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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | THEATER NOTES

Classic Draws a Crowd at College's Arts Center

Strong acting along with comfortable seating and excellent acoustics make this a definitive production for Moorpark.

February 01, 1996|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ironically, the 400-seat theater in Moorpark College's multimillion dollar Performing Arts Center is opening with "Our Town," a classic that requires little in the way of high technology or fancy facilities.

On the other hand, the play requires a large cast (more than 30 players in this version), and gives the theater department a chance to shake down the new facility. Under the direction of Michael Arndt, it's also a terrific--one might say definitive--production.

Last week's opening was jam-packed; a nice surprise considering the trouble the college has had filling its previous theater, the 175-seat Forum.

The play is a Norman Rockwellish portrait of a small New England town, set roughly between 1900 and a couple of years before America's entry into World War I. Grover's Corners, N.H., is predominantly Protestant and Republican and (so far as playwright Thornton Wilder lets on) minority-free. Workers in the local mill live offstage, in "Polish Town."

That one-eyed view of society aside, Wilder's play was avant-garde when it debuted in 1936, featuring: minimum staging; a narrator--the Stage Manager--who moves the story along and fills in for characters here and there; actors participating from stations in the audience; flashbacks; and a sequence featuring the town's dead, speaking among themselves at a major character's funeral.

Joe Sanfellippo is particularly strong as the Stage Manager, with Thomas Lenk and Nicole Rose Immel as George Gibbs and Emily Webb, neighbors whose growing romance supplies the play's dramatic thread. Notable among the many others are John C. Brittenham as Emily's father, a mousy newspaper editor; Paula Fernandez as George's mother; Greg Leitzel as Dr. Gibbs; and Kathleen McPhee as Mrs. Webb.

The new theater is comfortable and excellent acoustically: You can probably hear those clanking milk bottles out in the parking lot!

* "Our Town" continues tonight through Saturday at the Moorpark College Performing Arts Center on Collins Road in Moorpark (take California 118 or 23 freeways to Collins; follow the street east until you see the theater building on your right). Curtain time for all performances is 8 p.m. Tickets are $10; $8 for students; and $6 for ASB members, faculty and staff, seniors 55 and older and children 12 and under. For further information, call 378-1485.

*

'Lunch Hour' Matinees: As the first in their series of Conejo Afternoon Theater weekend matinee productions, the Thousand Oaks-based company has chosen "Lunch Hour" by Jean Kerr, whose credits include "Mary, Mary" and the books "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" and "The Snake Has All the Lines."

Oliver DeVreck (Craig Campbell) is a psychiatrist and marriage counselor whose own marriage has run out of excitement and into complacency. Beautiful young Carrie Sachs (Annabelle Banzali) arrives at the seaside home the DeVreck's have leased while Oliver completes his book, and she's bringing some surprising news. Before long, everyone is sparring, with Oliver's friend Leo Simpson (Todd Dufour)--an actor and the home's owner--on hand to observe and mediate.

Kerr attempts to bring the British comedy of manners into the American 1980s--it's set in Long Island--with mixed results. Dialogue that aims to be wittily sophisticated (". . . and now that the air is alive with candor . . .") is simply arch, and frequently stilted ("You saw how strangely quiet I was there for a while") in mid-'90s Southern California.

The members of the cast give it their all, though, under Dayne Jervis's direction, and the production is not without charm. In fact, one big scene, right after intermission, gives a good idea of what Kerr was trying to accomplish, erasing the border between Oscar Wilde or Noel Coward and American screwball comedy.

Orlinda Lusher and Richard Hawkes complete the cast as DeVreck's wife, Nora, and Sach's husband, Peter. The entire cast is new to the Conejo Players--all but Hawkes are new to Ventura County theater--and their future activities should be worth a look. In the meantime, "Lunch Hour" is a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours, but nothing special.

* "Lunch Hour" continues Saturday and Sunday afternoons through Feb. 18 at the Conejo Players Theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks. All performances are at 2:30 p.m.; all seats are $5. For further information, call 495-3715.

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