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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | THEATER NOTES

'Assassins' Aims for Laughs, Hits Bull's-Eye

The Conejo Players' strong cast brings out the light side of this dark comedy.

June 27, 1996|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Assassins" is a dark comedy--too dark, evidently, for many spectators, judging from its limited 1991 off-Broadway run. Many viewers, though, will find the show--now playing weekend matinees at the Conejo Players Theater--very funny, indeed.

Each of the central characters has at least attempted to assassinate an American president. The Stephen Sondheim musical might be seen as a vehicle for exploring who would want to do such a thing, but book writer John Weidman comes up with nothing new: They're in it for personal glory, to change history for the better, that kind of thing.

Weidman fabricates situations for the real-life assassins. There is a bizarre meeting between Manson family member Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (Jeannine Marquie) and housewife Sara Jane Moore (Mary Ann Tachco), both of whom attempted to assassinate Gerald Ford.

Then, the unsuccessful assassin of Richard Nixon, Samuel Byck (Scott Mansfield), fantasizes about killing Leonard Bernstein, Sondheim's partner on "West Side Story." The climactic sequence has everyone, led by John Wilkes Booth (Justin Lees-Smith), trying to persuade a suicidal Lee Harvey Oswald (Seth Allen) to aim his sights at a higher target.

Those who find these ideas, or a flurry of four-letter words, offensive, should direct their attention elsewhere.

The cast is strong under director Zachary Spencer and choreographer Deidre Fisher, with the orchestra, hidden offstage and conducted by Andre Oei, also particularly noteworthy.

"Assassins" continues through July 14 at the Conejo Players Theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks. Shows are 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. All seats are $5, first-come, first-served. For further information (no reservations), call 495-3715.

*

Lovely "Rita": Willy Russell's "Educating Rita" is a wonderful play, in which a burned-out English schoolteacher is confronted by a brash young woman who wants to learn "everything." While the rewards of teaching and the thrill of learning are an overworked subject, there are enough good ideas and wonderful language flying around (and a bit of a twist on "Pygmalion") to enliven an old plot.

Martin Horsey and Laurie Stevens inhabit the characters of Frank and Rita in the current Marquie Dinner Theatre production. They do excellent work in wonderful roles--hers a little more show-offy, bursting into his drab office with a bright red skirt and thick Scouse (Liverpool) accent.

Terry Druxman directs with sensitivity, and Tom Murry is responsible for recreating Frank's working quarters on the Marquie stage.

* "Educating Rita" continues Thursday through Saturday evenings through Aug. 10 at Marquie Dinner Theater, 340 Mobil Ave., Camarillo. Doors open at 6:30 each night; dinner is served from 7 and the play begins sometime after 8. Tickets, which include buffet dinner, the play, nonalcoholic beverages, tax and tip, are $26 Thursdays, $28 Fridays and Saturdays. A full cash bar is available, and there is a $2 senior discount on Thursdays. For reservations or further information, call 484-9909.

*

"Dodgers" Move: With recent revivals of the hit Broadway musical "Damn Yankees" on Broadway, on tour and (earlier this year) at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Moorpark Melodrama producer Linda Bredemann commissioned writer Scott Martin to come up with "Darn Dodgers."

There are some parallels with the earlier musical--not enough to sue over--but under the author's direction, "Dodgers" has its own share of laughs.

With the Dodgers on the verge of the Big Game, star Reggie Roundtrip finds himself in a quandary: It seems that slinky Heavenly Biltright is about to vamp him right out of his relationship with devoted Casey Lou. Meanwhile, brash publicity-chasing feminist Loreall Allmouth, who wears red a lot and likes to sue people (wonder whom that character is based on?), is inflicting her 49% ownership of the team on manager Johnny LaGordo.

Gary Schaffner plays Reggie, with Colleen Ogilvie as Casey Lou, Aspasia Alexander as Loreall, Craig Mitchell Vincent as LaGordo, and James Harlow as smarmy sportscaster Mel Stats. Biltright's identity is supposed to be a surprise, so we'll leave it.

Be sure to stay for the post-show "vaudeville," in which the talented cast members perform popular songs with a baseball theme (more or less), ranging from "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" with its seldom-heard verse, to Queen's "We Are the Champions."

* "Darn Dodgers" continues through July 20 at the Magnificent Moorpark Melodrama & Vaudeville Company, 45 E. High St., Moorpark. Shows are 7 p.m. Thursdays (July 11 and 18 only), 8 p.m. Friday and Saturdays, with 3 p.m. matinees Saturdays and Sundays. All seats are $12. For reservations or further information, call 529-1212.

*

Volunteer Call: The Ojai Shakespeare Festival is holding a volunteer roundup at 6 p.m. Sunday for people to work in capacities ranging from set-sitting to phone duty. Phone 646-WILL for the location.

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