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2 Conejo Players Productions Center on Women

Well-drawn characters dominate 'Steel Magnolias' while humor and romance share the stage in 'Cemetery Club.'


Estrogen is the dominant hormone in the Conejo Players' productions of "Steel Magnolias" and "The Cemetery Club." There's only a single male to be counted in the combined casts.

Though "Steel Magnolias" playwright Robert Harling has done his best to ensure equal parts laughter and tears, the success of any production ultimately rests on the abilities of its director and ensemble cast. The Conejo Players' edition of the play, running Thursday through Saturday evenings, performs well on both counts.

Truvy Jones' beauty parlor is the social center for a group of women who live in a northern Louisiana town so small that Monroe is the nearest "big city."

Before the play is over, there's been a wedding, a birth, a death, somebody moves into town, and somebody else moves out. But mostly, it's laughs, as the women deal with one another and the (unseen) men in their lives.

Cindy Cowan plays sensible, good-hearted Truvy, with Jennifer Jennings as Annelle, a young women who drifts into town with a mysterious past and winds up working at the shop.

Truvy's customers and good friends include psychologist M'Lynn Eatenton (Eva Swackhamer) and her soon-to-be-married daughter, Shelby (Sandy Gaskell); wealthy widow Clairee Belcher (JoAnna Jocelyn); and combative Ouiser Boudreaux (Gail James).

Each of the well-drawn characters gets her share of laughs under Bailey Spencer-Jackson's sympathetic direction, and there are no sub-par performances. That said, young Jennings is a name to remember. Just out of high school, she truly delivers in a role that's a lot more difficult than it may at first seem.

Definitely aimed at a female audience, "Steel Magnolias" won't bore the menfolk and stands as a strong candidate for date night.


A Little Romance: The Players' stage is converted to a set for Ivan Menchell's "The Cemetery Club" on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The title refers to a group of three lifelong friends, who visit their late husbands' graves each month. When romance comes to one of the women, the others react in a way that's not at all ladylike.

Marj Berg plays Lucille, dominating and wisecracking; Marlene Reinhart plays Doris, who still hasn't recovered from the loss of her husband four years earlier; and Eleanor Brand plays Ida, sensible and conservative.

Ruth Brott plays Mildred, whose function we'll leave a mystery for those who haven't seen the film, or previous productions by the Plaza Players or Elite Theater Company.

One day Sam the butcher (Jan Peters) stops by the graveyard to visit his own long-gone wife; he's spotted by flirtatious Lucille, and nobody's life is the same.

Don Pearlman directed the cast of all seniors, who performed with enthusiasm, believability and synergy at Sunday's opening, despite a few dropped lines and a misbehaving piece of scenery.

* "Steel Magnolias," through Sept. 28; 8 p.m.; $8-$12. "The Cemetery Club," through Sept. 22; 2:30 p.m.; $5, no reservations. Conejo Players Theatre, 351 S. Moorpark Road, in Thousand Oaks. For reservations or information, call 495-3715.


Dinner and Drama: The Conejo Players also has revived its "The Inn Thing" dinner and theater promotion for evening shows only. Included in the $21-per-person price are the play and a special dinner (choice of five entrees, soup or salad and dessert) at Los Robles Inn, just across the parking lot from the Conejo Players Theater.

Think of it as dinner theater with a constitutional walk between the meal and the show. Call the Conejo Players box office at 495-3715.


Casting Call: Comedy Tonight Productions will hold auditions for its production of "Tomfoolery," in Thousand Oaks on Sunday, by appointment only. The show is a revue of the songs of satirist Tom Lehrer, performed by a cast of four men and four women, 18 and older. Zachary Spencer will direct; Maggie White is the choreographer. For information or an audition appointment, call 389-3193.

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