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THEATER: Ventura County | THEATER NOTES

Just Play Along

Audience helps make 'The Debt' a moving melodrama.

June 19, 1997|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For some time, if you wanted to see a melodrama in Ventura County, you'd have to go to a city council meeting, hang out backstage at any of a number of local theater companies, or attend a Moorpark Melodrama performance. And even that last group's shows--which have much to recommend them--usually have little to do with classic melodrama.

For the next couple of weeks, though, anyone wishing to see an iron-jawed hero, an imperiled heroine and a thoroughly despicable villain can do so. In Ojai.

Written by local playwright Bill Spellman, "The Debt" is receiving its enthusiastically performed world premiere at the Ojai Center for the Arts.

The show may be new, but the elements are familiar: If the heroine (Michele Skankey) doesn't marry the villain (Randy Peek), he'll foreclose on her guardian (director David Douglas).

To expedite things, the villain--a lawyer who's the town's mayor--arranges to have her virtuous fiance (James Dills) jailed on a trumped-up charge. A somewhat mysterious woman (Joan DeLuca) has a romantic eye on the heroine's guardian, who is facing bankruptcy.

Members of the audience are encouraged to cheer the good guys, hiss and boo at the lawyer, and participate in sing-alongs during the two intermissions. The players' timing seems keyed to audience response, so it is to everybody's advantage for the viewers to take a relatively active hand. If they don't, as happened Sunday afternoon, the actors tend to stand around waiting for someone to do something.

Spellman gives characters names that may strike some viewers as amusing; others, as cruel and unusual punn-ishment--Ron Rowe alone performs several characters, including Major Paynen Diaz, Fred McMahon, and Internal Revenue Service agent Armand Legg. This illustrates as well as anything the show's humor; on that level, many of Spellman's jokes work very well.

Also, a couple of musical numbers are performed quite capably by the cast. Skankey and musical director Marianna Johnston, particularly, have nice singing voices, though speaking in a forced upper register makes Skankey harder to understand at times than she should be.

* "The Debt" continues through July 6 at the Ojai Center for the Arts, 113 S. Montgomery St. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and 2 p.m. Sun. The matinee June 28 will be signed for the hearing-impaired; there is no show July 4. Tickets to all performances are $10; $8 for seniors, students and art center members. Call 646-0117.

*

Casting Call: The Conejo Players will hold auditions in late June for Neil Simon's comedy "Rumors" and the musical backstage parody "Ruthless."

"Rumors" will be a main stage production, running Thursdays through Saturdays from Aug. 29 through Sept. 27; "Ruthless" will be a Conejo Afternoon Theater production, running Saturday and Sunday matinees, Sept. 7 through 27.

Auditions for "Rumors," to be directed by Don Pearlman, will be held Sunday at 2:30 p.m. and Monday and Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Call producer Marianne Robertson at 495-6510. Auditions will be at 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks.

Auditions for "Ruthless" will be June 29 at 7:30 p.m. Participants should prepare an up-tempo song, 16 bars or less. Call producer Aaron Van Etten at 495-4281 or director Thyra Lees-Smith at 371-8915. Auditions will be held at the Arts Council Center, 482 Greenmeadow in Thousand Oaks.

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