Ventura County's unofficial Neil Simon festival continues with the current run of "God's Favorite" at the Ojai Center for the Arts. One of Simon's less well-received plays at its original 1974 run, it's a seriocomic retelling of the biblical book of Job, set in contemporary New York City. It wasn't an original idea: Poet and playwright Archibald MacLeish had done pretty much the same thing with "J.B.," with some success, in 1958.
Although it's determinedly not a laugh riot as Simon intended many of his plays to be, some viewers might find "God's Favorite" (along with "The Gingerbread Lady," still playing at the Elite Theater in Oxnard, and "The Good Doctor") among his most interesting plays.
Joe Benjamin (nobody's ever accused Simon of subtlety) is a successful businessman with a strong faith in God. It's so strong, in fact, that when he's approached by the mysterious Sidney Lipton (producer Tom Eubanks) and asked to renounce God, no manner of personal hardship can cause Joe to do so--or can it? Although the show is peppered with humor (one of the travails Joe is forced to endure is hemorrhoids), Simon comes close to dealing with serious philosophical issues.
Bruce Liberty turns in a strong performance as the tormented Joe under Peter Crane's direction, with Karin Jensen as wife Rose, Vince Ugolini and Christopher Jones as his sons, and Beth Ann Baker as his daughter.
The Ugolini and Baker characters are described by Simon as "twins, as close as we can approximate."
Ugolini and Baker are as unlikely a pair of twins as can be imagined; amusingly, Crane retains Simon's original dialogue.
Ron Rowe and Mary Crane are seen only briefly as the Benjamin family's domestics; they're among the highlights of the show. Crane is also credited with set decoration; what happens during intermission is pretty darned neat.
"God's Favorite" continues Thursday and Sunday at 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through May 20 at the Ojai Center for the Arts, 113 S. Montgomery St. in Ojai. There will be no show on Mother's Day, May 14. Tickets to all performances are $12; $10 seniors and Art Center members. Not recommended for young children. For reservations or more information, call 649-9443.
The Rubicon Theatre Company has had troubles mounting its well-received current production of "The Little Foxes." First, the opening date was postponed several weeks, Then, just before opening, co-star Gary Sandy pulled out, released by the producers when he was offered a higher-paying job elsewhere.
Now, John Fink--an actor with off-Broadway, Broadway and national theatrical productions on his resume, as well as film and TV credits including the role of Alan Sterling in "Love of Life" in 1969 and 1970--has been brought in to alternate with John Bennett Perry (father of "Friends" co-star Matthew Perry) as Mr. Marshall, the Chicago industrialist.
"The Little Foxes" continues Thursday-Sunday through May 7 at the Laurel Theatre, 1006 E. Main St. in Ventura. Performances are Wednesday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets to all shows except Friday and Saturday nights are $27.50 general, $22.50 seniors and students; Friday and Saturday evening tickets are $32.50 general, $27.50 seniors and students. For reservations or more information, call 667-2900.
Theatre League, whose touring productions play at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza ("West Side Story" opens Saturday) has announced its schedule for the rest of this year and early 2001. The season consists of "Evita," Oct. 17-25; "Annie," Nov. 28-Dec. 3; "Leader of the Pack" (originally a cabaret musical, featuring songs co-written by Ellie Greenwich), Jan. 9-14; and "Jekyll and Hyde," the Frank Wildhorn musical that was a hit in cities including Seattle and Houston before settling on Broadway, March 6-11. A package of tickets costing from $80 to $145 is available at 449-2775.
In addition, the league will present "If You Ever Leave Me, I'm Going With You," written by and starring Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor, from Feb. 15-18; tickets sold separately.
Locally based Cabrillo Music Theatre had announced its own coming season, with "Anything Goes," the 1988 updating of a vintage 1934 Cole Porter musical (lots of songs added for the revival) Nov. 3-12. Dates for "The Secret Garden" and "The Sound of Music" have yet to be set.
"West Side Story" runs Saturday through May 7 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Auditorium, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays and May 6. Tickets range from $29.50 to $38.50 and can be purchased at the Civic Arts Plaza box office or at 583-8700 or (213) 480-3232. The first Saturday has been designated a preview night; ticket prices stay the same. Discounts for groups of 20 or more are available; call (818) 986-2908.
Todd Everett can be reached at email@example.com.