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Plucky Cast Does a Lot to Lift 'Camelot'

A junior high auditorium is no castle, but this production might persuade you to look beyond that.


Ojai is currently host to two plays set--roughly, at least--in medieval times. Odd coincidence, no?

The Ojai Civic Light Opera may have a rather grand name for an outfit operating out of a junior high school auditorium built before air conditioning, but the company's inaugural effort, a production of "Camelot," delivers on the most important level: its cast.

Marty Babayco is playing King Arthur to Jerry Machado's Lancelot. Both Babayco, a veteran of Illusions Theatre Company, and Machado, a reformed rock musician, are strong in their respective parts, as is Lorraine MacDonald as Guinevere, whose past work includes the fine Santa Paula production of "Quilters" and Nancy in last year's Ojai "Oliver!"

Notable among the supporting cast are Doug Friedlander as an effete Pellimore, David Banuelos impersonating Roddy McDowall as conniving Mordred, and Karen Moncharsh as the woodland witch, Morgan La Fey.

The singing is to prerecorded orchestral tracks, the cast includes too many children given nothing to do but stare, and some of the stage sets are far more impressive than others. Still, director R. Wayne Pickerell, musical director Steve Emery and choreographer Simone Sheppard have come up with something that's worth seeing and bodes well for future (and cooler) Ojai Civic Light Opera productions.

* "Camelot" continues at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday through Aug. 17 at Matilija Junior High School Auditorium, 703 El Paseo Road in Ojai. Tickets are $11.50 adults; $9.50, seniors and students; and $7.50 for children younger than 11. Come early--parking gets tight--and bring a seat cushion. The program will move to Libbey Bowl later in the month. Call 646-1899.

'Merry Wives' Air conditioning isn't a problem at Libbey Bowl, which is outdoors (though with crickets and a carillon to contend with), but despite some worthy aspects, "The Merry Wives of Windsor" is less than a spectacular success. The play's intertwining plots are amusing enough: Sir John Falstaff tries to seduce two women for their money while a young woman fights off undesirable suitors in favor of the Man of her Dreams.

But the production is cluttered, a plethora of young women playing men and boys gets tiresome, and some of the acting simply isn't up to par. On the other hand, Geoff Foley has a good time as Falstaff (watch him charging up the stairs like Teddy in "Arsenic and Old Lace"), and director Tony Potter has come up with some interesting characterizations: Jennifer Brown playing Slender like TV's annoyingly whiny Steve Urkel; Larry Novikoff using Inspector Clouseau as his models for the French doctor; and Jonathan Arkin amusingly indecipherable as the Welsh schoolteacher, Evans.

The discovery here is Alexander St. John, who gives jealous husband Ford a terrific comic spin, alone almost worth the price of admission.

* The Ojai Shakespeare Festival runs Thursday through Sunday through Aug. 18 at Libbey Park, Ojai Avenue at Signal Street in Ojai. "The Merry Wives of Windsor" plays at 8 p.m. all nights. Admission is $8-15.

Troupe Returns: Los Angeles-based Fool Moon Productions, which scored recently with an excellent "Pump Boys and Dinettes" at Ventura College, returns for a run ending Sunday with "Starting Here, Starting Now."

Composer David Shire and lyricist Richard Maltby Jr.'s songs examine love from several points of view, the more cynical being the most amusing. Barbra Streisand fans may recognize this as the show that supplied the title song of her "What About Today?" album; and there's a very good number about the New York Times crossword puzzle--Maltby was longtime author of New York Magazine's crossword. The strongly matched professional cast includes Bob Furian, Stephen Marks, Christy Mauro, Jane McEneaney and Holly Zell. Mykal Cavanaugh directed, with musical director Shelly Markham and choreographer Marilyn Suleiman.

More cabaret act than play, "Starting Here, Starting Now" is a change of pace from what's on other local stages. If it sounds interesting, you'll probably enjoy it.

* "Starting Here, Starting Now" concludes this weekend at the Ventura College Mainstage Theater on Loma Vista Road between Ashwood and Day Road in Ventura. Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with matinees at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission for all performances is $12.50 adults, and $11 for students and seniors. Call 654-6459.

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