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THEATER: Ventura County | NOTES

Discourse With a Deity

A nuclear attack and a visit from God produce dramatic results.

June 11, 1998|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's "Early One Evening at the Rainbow Bar and Grille," somewhere rural, somewhere eastern and otherwise unspecified. Shep, the bartender, is cleaning up when Roy, a regular customer, makes an abrupt entrance. He's a fireman who, we soon learn, is preparing to leave town--possibly for Florida.

Another regular, Willie, comes in wielding a rifle; he's just killed his wife and is looking for some other real or imagined enemy to eliminate. What's going on?

Little time passes before it becomes clear that something terrible has happened: Highways are backed up as people head for the country, and death has spread as far as Colorado, maybe farther. Evidently, nuclear bombs are destroying the United States.

We should have suspected something disastrous was occurring: Shep, a sometimes writer, has been throwing darts at a check, recently received from his publisher.

A few more people stop by: a traveling salesman, the second-shift waitress and the local high school gym teacher.

But it's not until a mysterious stranger enters the bar, announces himself as "Joe" and gives reason to suspect that he at least believes himself to be God that things get really interesting and the Ojai arts center curtain drops on Act I, giving the audience a few minutes to ponder if Bruce Graham's play is an allegory, or a crock.

It's a bit of both. Joe turns out to be God, in the same sense that George Burns was in the two "Oh, God!" films. He is a witty, earthy manifestation of the deity, with more wisecracks than miracles to show for his omniscience and omnipotence.

God wants to correct misconceptions that have arisen through the ages, and offers the bartender immunity from the holocaust that's sweeping the world in exchange for rewriting the world's religious texts into something that might be called the Book of Shep.

It's an entertaining version of Graham's 12-year-old play under Tom Eubanks' direction, and the first production of "Rainbow" in the county since the Plaza Players mounted it in April 1992.

Eubanks reunites three of the cast from last year's "Telemachus Clay": Seth Oserin as Shep, Victor Williams as fireman Roy and John Reinhart as the salesman.

In his acting debut, Stuart Bellant acquits himself well as rifle-totin' Willy; Sierra Sandefur is interesting and appealing in a role that turns out to be the love interest; Judy Eubanks appears briefly as the second-shift waitress; and Steve Grumette gets to play God. Or, at least, Joe.

The performances range from adequate to much better than that, though a couple of cast members should learn to speak up.

Director Eubanks' set design is imaginative, and the sound--designed by Gary Tobin and implemented by Sarah Mirk--is adventuresome and accomplished.

* "Early One Evening at the Rainbow Bar and Grille," through June 27, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at Ojai Center for the Arts, 113 S. Montgomery St. Tickets are $10; $8 for seniors, children and arts center members. (805) 649-9443 or 646-0117.

Casting Call: Comedy Tonight Productions will hold auditions June 27 by appointment only for one-show, concert sing-along productions of "The Mikado," "H.M.S. Pinafore" and "The Pirates of Penzance," all of which will be performed as part of the First Annual Gilbert & Sullivan Festival to be held at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center in August and September.

All vocal roles are open; there will be no spoken dialogue. For further information, call (805) 389-3193.

The Conejo Players will hold auditions June 21-23 for their production of "To Kill a Mockingbird," to be presented Aug. 28-Sept. 26.

There will be an audition June 28 for "Daddy's Dyin', Who's Got the Will," to be presented weekend matinees in September. For information on "Mockingbird" auditions, call Amy Sullivan at 987-7287; for "Daddy's Dyin' " information, call Annie at (818) 991-7454.

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