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THEATER: Ventura County | NOTES

Tepid Drama

Heat, double-casting detract from impact of 'Mockingbird.'

September 03, 1998|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A sure-fire audience favorite, "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a wonderful play by Christopher Sergel, based on Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning, semiautobiographical novel.

It's the story of a principled small-town Alabama lawyer (Steve Brown) defending a black man (Joe Thornton Jr.) accused of the rape and battery of a young white woman (either Kim Coger or Libbey Sean Lazarus).

The Conejo Players production, based on director Michael Sollazo's successful staging in Santa Paula a few years ago, should be better than it is. Perhaps as a result of Saturday night's heat and humidity, carrying Southern verisimilitude a bit too far, the acting was in many cases flat and lazy.

The cast and audience seemed to agree; there was no curtain call.

The three featured youngsters--Hayley Cariker as Scout, Mickey Rosenberg as Jem and Philip Cohen as Dill--supply many of the play's more convincing moments. Double-casting several roles (different actors on different nights) probably doesn't help: Better the director should commit himself and let the players rehearse without wondering who they'll interact with from night to night. Other notables include Pam Trotter as a housekeeper and Connie Ropolo as an elderly neighbor.

Perhaps as the weather improves, performances will reach a higher level. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a worthy play, worth seeing even in a less-than-inspired rendition.

* "To Kill a Mockingbird" continues at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Sept. 26 at Conejo Players Theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks. Tickets are $8 Thursday, $10 Friday and $12 Saturday; (805) 485-3715.

*

Shakespeare in the Dark: Saturday's free performance of "Macbeth" in Ventura's Barranca Vista Park is the first such venture for Los Angeles-based Sirius Productions.

Doesn't "Macbeth," with its witchcraft and bloody murder, seem somewhat dark for a family-oriented, free outdoor production? Director John Mitchell thinks not.

"The only reservation I had was about doing the show in full daylight," he said recently. "The show has such a mystique to it, you need a lot of darkness--though, of course, it was performed in daylight in Shakespeare's time.

"This is the only one of the three plays we're doing at night [the other two are comedies], though we're starting it in natural light. Typically, by the time the sun has set, the unnatural things are happening onstage," Mitchell said.

"Macbeth" will have played to several audiences by the time it reaches Ventura, and Mitchell is pleased with the reception it's been getting.

"The show is short enough and interesting enough that people are going to be interested," he said. "There's swordplay, which children enjoy. And of course the play is so familiar; it was the first Shakespeare I read in high school. And this is the most accessible Shakespeare available; it's right in front of you, and it's free."

Mitchell encourages families to bring their children for an admittedly selfish reason: audience development.

"It's always my desire to see kids in the house," he explained. "I'm fairly young--30--so this is my future. I want to have an audience for the next 30 years."

* "Macbeth" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday only at Barranca Vista Park, 7050 Ralston St., Ventura. Admission is free; (818) 980-6691.

Is Ojai in Another World?: An advertisement in Sunday's Calendar section touts the "world premiere" engagement of Doug Motel's one-man play "Shiva Arms" this weekend at a West Hollywood theater. What, then, did audiences see when Motel performed a show with the same title at Ojai's Theatre 150 last November? In any event, Motel is scheduled to bring "Shiva Arms" to Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza's Forum Theatre in January.

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