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Shows Offer Two Views of Southern Mentality

'Driving Miss Daisy' explores a trio of growing relationships while 'Time for Murder' elicits laughs as a farcical mystery.


The local theater scene is fraught with coincidence. Within the next several weeks, two productions of "The Secret Garden" will open within about 20 miles of one another. Last week saw the revival of "Time for Murder" and "Driving Miss Daisy," also within a 20-mile radius, which were originally presented at the Court Theater in Simi Valley. Moreover, they both deal with life in the American South--though from quite different perspectives.

Alfred Uhry's "Driving Miss Daisy" is playing at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza's Forum Theatre, with a cast (two-thirds of them, anyway) who first performed it in Simi Valley shortly after the Rodney King trial.

Patience Cleveland plays Daisy, a strong-willed and genteel woman who, as the play begins, is in her early 70s. Though she's physically fit and mentally alert, her poor driving moves her son, Boolie, to hire a chauffeur. The next two hours examine the pair's relationship as it develops over a 25-year period.

One of the joys of "Driving Miss Daisy" is the intelligence of its characters. All three manipulate one another to a degree, but none of them is foolish, and both Daisy and chauffeur Hoke (Beau Billingslea) are living in a period and share a background where subtlety is the best course of action.

When discrimination becomes particularly ugly (and from a largely unexpected source), both rise to the occasion with a minimum of flash and a maximum of dignity.

Cleveland and Billingslea performed the same roles in the 1992 Simi Valley production; here, they're joined by Terry Lester as Boolie. The trio is strong and believable under Lane Davies' direction, and the production is strengthened by Roger Ambrose's imaginative scenic design and George Mitchell's costumes.

* "Driving Miss Daisy" continues through March 10 at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza's Forum Theatre, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. Performances are at 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 Sundays. Tickets are $20; $18 for students and seniors, and are available at Civic Arts Plaza box office or through TicketMaster (805) 583-8700. For information, call 497-8616.


Uhry is said to have written "Daisy" as a reaction to the stereotypical portrayal that Southerners often receive in fiction. As an example, though written subsequent to "Daisy," one need look no farther than Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center's production of "Time for Murder," by local playwright Angela Wayne Randazzo.

Randazzo's farcical mystery first played two years ago at the Court Theater. The current version is somewhat revised and recast, and performed in a much nicer space, the new Cultural Arts Center.

Visiting an antebellum Louisiana mansion, two tourists from New Jersey discover that they've been tossed more than 100 years into the past. There's a corpse on the floor, and the body count (as it turns out) is rising rapidly. High jinx ensue.

Of course, "Time for Murder" is a farce, and shouldn't be viewed as an accurate representation of Southerners--or, for that matter, New Jerseyites, who are portrayed as every bit as uncouth as their Dixie cousins.

Rusty Perry and Jan Glasband play Harry and Maxine Eastman, all duded up for a trip to the home of Maxine's forebears, a family headed (at least in 1861) by Col. Jebediah Benhorn (Burt Wilson) and including several men and women--played by Irene Geiger, Kimberly Paine, Michael Pratt, Harrison Ray and Philippe Fanjeaud--vying for an inheritance and (in some cases) one another's affections.

Very silly and frequently funny, "Time for Murder" achieves its modest goals. "Driving Miss Daisy" exceeds its, which may be why it won a Pulitzer Prize for playwright Uhry.

* "A Time for Murder" concludes this weekend at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 Los Angeles Ave. Shows are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; tickets are $12; $10 seniors and students; $8, children. For reservations or information, call 581-9940 or 581-2714.

Casting Call: William Fisher will hold open auditions Tuesday and Wednesday nights at 7:30 for the California Shakespeare Company production of "Othello." Prospective cast members should come to the company's theater, 6685 Princeton Ave. in Moorpark, with a prepared monologue from any Shakespearean play, and be ready for a cold reading from the text. No appointment is necessary. For information, call 498-3354.

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