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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | THEATER NOTES

Versatile Cast Sets a Lively Pace for Comic Musical 'Lucky Stiff'

Enthusiastic troupe and appealing tunes prove contagious.

May 09, 1996|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Utterly ordinary British shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon stands to inherit millions of dollars if he can fulfill his Uncle Tony's last request: to escort Tony's corpse (handsomely stuffed by a friendly taxidermist) on a vacation to the gambling resort of Monte Carlo. That's the premise of "Lucky Stiff," a comic musical playing at the Marquie Dinner Theatre in Camarillo.

Originally an off-Broadway production, "Lucky Stiff" was written by Steven Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, the duo later responsible for the Caribbean-set musical, "Once on This Island." But "Lucky Stiff" bears more resemblance to the movie "Weekend at Bernie's," released about the same time. Obviously, the late '80s was a prime period for corpse farces.

As tuneful as it is frantic, "Lucky Stiff" features a cast of 10, several of whom play multiple parts. James Harlow, as Harry, strives to carry out Uncle Tony's final wish. He meets the lawyer (Ron Ford) who gives him the terms of the will, a slinky French chanteuse (Deidre Fisher) and a mysterious figure named Luigi (David C. Barry Jr.).

More mysteriously, he's trailed by Tony's lover (Diann Alexander), her optometrist brother (David Milligan) and an attractive, though somewhat reserved, young woman (Jeannine Marquie).

The cast also includes De Anne Helsel as Harry's landlady, William Terry as a bellhop, and one "Rick A. Mortis" as the wheelchair-propelled corpse.

Rex Waggoner, who directed the Marquie's wonderful "Two by Two" a while back, keeps his cast in constant motion, dashing around the diners' tables when they aren't onstage. Even during those moments when the script isn't particularly amusing, the troupe's enthusiasm is contagious.

Flaherty and Ahrens' songs don't break any ground lyrically. ("I can smell a tip," croons the bellhop. "It'll be a pip.") But they're pleasant enough and do advance the story. They're also performed quite nicely by the cast under musical director and keyboardist Kevin Parcher. Fisher supplied the extravagant choreography and Larry English is the percussionist.

* "Lucky Stiff" plays at 6:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through June 8 at Marquie Dinner Theatre, 340 Mobil Ave., Camarillo. Tickets: $26-$28, includes buffet dinner. Call: 484-9909.

*

Shanley One-Acts in Ojai: Despite the recent success of "Four Dogs and a Bone," John Patrick Shanley is still best-known for the Oscar-winning "Moonstruck"; he wrote the original play and its screen adaptation.

The newly formed Tabula Rasa Company, said to be the new resident company of the Ojai Center for the Arts, has gathered a number of Shanley one-acts into "Welcome to the Moon."

Directed by Craig Schmitman, the program--a no-intermission 90 minutes long--includes six plays (skits, really) of varying length and featuring 11 actors in various roles.

The unifying theme is romance. A down-and-out couple, played by Douglas Friedlander and Jennifer Wolf, are confronted--literally--by a wolf at the door. "Are you the poet?" the wolf demands. "Give me your library card!"

The title play, "Welcome to the Moon," is the show's concluding and most textured piece. Two forlorn men (Schmitman and Tommy Stork) meet in a Bronx bar. Suffering from unrequited love, the men are brought to what must be one of the funniest suicide pacts ever.

As Bronx local Vinnie, Lewis John Carlino gives what may be the show's finest individual performance. Other characters include Friedlander as a bartender, and Whitney Drolen as the object of Steve's unrequited affections.

Shanley's dialogue throughout the evening tends to be laconic, almost to the point of parody.

"Six days now," the Poet laments, "and we have had water and beans." But the acting is consistently good--many members of the cast haven't performed at the art center before--and the plays generated much laughter at Sunday's matinee performance. One suspects it would be a good bet for a date.

* "Welcome to the Moon and Other Plays" is presented at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at Ojai Center for the Arts, 113 S. Montgomery St., Ojai. May 19 show is at 7 p.m. Tickets: $8.50-$12.50. Call: 646-0117.

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