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'Female Transport' Sets Sail on Stormy Seas

The drama places women prisoners at the mercy of a male crew during a long sea voyage.


Steve Gooch's "Female Transport" combines two situations not often found on stage, or anywhere else for that matter: life on the open sea and women in prison. The gritty play is at Ojai Center for the Arts, under the direction of Taylor Kash.

The entire show--one act, about two hours long--takes place on a ship transporting prisoners to Australia, sometime in the 19th century. The crew is male; the prisoners are women convicted of everything from petty theft to murder.

It's sort of an "Upstairs, Downstairs" scenario, with a cell of six prisoners below, and the officers and crew on top--the symbolism here is pretty superficial, sure--but the placement of prisoners in the hold is based in reality.

In the story, there's been trouble recruiting top-notch seafaring men for the six-month voyage. Sarge (Ronald Rezac), in charge of the prisoners, regards them as targets for beating and useful for sex; the Captain (Braden McKinley) finds another way to exploit them.

More sympathetic are the ship's surgeon (Jeff G. Rack) and Tommy (Chris Colone), the jailer, who's at sea for the first time. There's virtually no relief from the mistreatment and suffering.

The women, a varied lot, include: the young and withdrawn Pity (Gita Gould); the defiant Nance (Linda Livingston) and Sarah (Chris Zirbel); quiet Charlotte (Rachel Babcock); Madge (Olivia Hunter), who is a lesbian--though no dramatic use is made of it; and Winnie (Joyce McWilliams), the oldest of the six, who is appointed matron by Sarge and allowed to remain unfettered so that she can perform menial duties for the others.

Those who attend local theater regularly should recognize many of the actors and director Kash as some of the county's top talent.

"Female Transport" gives the actors strong characters with which to work. Rack, probably the area's most effective set designer, has come up with another marvel: It's multilayered, multidimensional, made of enough wood to raise a barn, and with at least one surprising special effect.

Two warnings, though: First, these women swear like, well, prisoners. Their accents are so strong that you may have a hard time deciphering what they're saying, at least for the first few minutes.

Give actors a choice between affecting an accent and being understood, and they'll go for the accent every time.

* "Female Transport," through Sept. 22 at Ojai Center for the Arts, 201 Montgomery St., Ojai. Performances are 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $12, $10, seniors; and $8, students. For reservations or further information, call 640-1506.


The Pile-Ups Begin: Several companies having already announced their schedules well into next year, and March 7 is the first weekend (so far) with four plays opening simultaneously: Comedy Tonight's female version of "The Odd Couple" (389-3193); Marquie Dinner Theater's "A Fine and Private Place" (484-9909); Cabrillo Music Theater's "Oklahoma!" (388-5716); and Cal Lutheran University's staging of "Kiss Me, Kate" at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza (493-3410).

June 20 comes in second place with three plays: the Conejo Players's "Rashomon" (495-3715); Santa Paula Theater Center's "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" (525-4645); and the Moorpark Melodrama's "Mountie-Plicity" (529-1212). You can call the phone numbers for more complete information.

Holdup in Camarillo: The opening of the Camarillo Community Theater's production of Lerner and Loewe's gold-rush musical, "Paint Your Wagon," scheduled for last weekend, was postponed until Friday, following the last-minute departure, we're told, of the show's original director. Check with the box office, 388-5716, before hiring a baby-sitter.

Bring a Tomato: Several local media types will take walk-on roles as aviator Wiley Post in "The Will Rogers Follies," opening Tuesday night at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.

"Paint Your Wagon" is scheduled to open Friday, and continues through Oct. 13 at Camarillo Airport Theater, 330 Skyway Drive. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights, and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets for all performances are $10; $8 for seniors, students and active military; and $5 for children. For reservations or further information, call 388-5716.

* "The Will Rogers Follies" opens Tuesday at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza auditorium, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., and continues through Sept. 22. Performances are 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets range from $32.50-$37.50, and are available at the box office or through Ticketmaster.

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