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THEATER: Ventura County | NOTES

Reel Drama : Three campus plays share a link with the film world.

April 30, 1998|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

By coincidence, all three plays reviewed this week have film connections: Wendy Wasserstein's "The Heidi Chronicles" and Brian Clark's "Whose Life Is It, Anyway" have been filmed ("Heidi" for TV), and David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow" is set in a Hollywood studio.

Further, Wasserstein and Mamet have written current films: "The Object of My Affection" and "The Spanish Prisoner," respectively.

The Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning "Heidi Chronicles," at Cal Lutheran University, is an episodic review of the life of (the fictional) Heidi Holland, from high school in 1965 through 1989. It's also a look at the feminist movement during the era, which Wasserstein views with approval and some skepticism.

Rachel Oliveros-Larsen stars as Heidi, characterized early by her friend, Peter (Scott Brodie), at the high school dance: "You must be very bright--you look so bored." The concept of "cool" hasn't changed much, has it?

Time passes, Heidi meets aspiring journalist "Scoop" Rosenbaum (Nathan Black), and with best friend Susan (Marlo Alonso) heads for places including a feminist rally in Ann Arbor, Mich., and a protest at the Chicago Art Institute. Before the play is over, everybody's life has changed, often dramatically.

The play, directed by Kenneth Gardner, is witty and occasionally perceptive, and should provide a nostalgia fix for those who lived through the era. The cast hasn't, though, which is reflected in the difficulty they have relating to the material.

* "The Heidi Chronicles" continues at 8 tonight and Friday; 2 p.m. Sunday at Cal Lutheran University's Preus-Brandt Forum, 60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks. Tickets are $8. (805) 493-3415.

*

Ventura College is presenting "Whose Life Is It, Anyway," playwright Brian Clark's reflection on assisted suicide, directed by Judy Garey.

Sculptor Ken Harrison (Bob Scott) has been rendered quadriplegic in a car accident, and although his brain seems to be working well, he'll never be able to move anything south of his neck.

Rather than contend with that as a future, he asks to be unplugged from the hospital's life-support systems. The hospital, personified by chief of staff Dr. Michael Emerson (Bill Bodenhamer), refuses, contending that doctors are supposed to preserve life.

Various doctors, nurses and lawyers weigh in, and there's a subplot romance between young nurse Kay Sadler (Kelli Mason) and John (Filimon Flores), an orderly. There are nice performances, notably by Kat Swaim and Staci Mason as a nurse and doctor, respectively.

But Clark's stilted dialogue hampers many of the actors with such lines as "You must, of course, say what you think--but I am the responsible person here." The play is produced as part of the college's interdisciplinary course, "Ethics in Modern Society."

* "Whose Life Is It, Anyway" concludes Sunday at Ventura College Theater on Loma Vista Road. Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $7; $5, seniors, students and college staff. (805) 654-6397.

*

David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow" runs a brief 90 minutes but is packed with verbal action. Hollywood studio production head Bob Gould (Jim Lashly) is confronted with choosing between commerce and art, as argued by producer Charlie Fox (Taylor Kasch) and Gould's temporary secretary Karen (Michelle Wells), respectively. It's a choice Gould hasn't been forced to face before.

The dialogue is as rapid-fire as Mamet fans expect and is furiously delivered by Lashly and Kasch under the direction of Kasch's wife, Jody. The script is not as annoyingly repetitive as Mamet's sometimes gets and is often hilariously funny.

* "Speed-the-Plow" through Sunday at Ojai Center for the Arts, 113 S. Montgomery St. Performances are at 7 tonight and Sunday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $15; $12 for students and center members. (805) 646-0117.

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