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STAGE: Ventura County | NOTES

Family of Women

The concept of unity links two plays with all-female casts.


Two plays featuring all-female casts opened last weekend in Moorpark and Ojai. Both may have elevated levels of estrogen but otherwise have little in common.

Lee Blessing's "Independence," playing through Saturday at Moorpark College's intimate Studio Theatre, is set in the present-day Midwest and examines the interaction between a woman and her three daughters.

Eleanor and Ray Harder's "Song of Survival," at the Ojai Center for the Arts, takes place in a WWII Japanese prisoner of war camp and shows (in a dramatization of a true incident) how a number of women from disparate backgrounds were able to rise above the hardships imposed by their captors.

Maybe the two plays do have something else in common. Call it "family."

"INDEPENDENCE": Evelyn Briggs (Anna Silberberger) has three daughters. The two youngest stay at home and take care of her, while Kess (Kristin Henry), the eldest, has escaped to the Big City--Minneapolis.

Well, if you're living in Independence, Iowa, Minneapolis certainly qualifies as a Big City. Middle daughter Jo (Shannon Creen) tends to repress her feelings; Sherry (Dawn Emry), the youngest, is anything but repressed.

Kess returns home for the first time in four years, upsetting the established--strained, but established--family dynamic.

While threatening to develop a high level of soapsuds, "Independence" is saved by some witty dialogue and strong performances, especially Emry, who seems to get most of the good, arch lines. (Of Jo's potential boyfriend, she remarks, "He's got a Subaru; that's about it.") Additional amusing scenes, staged by Rolland C. Petrello, include a discussion of Scottish balladry, a sequence on naming a baby and one on meaningless sex.

There's no credit given for the costumes, but a couple are very, and intentionally, amusing.

* "Independence" concludes this weekend at the Moorpark College Performing Arts Center's Studio Theatre, 7075 Campus Road in Moorpark. Shows are at 7:30 tonight through Saturday; tickets are $5. (805) 378-1485.


Song of Survival: The Flying H Group's "Song of Survival," tells of a group of women who, held in a prison camp, diverted their attention and strengthened themselves by forming a choral group--it's a different perspective on the story told in last year's film "Paradise Road."

It's an interesting yarn. Eleanor and Ray Harder's play, making its Southern California debut, has many virtues; and when the women start singing tunes ranging from classical music to "Bye, Bye Blackbird" it gets close to thrilling.

Some of the actors' timing seemed off on opening night, which may be understandable, in light of the presence of the playwrights and Helen Colijn, whose memoirs formed the basis for the script. Director Taylor Kasch also designed the atmospheric stage set; Jaye Hersh is music director; and the cast of 15 is too large to list in this space, though the performances are of virtually uniform quality.

* "Song of Survival" runs through Nov. 8 at the Ojai Center for the Arts, 113 S. Montgomery St. Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, with no shows Oct. 9-11 and 31. Admission is $15; $12, seniors and Art Center members; and $10, students. (805) 646-8353. The play will be performed this weekend, takes next weekend off, and resumes Oct. 16.


Casting Call: The newly formed Rubicon Theatre Company of Ventura will hold auditions Saturday and Sunday for a benefit concert presentation of "Jesus Christ, Superstar," which will star Ted Neeley as Jesus and Carl Anderson as Judas, both stars of the Broadway and film versions, plus James O'Neill, who has toured nationally with Neeley and Anderson, as Pontius Pilate.

O'Neil, artistic director of Rubicon, will direct. Performances will be Nov. 14 and 15 in Ventura; the benefit is to help fund Rubicon.

Auditions will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. both days; for further information and an audition appointment, call Jennifer Eaton at (805) 667-2900, Ext. 1.

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