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Family Circle

'Ring Around Elizabeth' is a well-acted look into a small-town America home.

March 09, 2000|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Several local groups are premiering new works this year. And while "Ring Around Elizabeth," now playing at the Marquie Dinner Theater, isn't new, it might as well be. Having premiered (apparently on Broadway) in the early 1940s, the play is nearly forgotten--a Web search resulted in two references: a regional production circa 1946 and the current Marquie presentation.

The comedy, brought to the Marquie's attention by playwright Charl Armstrong's locally based son, centers on a family living somewhere in small-town America. Elizabeth Cherry, her husband, Ralph, and teenage daughters Mercy and Jennifer are living in a house owned (and also occupied) by Ralph's father, Hubert.

Elizabeth's mother, Laurette, is something of a pain; the girls are coming to grips with life; and the glow has diminished from the Cherrys' marriage: "While [Ralph's] not in his office," Elizabeth confides, "he likes to fish."

All this is about to change, and not just because of the windfall Elizabeth is about to inherit--Ralph already has plans for it. Elizabeth leaves the house briefly, and by the time she's back, she's fallen victim to what may have been a soap opera cliche even in 1942, one that alters the family dynamic considerably.

While nobody here is as wacky as the characters in "You Can't Take It With You," this is that kind of a play, brimming with offbeat but intelligent and generally endearing characters.

Director Rick Steinberg has assembled a strong cast, headed by Denice Stradling as Elizabeth and "Doc" Reynolds as rascally father-in-law Hubert, racing away with every scene he's in. Roscoe Gaines plays blustering Ralph like a young George C. Scott; and Rosemary DeLeonardis, Chelain Goodman and Kamaryn Mai are effective as Elizabeth's mother and daughters.

Tim Ahern is properly creepy as Andy (described, charitably, as an "adventurer" and wearing an Indiana Jones fedora), Judy Weaver plays the family's wisecracking cook, and Cathryn DeBlor and Cheryl Talbot portray a couple of troublemaking women--though DeBlor's character gets one of the show's biggest laughs when, noting that she's not married, explains that "I still have to use my own judgment and think for myself."

Which is, ultimately, what "Ring Around Elizabeth" is all about.

DETAILS

"Ring Around Elizabeth" continues Fridays, Saturdays and some Sundays through April 15 at the Marquie Dinner Theatre, 340 N. Mobil Ave. in Camarillo. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., dinner is served at 7 and the play begins shortly after 8. Tickets are $35, $32 for seniors, $28 for children under 13 and include the show, a buffet dinner with a choice of entrees, nonalcoholic beverages, tax and tip. A full cash bar is available. For reservations (mandatory) or further information, call 484-9909.

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One of the many assets of "The Lion in Winter," currently at the Ojai Center for the Arts, is the incidental music, played by George Miller on the metal-stringed Celtic harp.

"I didn't want to use the typical [prerecorded] music," explained director Tom Eubanks, "and I thought something medieval-sounding would be appropriate."

Enter graphic designer Miller, whom Eubanks had seen acting in the center's production of "Big River" a couple of years ago and playing his harp at last year's Ojai Shakespeare Festival.

A guitarist who'd "kind of given it up," Miller says he fell in love with Celtic music after hearing some harp played on the radio.

"It's a very ancient instrument, particularly the wire-strung, which went out of fashion in the 1700s [replaced by the less complicated gut-string model] and has recently come back in style," Miller said.

Finding a metal-stringed harp on sale in Santa Barbara, he virtually taught himself to play the instrument, "though I took a few lessons from a woman who played an orchestral harp."

Although the play calls for music from the 12th century, Miller says most of the 12th century music he found was liturgical, so he ventured to the 13th and 14th centuries.

"It's pretty much traditional Scottish and Irish music," he added. "Henry II [the play's central figure] had invaded Ireland, so I am costumed as a captured monk--that's what I'm doing in France."

DETAILS

"The Lion in Winter" continues Thursday and Sunday at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through March 18 at the Ojai Center for the Arts, 113 S. Montgomery St. in Ojai. Tickets for all shows are $12; $10, seniors and art center members. For reservations or more information, call 649-9443.

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

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