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STAGE: Ventura County | THEATER NOTES

'Rashomon' Retold

Newcomers add distinction to the 10th century crime drama.

June 26, 1997|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Walking through the dark forest outside Kyoto, a man and his wife are attacked by a bandit. The wife is raped; the man, killed. The bandit, well known in the area for his knavery, is brought in by police as the most likely suspect.

"Rashomon," the current Conejo Players production, is a crime drama set in 10th century Japan. Fay and Michael Kanin's script is based on the classic 1950 film directed by Akira Kurosawa, itself adapted from stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa.

The premise of "Rashomon" is so classic that the title has passed into the English language as a description of its basic dramatic situation: A crime has occurred, and each of several witnesses tells a different account of the proceedings.

The play takes place after the trial, and its main voice is that of one of the witnesses, a woodcutter (Dick Johnson) who is trapped in a rainstorm with a priest (Herm Detering) and a scoundrel wig maker (George Schwimmer), who gets his raw material from corpses in a nearby graveyard.

The story has its supernatural elements, provided by the priest (dressed like "Star Wars' " Obi-Wan Kenobi, and evidently wearing stockings with his sandals) and the testimony of the dead husband (Jim Miller), given through a medium (Fay Kato). It's all very Shakespearean, though with modern language and a distinctive Eastern touch.

One of the distinctions of "Rashomon" is that everybody claims responsibility for the man's death--including the man himself.

While the performances vary, high marks are awarded to Shahbaz Khan as the proud, confident highwayman; Aiko Yamamoto for her increasingly complex portrait of the wife; and Schwimmer as the perceptive grave-robber. John Holroyd's set design is as verdant as it is imaginative, and director Rick Steinberg--whose previous credits for the Players include "Amadeus," "Lend Me a Tenor" and "La Cage Aux Folles"--shows a strong grasp of the material.

Several of the players in this "Rashomon" are new to the Players, all of them having come to the area from abroad. Yamamoto, Kato and Yukari Asamoto were all professional actresses in Japan, and Khan is an expatriate Pakistani. It's a treat to see such talented performers make their local debut.

* "Rashomon" continues through July 19 at Conejo Players Theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks. Shows are at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Tickets are $8 Thursday, $10 Friday, and $12 Saturday. For reservations, call (805) 495-3715.

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Triple Twins: "Mountie-Plicity," the current Moorpark Melodrama presentation, was born last year, when company co-founder Linda Bredemann commissioned a script based on the presumed success of the then-new film "Multiplicity." Scott Martin came up with an original script, using several characters who appeared in his 1990 Melodrama show "Sgt. Fenshaw of the Mounties."

Fenshaw (Tony Gardner) and ingenue Sarah (Gina Jaxx) are married now, and Fenshaw is still hot on the trail of sinister Roger St. Clair (William Shupe). This time, though, all three principals turn out to have identical twins, played by Jason Rasmussen, Nancy Calabrese and Michael M. Wise, respectively. When the twins show up in town, simultaneously and unexpectedly, high jinks ensue.

In addition to writing the script, music and lyrics, Martin, the Melodrama's artistic director, directs the fast-paced, funny program. Martin serves as master of ceremonies for the evening, a task that formerly fell to actors in the show.

Following "Mountie-Plicity," there's a brief revue saluting performers who have played Las Vegas. It's worth sticking around for, if only to see Shupe and Lisa Bohn as Sonny and Cher.

* "Mountie-Plicity" continues through July 27 at the Magnificent Moorpark Melodrama & Vaudeville Company, 45 E. High St. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; and 7 p.m. Thursdays to be announced. Tickets to all performances are $12. For reservations or further information, call 529-1212.

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Casting Call Correction: The Conejo Players' auditions for the backstage musical "Ruthless" will be held Sunday. For details, call Aaron at (805) 495-4281 or Thyra at (805) 371-8915.

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