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THEATER: Ventura County | THEATER NOTES

Crunching a Classic

Melodrama's 'Casablanka' features jokes, songs, special effects.

March 06, 1997|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Well-known for its parodies of pop culture landmarks--and having already tackled "Gone with the Wind"--the Moorpark Melodrama is presenting a thorough trashing of the film "Casablanca."

Written by Douglas Braverman, with songs by Richard Berent, the show--"Casablanka"--will appeal most to those who remember the original, or those who know the lyrics to "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."

Braverman's changed the story somewhat, reversing the gender of some characters (it's Rickie, not Rick, running the cafe, and Victoria Layslow, not Victor Laszlo, who is the famed resistance leader), and demolishing the classic's ending.

It's typical Melodrama fun under Scott Martin's direction, with choreography by Adrea Gibbs, cameo appearances by weirdly out-of-place characters (watch carefully during the Paris sequence), and some of the Melodrama's shameless special effects (the parachute landing). The most effective of Berent's songs parody well-known numbers including "Casablanka!" to the tune of "Oklahoma!" and "Trouble" from "The Music Man." Others are original.

The cast is fine, with Lisa Bohn as Rickie Blair; Jason Rasmussen as Irving Lunt, the lover Rickie has come to Casablanka to forget; Gina Jaxx as Victoria; Jeff Wallach as the local police chief; Brian Bookbinder as pianist Ham (as in "Play it again, Ham"), and Kathi Janca Gravino as a Nazi general in town trying to track down stolen exit visas.

Marlon Deveraux Robinson plays the character portrayed by Sidney Greenstreet in the original; and Scott Caster may remind some of Peter Lorre.

*

Postwar trauma: The Vietnam War is over, but for three men in a veterans' hospital, there are battles yet to be fought. Those skirmishes--psychological, but no less real than the physical combat that placed them there--are the subject of James McLure's "Pvt. Wars," the current production of the Oxnard-based Elite Theatre Company.

The action takes place in the hospital's community room, where the three former soldiers come together. You'll laugh, you'll cry, secrets are revealed, and so on. It's not so much an anti-war tract as an examination of male relationships.

Episodic and somewhat superficial, the play may work best as a showcase for its three actors, whose characters have sharply contrasting personalities. Silvio (Bill Brandt) is a blustery, take-charge sort of guy; Natwick (Art McDermott) is fussy, well-educated and has an irritating air of superiority; and Gately (Andrew H. Brasted) is good-natured and deliberate, but not to be underestimated.

Entertaining enough under Patricia Lynn-Strickland's tight direction, the play allows Elite old-timers Brandt and McDermott to demonstrate their capabilities, as well as giving major exposure to the talented Brasted, who played smaller roles in two recent Camarillo Community Theater productions.

The deluge continues: This is the biggest weekend of the year so far for theater in Ventura County. Six plays will premiere here by Saturday, starting with tonight's production of "The Roar of the Greasepaint--the Smell of the Crowd" at Moorpark College.

BE THERE

"Casablanka" at the Magnificent Moorpark Melodrama & Vaudeville Co., 45 E. High St., Moorpark. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 3 p.m. through April 6. An additional show at 7 p.m. April 3 only. $12. 529-1212.

"Pvt. Wars" at Petit Playhouse, 730 South B St. in Oxnard's Heritage Square. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. through April 5. $8-$10. 483-5118.

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