-ego, Ned Weeks, in the playwright's 1992 follow-up, "The Destiny of Me," imaginatively directed by Judy Garey.

A couple of years have passed since the action in "Heart." Bedridden in a suburban D.C. hospital, Ned examines his teen years via cinematic flashbacks. The anger of the first play--AIDS was a new phenomenon, treated with what Kramer felt to be indifference by the government and medical establishment--is compounded here by Kramer's (or his character's) feelings toward his antagonistic father.

Doug Green affectingly portrays Ned in his younger years. Margaret Nesbitt plays Weeks' mother as a less-abrasive Edith Bunker, with Travis Greer strong and ultimately scary as Ned's father. Todd R. Garrett plays Week's understanding brother; Simon Alvarado is seen as Week's doctor; and Natasha Saum is the nurse, frustrated and angry herself as Ned lashes out at them. There'll be a special discussion period following Friday night's performance.


Staging A Comeback: Clifford Odets' tale of an actor attempting a comeback might be the playwright's reaction to his own career: After a successful career writing for the New York stage in the '30s, he moved to Hollywood and was regarded as something of a sellout and (despite "Golden Boy") a has-been.

First staged in 1950, "The Country Girl" became a bit of a comeback for Odets. It won a Tony (though not for best play, which went to Tennessee Williams' "The Rose Tattoo"), and was subsequently turned into a popular film, starring Bing Crosby as the alcoholic.

But the play--running the next two weekends at the Arts Council Center in Thousand Oaks--is called "The Country Girl" and not "The Alcoholic Actor," and there's a reason.

Talented young director Bernie Dodd (Wes Dietrick), wants once-great actor Frank Elgin (Ron Rezak) to star in his new play, despite the protests of producer Phil Cook (Jack McGee), who's wary of Elgin's reputation as a drunk. Elgin brings his mousy and seemingly naive wife, Georgia (Rebecca Hanes). When she describes herself as "just a country girl," there's trouble in store.

As a backstage drama, "The Country Girl" is quite authentic. And, like life, it's occasionally unclear who is the good guy and who (if anybody) is the villain.

Performances under Michael Jordan's direction are strong throughout, including those by Jim Diderrich as the stage manager, Alan Favish as the playwright and Rochelle Glatt as the play's ingenue.

Incidentally, it was the female lead--Uta Hagen on Broadway and Grace Kelly in the film--who won the major "Country Girl" awards: a Tony and an Oscar, respectively.


Living Legends: The Camarillo Community Theatre's annual "Living Legend" awards will be given to two veteran local actors Saturday night during the company's production of "Guys and Dolls." The group is keeping mum about who they're honoring, but we say that it's about time veterans Doc Reynolds and Lloyd Allen were recognized.


The Ventura College Theater Department presents Larry Kramer's "The Destiny of Me," a drama depicting the fight against AIDS, in the campus theater on Loma Vista Road near Telegraph Road; show times 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday; $7, $5 students, staff and senior citizens; 654-6397.

Ventura Area TheatreSports, an improvisational acting troupe, will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Performance Studio, 34 N. Palm St., Ventura; $5; 642-8041.

The Cabrillo Music Theater will present a mini-preview from "The King and I" at noon, 12:45 and 1:30 p.m. Sunday at The Oaks shopping center's JCPenney Court, Thousand Oaks; no charge; 495-2031.

The Stage Door Theatre, 28311 Agoura Road, Agoura Hills, will continue with the comedy "Move Over Mrs. Markham"; show times 8 p.m. Thursdays ($8), 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays ($10); through Nov. 11; (818) 889-5209.

The Santa Susana Repertory Company and the Gold Coast Performing Arts Assn. will continue with the musical "The Fantasticks" at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Forum Theatre, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks; show times 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays; through Oct. 29; $25, $22 senior citizens and students; group rates; 684-6035 or 497-8616.

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