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10 Little Gullibilities

Absurd premise aside, Agatha Christie mystery holds audience's attention.

May 11, 2000|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ten people find themselves in a luxurious home on a remote island, responding to an invitation from someone none of them knows. Nor does anyone know each other, except the estate's butler and cook, who were only recently hired and have never met their employer. The owner is detained on the mainland, a storm is brewing, and there's no communication off the island, let alone transportation. It's a good thing that nobody's trying to kill the 10 "guests." Just a minute, though . . .

Accept the rather preposterous premise, as audiences have for more than half a century, and it's possible to get a kick out of Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians," now playing at the Santa Paula Theater Center.

As the guests are knocked off one by one, those remaining gradually realize there's a connection to the 10 plaster figurines of Native Americans perched on the home's mantel, and the poem posted directly above it, which seems to predict the method of death for each victim. Still, even after the motive is revealed, the questions remain: Who is doing the killing, and how?

The cast working with director Frederick R. Helsel is a bit uneven--one consequence of several plays running concurrently throughout the county--but features worthy performances by Paul E. Newman and Marilyn Foote as the domestic couple, Gina Lopez as the owner's secretary, James Leslie as an adventurer, Leslie Nichols as a dowager and Gerald Castillo as a retired judge.

As often happens in community theater, everybody has his or her own idea of what constitutes an English accent, even allowing for Christie's distinctions in social class and regional origin. Jeff G. Rack's scenic design is up to his usual standard.

DETAILS

"Ten Little Indians" continues Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. through June 4 at the Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. 7th St. Tickets to all shows are $15; $12, students and seniors; and $8, children. For reservations or more information, call 525-4645. June 16 to July 9, the production will move to the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center.

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A company formerly known as Fool Moon, which has brought fine, professional productions of "Pump Boys & Dinettes," "What About Luv" and "Have a Nice Day" to Ventura and Simi Valley, has reorganized, renamed itself Blue Sky and is presenting a version of the revue "Side by Side by Sondheim" at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center.

For those familiar with Stephen Sondheim, the show's a fine assemblage; for those less so, it's an opportunity to graze some of the best of his work.

Commissioned in 1975 as a benefit for an English theater company, "Side by Side" has enjoyed a long life, moving to London's West End and, eventually, Broadway. "Pacific Overtures" was Sondheim's most recent show at the time "Side by Side" was written, and the revue was never updated--1992's "Puttin' It Together," recently revived in Los Angeles and Broadway, gathers more recent material.

This edition, directed by Ben DeBaldo, varies from the original staging, which involved a narrator (British TV personality and author Ned Sherrin, who assembled the show, was the first) and four singers. Here, the narration is passed among singers J.C. Butner, Susannah Hall, Fiona Moore, Robyn Roth and Fred Voss.

Despite the rather narrow (15 years, more or less) chronology of the revue, it includes songs from many of Sondheim's better-known shows. And, as it includes songs with melodies by Jule Styne, Leonard Bernstein, Mary Rodgers and Richard Rodgers, from shows including "West Side Story" and "Gypsy," several of the selections are more hummable than those for which the adventuresome Sondheim supplied his own complex music.

There are suites of songs from "Anyone Can Whistle," "Follies" and "Company" and a closing medley of what seems to be pretty much everything that hasn't come before. Individual high points include Moore's comic "I Never Do Anything Twice" and defiant "I'm Still Here," Hall's "I Have a Love," Roth and Moore's double-entendre-filled "Can That Boy Fox-Trot" (dropped from "Follies" during tryouts; later a cabaret standard) and Voss and Butner's "Beautiful Girls."

Musical director Daniel Gary Busby and Laura Brenneman play the duo pianos.

DETAILS

"Side by Side by Sondheim" continues Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and concludes Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 Los Angeles Ave. Tickets to all shows are $18; $15, students and seniors; and $10, ages 12 and under. For reservations or further information, call 581-9940.

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

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