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Stepping Into the Lively World of 'King Arthur'

September 03, 1998|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With only a three-member cast, you might think that Imagination-in-Residency's latest children's theater production, "The Legends of King Arthur," would be a bit skimpy in the character department. This likable company, however, based at the Encino Community Center, knows how to expand its resources: The audience is always part of the act.

Here, audience members (adults, too) can be Knights of the Round Table, residents of a pillaged village, participants in a storytelling round-robin and even the hind end of a misunderstood dragon.

The strong cast--adult theater professionals--does double duty in the telling of the tale, too. Rebecca Rasmussen plays feisty Guenevere as well as the pillaging Sir Kay, and Aaron Hendry is an appealing noble Arthur as a boy and as an adult.

Meanwhile, Christien Murawski is the magician Merlin, a blustery, rotund knight and the dragon's front end.

Written by Karen Hardcastle and directed by Elizabeth Tobias, the play revolves around the telling of the legends behind each of four symbols on banners that hang at Arthur's "court" (a small, taped-off section of floor in the middle of the community center's roomy auditorium, with two wooden thrones and a table).

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 5, 1998 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 20 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Show time--"The Legends of King Arthur" at the Encino Community Center, 4935 Balboa Ave., is playing Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m. An incorrect show time ran in Thursday's Calendar Weekend.

The very loosely adapted stories--how Merlin turned Arthur into a falcon, how Arthur proved himself the true king by claiming the legendary sword, how he fought a dragon and won Guenevere, and how the Round Table came to be--are told as light fare, very simply, with lots of space for participation.

Indeed, audience involvement is a necessity. Although this new play doesn't hold its shape quite as firmly as others the company has done, it and the actors still stay in focus throughout the variables of audience interaction.

And since that interaction is at the center of everything this young theater company does, it's vital that the cast members have the comfortable, nonthreatening manner that they do, so much so that sometimes even the shyest 4- and 5-year-olds find themselves taking part in the action.

It helps, too, that before the show begins, the actors chat, in character, with early arrivals and color and draw along with them in a "coat of arms"-making activity.

During the opening performance last week, one very small, very quiet little boy held back until a volunteer was needed to fill the role of the dragon's tail. Seizing his moment, and giggling through the humorous dialogue, he so plainly enjoyed himself that both he and Murawski, as a dimwitted, chocolate-loving dragon, were a highlight of the show.

With only sketchy props and costumes, but with credible skill and warmth, the aptly named Imagination-in-Residency scores high marks for another enjoyable play-along play.

BE THERE

"The Legends of King Arthur," Encino Community Center, 4935 Balboa Ave., Saturdays and Sundays, 2 p.m. $7; $5 for children under 5. Reservations not required. (310) 636-8089. Running time: 50 minutes.

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