There's never any trouble figuring out which character in a Neil Simon play is the playwright's alter-ego. It's even easier than usual in "I Ought to Be in Pictures," playing at the Elite Theater Company's theater in Oxnard, directed by Patricia Lynn- Strickland.
Of the three characters, two are female. Libby Tucker (Deborah Probe) is the long-estranged teenage daughter who arrives, unannounced, on the doorstep of her father's West Hollywood bungalow. Steffy Blondell (Mary Super) is the father's long-suffering girlfriend. That leaves, as the Simon surrogate, Herb himself (Vincent Dandrews), a screenwriter in the throes of a lengthy spell of writer's block.
The play is a montage of conversations between Herb and the women in his life. Simon is, as usual, mentally mired in an earlier decade. And the late '70s play is fraught with anachronisms, suffering (to the pedants among us, at least) from the Elite company's uneasy and inconsistent attempts to cover for them while bringing the script (sort-of) up-to-date.
Is it set in the present? Herb writes on a computer, and Libby refers to Tom Hanks' 1995 Mercedes. On the other hand, they toss around references to "The Song of Bernadette," "Roots," "Upstairs, Downstairs" and David Niven as though all of them had appeared in recent issues of Entertainment Weekly.
And Libby returns from a party saying that she met "that director . . . who directed 'Jaws'--I can't remember his name." Here's a 19-year-old who wants to get into the film business but can't remember Steven Spielberg's name?
That noted, and allowing that many people seem to find Neil Simon's personal problems interesting (or, to be fair, universal), "I Ought to Be in Pictures" has some amusing moments, and a particularly strong performance by Probe as the daughter who Herb--or Simon--would call "kooky."
And, take this as you will: Vincent Dandrews certainly looks the part of a writer.
* "I Ought to Be in Pictures" continues through April 13 at the Petit Playhouse, 730 South B St. in Oxnard's Heritage Square. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $10, $8 for seniors. For reservations or further information, call 483-5118.
The worst thing about Chicago playwright James Sherman's "Beau Jest," playing at the Marquie Dinner Theater, is its off-putting generic title.
Now popping up all over the country (including a concurrent production in Studio City), the culture-clash themed farce is almost as dated as "I Ought to Be in Pictures," but much funnier--if vastly less reflective--than Simon's play.
Sarah Goldman (Valerie Belardinelli), a modern kind of gal, is afraid to tell her conservative parents (Don Pearlman and Eleanor Brand) that her fiance, Chris (Dale Adrion), is not Jewish.
Forced into a family get-acquainted dinner, Sarah does what anybody else would do under the circumstances: She hires a professional escort to pretend to be her Jewish fiance for the evening. Unfortunately, the only thing "Jewish" about Bob Schroeder (Oded Gross) is his last name; he's forced to improvise his way through the evening with a very limited (but surprisingly handy) familiarity with the religion's traditions.
Poorly received in some quarters for its sit-comish premise and what's perceived as ethnic stereotyping, "Beau Jest" is an audience favorite, the original 1989 production having moved from Chicago's nonprofit "off-Loop" Victory Gardens Theater to a larger, professional house and a successful 1991 off-Broadway run. It certainly had the Marquie audience laughing throughout Saturday night's performance.
Farce such as this requires especially strong and confident players, and director Kevin P. Kern has selected a consistently worthy crew, including Mark Faguendes as Sarah's suspicious brother.
* "Beau Jest" continues Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings through April 13 at Marquie Dinner Theater, 340 Mobil Ave., Camarillo. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; dinner is served beginning at 7, and show time is 8. Admission, which includes a full dinner, nonalcoholic beverages, taxes and tips, is $26 (seniors, $24) on Thursdays, $28 on Friday and Saturdays, with discounts for groups and children. A cash bar is available. For reservations or further information, call 484-9909.
The Santa Paula Theater Center is offering special student (with I.D.) and senior (55 and above) ticket prices of $5 (regularly $10) for their performances of "The Miracle Worker" this opening-weekend on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon only. Regular prices apply for everybody else. For reservations or further information, call 525-4645.