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THEATER: Ventura County | NOTES

Life After Melodrama

Modern classic 'The Fantasticks' is 1st show in theater's new incarnation.

September 17, 1998|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Reverting to its former management, the Magnificent Moorpark Melodrama & Vaudeville Company has been reborn as the Moorpark Playhouse. In this incarnation, the theater is set to present well-known plays and musicals, one-night variety attractions and, on occasion, a return to musical genre parodies.

First up is "The Fantasticks," a show that's been playing off-Broadway for about 35 years. Flaunting its low-rent origins, the show has virtually no stage set, a relatively brief playing time of just over two hours, and the simplest of story lines: The Boy and The Girl live next door, their fathers contrive to bring them together and the romance stumbles before resolving itself.

There was a hit song, "Try to Remember," that virtually nobody under 30 does. Still, the script and tunes by Tom Jones (not the singer) and Harvey Schmidt (suggested by a play by the guy who wrote "Cyrano de Bergerac") is all but timeless. A high tolerance for whimsy helps one appreciate the goings-on, though, as might be expected when the cast includes a full-time mime (Jess Osier).

Many of the cast members are familiar to longtime melodrama fans, though the singing is of a higher overall order than the average melodrama production.

Both The Boy (Kent Winfrey) and The Girl (Kristin Towers) have performed at the melodrama and elsewhere; in fact they have been in 11 shows together. Jim Harlow, who plays The Boy's father, and Damian Gravino, who plays "El Gallo"--hired by the fathers to abduct The Girl so The Boy can rescue her--have starred in many melodrama productions, and it's especially good to see them here.

Making their debuts with the troupe are Dan Restuccio, as The Girl's father; Robert Towers, who, as a doddering Old Actor (he's Kristin Towers' father in real life), walks away with the show every minute he's on stage; and Rebecca Gessert, amusing as the Old Actor's largely silent cohort.

Kevin Kern directed impressively; Dean Mora was musical director (Kevin Parcher is the accompanist); and Danielle Gunn created the choreography.

While "The Fantasticks" may not be for everybody, it's for darned near everybody, from teens to dating couples to their grandparents. And the Moorpark Playhouse production bodes well for the venue's future enterprises.

* "The Fantasticks" continues through Sept. 20 at the Moorpark Playhouse, 45 E. High St. in Moorpark. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday evenings; 3 p.m. Saturday afternoons; 2 p.m. Sun. afternoons. Tickets are $12. For reservations, call (805) 529-1212.

*

The Plights of Women Manifest in Thousand Oaks: One might wonder how the participants in "Broken Glass, Shattered Lives" might react to the scene in "The Fantasticks," where El Gallo and two male parents casually collaborate to abduct The Girl. "Broken Glass, Shattered Lives" is an original, multimedia performance-art piece that's a virtual tract on how men mistreat women--including rape.

Written by Patricia Marsac and Siana-Lee Valencia Gildard, and nicely performed by an ensemble of 12 young women and the band Atticus, the show interestingly combines singing, dance, recitations and slide projections into a very intense 50 minutes or so.

It's nicely enough performed, though a little more work would make the show a lot more accessible to a much larger audience. There's no need to give a point of view that's rounded to the point of edgelessness, but certainly there are some decent things men do (aren't there?), and there must be something positive about being a woman in this society.

And although most of the projected images are of scenery and people, several are of unattributed statistics that may prompt as many raised eyebrows as they do murmurs of "right on."

* "Broken Glass, Shattered Lives" continues at 8 p.m. Friday-Sunday evenings through Sept. 26 at the Arts Council Center, 482 Greenmeadow Ave. in Thousand Oaks. General admission to all performances is $10; $8 students and seniors. For reservations or further information, call (805) 381-2747.

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