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Restaging Her Career

'Eight Is Enough' actress returns to the theater after branching out.

July 27, 2000|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Laurie Walters was cast as the third eldest of the Bradford children on the TV series "Eight is Enough," she says, the producers pictured Joannie as something of a wallflower.

"I'd brought a book of Walt Whitman poetry to the audition, so that's how they thought of me," she recalled recently. "But when they found out more about me, they turned Joannie into a theater kid."

A theater kid indeed, Walters already had a considerable stage background. And this weekend, after a hiatus of several years from show business, Walters returns to the stage, playing Brutus' wife, Portia, in the Ojai Shakespeare Festival's "Julius Caesar."

Raised in and around San Francisco, Walters enrolled in Humboldt State College to major in wildlife conservation. "But I found myself spending all my time in the theater building, doing my homework and auditioning for plays," she said.

After a brief stint at UC Santa Barbara, Walters moved to Berkeley "to be in the midst of things" and helped create what became the Berkeley Repertory Theater. She got her equity card--became a professional--at the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival.

Cast in "The People," a science-fiction TV movie, Walters moved on to two films based on the best-selling novel "The Harrad Experiment," moved to Los Angeles and appeared in episodes of "The Rookies," "Cannon" and "Happy Days" before being cast as Joannie, a part she held for the series' four-year run. ("Eight is Enough" reruns currently play on the PAX cable network.)

When the series ended, she did a few episodes of other shows and then returned to the stage, touring in dinner theater and playing in several professional Los Angeles productions, including "Richard III" at the Mark Taper Forum and "Playboy of the Western World" at South Coast Repertory. Up simultaneously for a part in a Pasadena Playhouse production and a new series, she didn't get either role and "decided to embark on a new life. By the time you're in your 40s, auditioning is a lot harder process than it is earlier on; I found it psychologically difficult to keep begging people for work."

Hence her return to her first love, environmental work, coordinating the volunteer program for the Los Angeles organization Tree People. Last year, she married actor John Slade, with whom she'd worked in a production of Shakespeare's "King John" in the early '80s.

This year, Ojai Shakespeare Festival artistic director Paul Backer invited both to appear in "Julius Caesar"; Slade plays Cassius.

"John has been working at Taft High School (in Los Angeles), getting his teaching credential, and was getting burnt out," Walters said. "Working together in Ojai is an ideal reentry for me and a rejuvenation for John."

DETAILS

"Julius Caesar" opens Friday at 7:30 p.m., runs through Sunday and continues Thursdays-Sundays at 7:30 p.m. through Aug. 13 at Ojai's Libbey Bowl on Ojai Avenue. Saturday tickets are $18 adults, $15 students and seniors. All other nights, tickets are $15, $12 for seniors and students. Children under 12 free at all performances. The fest will also present modern restaging of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by members of the Ojai Shakespeare Internship Program on the Libbey Park lawn Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 4 p.m. through Aug. 13. Tickets are $8; children under 5 free. For further information, call 646-9455 or visit the festival's Web site at http://www.ojaishakespeare.org.

*

Although it dates to 1941, George Kaufman and Moss Hart's "George Washington Slept Here" holds up remarkably well in its current manifestation at the Santa Paula Theater Center. Part of that is the timelessness of the theme of an urban couple moving into a rural fixer-upper, but much is due to the energetic cast working with director Michael Sollazzo.

John Reinhart and Patricia Lynn Strickland play Newton and Annabelle Fuller. It's his idea to move to the country; she's a city woman through and through.

Jim Barker plays the laconic handyman; Amber Landness is the Fullers' daughter; Jeremy DiPaolo portrays her rather mousy fiance; and Irv Citron is the Fullers' visiting Uncle Stanley, his presence tolerable only in anticipation of an inheritance that becomes even more important as costs of the country home pile up.

There are plenty more people in the cast, all of them fine, with Rene Petrello especially hilarious as a preoccupied maid and Philip Cohen as the Fullers' despicable nephew.

DETAILS

"George Washington Slept Here" continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through Aug. 27 at the Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. 7th St. Tickets are $15, $12 seniors and students, $8 ages 12 and under. For reservations or further information, call 525-4645.

*

Todd Everett can be reached at teverett@concentric.net.

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