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THEATER: Ventura County | NOTES

Curtain Falls on '97

Local troupes brought drama, comedy and musicals to county audiences.


Last week we examined the first five months of 1997's Ventura County theater scene; this week concludes our local theater highlights wrap-up.

The year's unlikeliest artistic triumph came in June, with a fine production of "Hamlet" at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, directed and for the most part acted by cast members of TV's "Power Rangers Turbo." Also that month, the Santa Susana Repertory Company produced this year's version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," in cooperation with, and on the grounds of, Cal Lutheran University. And the Santa Paula Theater Center produced Neil Simon's "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" with a consecutive production at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center.

The year continued with plenty more Shakespeare, despite the regrettable loss last year of the California Shakespeare Company due to lack of support in and around Moorpark. July saw productions of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" (lousy play, OK production) and "Twelfth Night" (wonderful play, OK youth production) touring the county, and a strong "West Side Story" at the Camarillo Community Theatre. In addition, Comedy Tonight brought Gilbert & Sullivan's "H.M.S. Pinafore" to Simi Valley.

Los Angeles-based Fool Moon Productions made their final attempt to bring professional theater to the city of Ventura with the '70s revue "Have a Nice Day." Their fine production was poorly attended, however, and they had to take the show to Simi Valley to find an appreciative audience. Simi residents seem generally more hospitable to theater, supporting the several companies playing the Cultural Arts Center.

A sincere but ill-advised attempt to create a new performance venue in Ventura fell through later in the year, as well. The organizers of the Performance Studio were unable to meet building standards. Affiliated actor Jack Heller, who was the latest to promise "professional" theater in Ventura, actually did mount his show "Tennessee (Williams) in the Summer."

Time and again, producers have considered Ventura's location and demographics to be ideal for a professional theater company. Yet every attempt has crashed for one reason or another, but mainly for a lack of community support.

August's highlights included the year's second "Midsummer"--at the Ojai Shakespeare Festival--plus a revue of songs identified with "Noel (Coward) and Gertie (Gertrude Lawrence)" at the Elite Theatre in Oxnard. The Moorpark Melodrama underwent a change of management. The new proprietors are trying to keep quality up while keeping costs down, with mixed results so far.

In September, lucky audiences got to see the experimental drama "Telemachus Clay" by Theatre 33 in Ojai, and the comic story of a "Ruthless" child star by the Conejo Players.

The Marquie Dinner Theater's strongest productions of the year may have been "The Foreigner" in June, and its October rendition of the relentlessly old-fashioned musical "She Loves Me." October's choicest shows also included "The Magic Flute" at Moorpark College, Samuel Beckett's puzzling "Endgame" at Ojai Arts Center (the first show of Flying H Productions' controversial contract with the venue that all but locks other companies out of the publicly owned theater); and a version of "Nunsense!" by the Camarillo Community Theatre.

November found the grandly named Ojai Civic Light Opera at last finding a permanent venue, in a storefront off Ojai Avenue. Possibly the smallest civic light opera in the country, the troupe produced a version of "The Fantasticks" that all but had the actors sitting in the audience's lap.

In the same month, the Conejo Players produced a richly rewarding version of "The Most Happy Fella"; Ventura College produced Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" (only slightly less puzzling than "Endgame"); and Doug Motel brought his entertaining one-man show, "Shiva Arms," to Theatre 150, also in Ojai.

Production slowed in December, with the Santa Susana Repertory Company's annual production of "A Christmas Carol" an easy standout. Two shows opened Wednesday night--the Elite Theatre Company's production of A.R. Gurney's 1995 social comedy "Sylvia" at the Petit Playhouse in Oxnard ([805] 483-5118) and Comedy Tonight's "Fiddler on the Roof" at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center. For information on subsequent performances, call (805) 581-9940.

Next week, we'll look at the theatrical schedule for 1998, including another "Nunsense!," the first local production of "Jake's Women" since September and--can't have a year of theater without it--at least one production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

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