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A Romance Revisited

Whimsical 'Fantasticks' features a fine cast having fun with an oft-told tale.

May 18, 2000|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Two families live next-door to each other, separated by a wall. Neither the artificial barrier nor their fathers' mutual hostility deters teenagers Matt Huckabee and Luisa Bellomy from discovering each other and falling in love--which may be what was supposed to be, all along.

That's the setup of "The Fantasticks," a simple little musical that's been enchanting audiences off-Broadway for 40 years, nonstop, as of earlier this month. The current Marquie Dinner Theatre production is the first of two in Ventura County this year; the second is scheduled for Ojai in October.

"The Fantasticks" demands a strong appetite for whimsy, which it fulfills with a cast that includes a dashing swordsman, El Gallo; two disheveled wandering actors, Henry and Mortimer, straight out of "Huckleberry Finn" if not "A Midsummer Night's Dream"; and a mime. A second act that's rather darker than the first counters the sweetness.

The best-known song in the score by Tom Jones (not that one) and Harvey Schmidt is "Try to Remember," in which the two try to see how many times they can rhyme "Remember" and "December" (occasionally "September") before the audience starts throwing dinner rolls at the singers. Another song deals with rape--which, it's carefully explained several times, is in this case an abduction, rather than a sex crime.

Back to the play: Those considerations aside (and they haven't deterred audiences for four decades) "The Fantasticks" is quite sweet and gentle. A good cast helps considerably, and director Aileen-Marie Scott has assembled Mark Andrew Reyes and Jeannine Marquie-Reyes as El Gallo and Luisa (the two, now married, first acted together in this very show in this very theater some years ago); Hank Florence as Matt; James Harlow and Barry Maultasch as Matt's and Luisa's fathers; and Fred Baid and Brian Bookbinder as the actors. Franca Roda is the mime who sets the story up and assists with props onstage.

They're uniformly appealing personalities and seem to be having a lot of fun with the material under Scott's direction. Musical director Zachary Spencer bangs out the score on the piano. What else can he do? That's the way it's written.

DETAILS

"The Fantasticks" continues Friday and Saturday nights through June 10 at the Marquie Dinner Theatre, 340 Mobil in Camarillo. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; dinner is served from 7 and the show begins shortly after 8. Nonrefundable tickets are $35; $32, seniors; and $28, children under 13; and include a buffet dinner with choice of entrees, nonalcoholic beverages, tax and tip. A full cash bar is available. For reservations (mandatory) or information about group sales, call 484-9909.

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Two local companies are locked in an unofficial battle to land "name" actors that's resulting in opportunities to see stars in relatively tiny local forums. Rubicon Theatre Company (whose recent "The Little Foxes" starred Linda Purl) will feature Larry Hagman in the courtroom drama "Murder in the First," based on the film of the same name and co-starring "Jesus Christ Superstar" veteran Ted Neeley.

The production reunites Hagman (backstage, at least) with his longtime "Dallas" co-star Linda Gray, here making her theatrical directing debut. The show opens June 3; call 667-2900 for further information.

Ojai's Theater 150 will rotate casts of two in "Hate Mail" (inspired by but not a parody of "Love Letters," we're assured), opening Friday night. The casts include the company's co-founders, Kim Maxwell-Brown and Dwier Brown on Friday; George Ball and Amanda McBroom on Saturday; and many more in weeks to come. Further details will appear in this space next week.

Several actors with local connections have been popping up on the TV screen in recent weeks. Dwier Brown appears as the adult male lead in the Disney Channel TV movie "Rip Girls," which debuted a couple of weeks ago. Sean Moran, who directed the recent Ventura College production of "Kiss Me Kate," was seen as a caterpillar in a Lewis Carroll-inspired dream sequence in last week's episode of the series "Providence," and Duncan Regehr, who recently co-starred in "The Little Foxes," is featured along with Angela Lansbury and Richard Crenna on tonight's "Murder, She Wrote" TV movie.

DETAILS

"Hate Mail" opens Friday and continues Friday-Sunday at 8 p.m. through June 15 at Theater 150, 918 E. Ojai Ave. in Ojai. All tickets are $20, but the theater is very small, so reservations are virtually mandatory. For reservations or additional casting information, call 646-4300.

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

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