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THEATER: Ventura County | NOTES

Trench Drama

Play gives a harrowing account of platoon life during Vietnam War.

October 22, 1998|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Service plays--from the action-drama of "Stalag 17" and comedies including "No Time for Sergeants" and "Biloxi Blues" to those with serious overtones such as "Mister Roberts"--are a time-honored sub-genre.

While "Tracers" has its amusing moments, the play is a harrowing look at the Vietnam War as seen from the trenches.

Ending its brief Moorpark College run this week, the drama was written by actors who had seen duty during the war. "Tracers" follows an Army platoon from its first day of basic training through the return home from action. This play is not to be confused with David Hare's better-known Vietnam-era drama "Streamers," which never leaves boot camp. (A "tracer" is a bullet that leaves a trail; a "streamer" is a parachute that fails to open).

"Tracers," directed by Katherine Lewis, packs a lot of power and imagery into two hours. The strong ensemble acting is assisted by numerous slide projections and probably the best use of sound and music in a drama in this area in years.

William Wilson must be singled out for his work as the drill instructor charged with turning boys into soldiers in eight weeks. He has the attitude and language down solid (those with sensitive ears should keep in mind that this is a group of soldiers, not a student-faculty mixer).

The platoon resembles the cast of any war movie of any era, with its cross-section of ethnicities and personalities--a Latino (Romeo Valentino), a large guy nicknamed Little John (Jeremy Di Paolo), a black (Malik Booth), a couple of studious types (Matt Ferrill, Nick Rodriguez), and so on. Before their tour of duty has been completed, the men have experienced drugs, a Dear John letter, suicide, animal bites and lots of enemy fire.

It's said to be nearly impossible to explain the feeling of being in combat to someone who hasn't experienced it, but "Saving Private Ryan" comes a long way. And if you were able to watch "Tracers" in blistering heat and suffocating humidity, amid bullets and land mines, the play would come closer to the wartime experience than any rational person would want. Be thankful, then, for Moorpark College's efficient air-conditioning system.

* "Tracers" continues through Saturday at Moorpark College Performing Arts Center, 7075 Campus Road. Performances are today at 1:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Today's matinee will be followed by a discussion led by Moorpark College faculty members who are Vietnam War veterans. Tickets are $10; $8, seniors and students; 378-1485.

*

Mystery Parody: The first thing you should know about "The Butler Did It," Tim Kelly's comedy at the Marquie Dinner Theatre, is that the butler didn't do it: There isn't one to be found. But there is an island near San Francisco, isolated by a storm, where a socialite (Denise Lowe) has invited several prominent mystery writers, asking that all show up costumed as their fictional creations. Before long, a corpse is discovered, and it's up to the guests to discover who dunnit.

It helps to know mystery literature well enough to recognize caricatures that include Lord Peter Wimsey (David Meidenbauer); Nick and Nora Charles (Brian Bookbinder, Jennifer Taylor); Charlie Chan (Matthew Stude); and Philip Marlowe (Tim Ahern). But the parodies don't resemble the prototypes very closely. Wimsey, for instance, would never dress as Sherlock Holmes; Marlowe is played more like Mickey Spillane; Chan was a cultured Honolulu police detective, not a coolie.

That said, the play--directed with gusto by Keith Hurt--is fast and funny. Notable are the social secretary, played by Patricia Adrian; and the maid, a funny performance by Judy Weaver.

* "The Butler Did It" continues Thursdays-Saturdays through Nov. 28 at Marquie Dinner Theatre, 340 N. Mobil Ave., Camarillo. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; dinner is at 7, and the show begins sometime after 8. Tickets are $33, which includes the play, buffet dinner with choice of entrees, nonalcoholic beverages, tax and gratuity; a full cash bar is available. Discounts are available to seniors and children. For reservations (mandatory) or information, call (805) 484-9909.

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