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'Money' Funny

Laughter fills the air on opening night of comedy playing in Ojai.

February 22, 2001|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Whether it be the arch drawing-room plays of Noel Coward or a knockabout farce, whether it be Shakespeare or Simon, there's only one ultimate test of a comedy: Is it funny?

Although there were dull spots in Friday's opening-night performance of "Funny Money," now at the Ojai Center for the Arts, the audience (many members, as on most opening nights, friends and relatives of the cast) was laughing throughout the show.

So was I, and I'm not related to anybody. And there's no reason to expect that the laughter will diminish during the show's run.

Ray Cooney's script takes the form of a typical drawing-room farce, with lots of slamming doors, mistaken identities and the like.

It's not fair to give away too much, so let it suffice to note that, as the play starts, dullish veteran accountant Henry Perkins (Michael Barra), having just discovered a seemingly abandoned briefcase full of loot, is trying to persuade his wife, Jean (Marianna Johnston), to pack a few necessities in preparation for boarding the next plane out of the country.

Not exactly stupid, but certainly slow on the uptake, the shrill and fluttery Jean resists.

For one thing, she isn't sure what's going on. For another, she's not sure she wants to go anywhere. And of more immediate concern, two friends, Vic and Betty Johnson (Doug Friedlander, Zoe Pietrycha) are expected to arrive any minute for dinner.

This is where suspension of disbelief comes in: At several points during the rest of the play, all a character would have to do is let another know what's going on, listen to what's going on in the next room (those walls must be terrifically thick), or simply leave, and everything would be resolved in minutes.

If you're willing to play along and accept that none of this has occurred to any of the characters, it's a very funny couple of hours.

Sure, the play could be a little briefer (that, of course, is the playwright's doing, not that of the cast or director Jesse Lovejoy); there are a couple of brief, relatively dull patches (again, Cooney); and from time to time various actors didn't seem entirely sure of who they or the others were--reasonable enough, considering all the flimflammery going on, and sure to be corrected with practice.

The capable cast includes David Douglas as a cab driver, Ron Rowe and Bruce Solow as a couple of policemen and George Miller as "a passerby."

DETAILS

"Funny Money" continues at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays through March 17 at the Ojai Center for the Arts, 113 S. Montgomery St. Tickets to all shows are $12, adults; $10, seniors and Art Center members. This show is not recommended for children. For reservations or further information, call 640-8797.

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Each year, this column chastises local companies for duplicating shows within a couple of months' time. But each troupe thinks its audience and the other group's are different; and besides, its own will be the better production.

The only such duplication this year--of those made public, at least--was to be of the "The Secret Garden" by the Cabrillo Music Theatre and the Camarillo Community Theater, only a couple of months and a few miles up or down the Conejo Grade from each other. The good news is that the Camarillo group changed its plans, leaving next month's Cabrillo production as this year's only "Secret Garden." Camarillo representative Damian Gravino says the group is now considering "Steel Magnolias" or a nonmusical version of "Les Miserables" for its May slot.

Look, though, for a newly announced production of "Man of La Mancha" in Ojai this summer. Producers aren't dismayed by the fact that the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center production just closed. In this case, they may have a point: Few from one end of the county are likely to have made (or to make) the trek to the other unless Ojai's "Man" is truly spectacular. We'll let you know.

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

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