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Something Old . . . New . . . and 'Blue'

Theatre District: 'Catfish Moon,' a light, bittersweet story by Laddy Sartin having its West Coast premiere in Costa Mesa, is well-cast and cleverly staged. And it's a fresh catch for audiences.


COSTA MESA — Laddy Sartin's "Catfish Moon," which had its West Coast premiere over the weekend at the Theatre District, is a pleasant, bittersweet little play that might be called a country cousin of Lanford Wilson's slight romantic comedies.

The action is set in the rural South on an old abandoned fishing pier that Curley (Steve Howard) has just purchased, though he can't afford it. The lake smells to him like the "fragrance of paradise." Here, he hopes to recapture the simple joys of life--long lost to the money-grubbing pressures of work--with a couple of his childhood friends from town, Gordon (Steve McCammon) and Frog (Brian Harvey).

Gordon, who has fallen in love with Curley's younger sister Betty (Marnelle Ross)--or thinks he has, having confirmed it on an astrology hotline--proposes immediately on bended knee because the psychic advisor has told him that the stars are propitious.

Frog, recently divorced from Betty, has heard of the affair--which sends him into an angry rage. His attitude is unjustified, not to mention inconvenient, to Curley, who is at pains to rekindle the boyhood innocence of the three-way friendship. It also is unreasonable to Gordon.

As for Betty, who just wants to get back on her feet and isn't ready for marriage any time soon, she feels outraged not only by Gordon's possessive treatment but by the nerve of Frog to feel betrayed when it was his infidelity that led to the divorce in the first place.

"Catfish Moon" is acted at an unhurried pace, and its lazy, laid-back mood (despite the eruptions) is enhanced greatly by the imaginative details of Mario Lescot's set design.

They evoke the look of a semitropical lake overgrown with tall weeds at the shoreline, lush with overhanging trees and dappled shade. The pale blue sky stands in a silvery dusk with pink-and-white clouds. And to judge from the clever props--fishing rods, for instance, that bend and quiver as though they had minds of their own--the lake is alive with fish.

The well-cast actors fit their characters, especially for comic effect.

Howard shows his experience as a performer: He anchors the ensemble with naturalness and ease as the poignant Curley. McCammon portrays Gordon, who is goofy and earnest, with a loopy touch. He's at his best playing drunk in the second act.

Harvey stiffens up as Frog, when the role calls for anger. He's better at cranky, most credible when Frog calms down and loosest when serious. Ross is pretty to look at as Betty, but the role needs more personality.

Sartin writes in an amiable style. The colloquial dialogue sounds true to its region, though it could be less repetitive.

"Catfish Moon," which had its first professional staging earlier this year in North Carolina, may not be for the ages. It's conventional. It's old-fashioned. But at least it's a new play, and it makes a light evening of theater.

* "Catfish Moon," the Theatre District, 2930 Bristol St., Suite C-106, Costa Mesa. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends June 30. $15. (714) 435-4043. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.

Catfish Moon

Steve Howard: Curley

Steve McCammon: Gordon

Brian Harvey: Frog

Marnelle Ross: Betty

A Theatre District production of a play by Laddy Sartin, directed by Mario Lescot. Executive producer: Bonnie Vise. Set design: Mario Lescot. Lighting design: David Jacobi. Costumes: Joan Lescot. Stage manager: Joan Lescot.

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