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A Good 'Place' for Wit and the Dearly Departed


English poet Andrew Marvell was kidding when he characterized the grave as "a fine and private place." Though Erik Haggenson and Richard Isen's play takes place in a cemetery, the authors are kidding a bit, too.

Clearly, one's appreciation of "A Fine and Private Place," now playing at the Marquie Dinner Theatre, will depend to a great extent on one's appetite--or capacity--for whimsy, fairly macabre whimsy at that. Not only do the dead carry on like living beings in this musical, there's a talking raven.

Gene Bernath plays Jonathan Rebeck, a living human who for some unexplained reason can communicate with the dead. He lives in a mausoleum, where he greets the recently departed (or arrived, depending on your point of view). He also speaks with the aforementioned raven, wisecracking and cynical and wittily portrayed by Rex Waggoner in a fetching feather boa.

Rebeck's life is interrupted by Michael (Jim Harlow), a 30-ish writer who has died under mysterious circumstances; Gertrude (Carolyn Cohen), an elderly widow who has come to visit the remains of her late husband; and Laurie (Deidre Fisher), a woman of Michael's age who died lonely. Anybody who can't see where this is going should get out more, but there are a couple of amusing twists along the way, and the play is as pleasant as all get out.

The music is post-Sondheim, which means that nobody's likely to leave the room humming the tunes. Most of the cast sing quite well (all of them well enough) to musical accompaniment by Kevin Parcher and his rack of synthesizers. All of the aforementioned cast members turn in solid performances, very well-timed under DeeAnn Helsel's finely tuned direction, as does Gregory Peckham as the cemetery caretaker.

* "A Fine and Private Place" continues Thur.-Sat. through June 7 at the Marquie Dinner Theatre, 340 N. Mobil Ave., Camarillo. Reservations required. Call (805) 484-9909.


Caped Crusader: Zorro, a costumed crime fighter in early California, was created by magazine writer Johnston McCulley early in the century. Like many before and after, Zorro had a secret identity: the foppish Don Diego. The character has been brought to the screen many times through the years, but the Moorpark Melodrama's current "Zorro, the Be-Bop Bandido," written for the Melodrama by artistic director Scott Martin, owes most allegiance to the '50s Disney TV series, starring Guy Williams.

Typically for the Melodrama, it's fast-paced burlesque, peppered with popular songs from several eras.

* "Zorro, the Be-Bop Bandido" continues through June 1 at the Magnificent Moorpark Melodrama & Vaudeville Company, 45 E. High St., Moorpark. Fri. and Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat. and Sun. 3 p.m. Call 529-1212.

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