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'Ugly Duckling,' With Western Twist, Is a Beauty

July 25, 2002|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Ya ought not to make fun of this little feller....Ya never know what the world has in store."

The "Ugly Duckling," cowboy style.

That western twist on a fairy tale classic is just part of what's in store for audiences at the Occidental Children's Theater's latest summer frolic, the "The Good, the Bad & the Ugly Duckling," funny folk tales mixed with zingy physical comedy for the whole family.

Back for its seventh season at Occidental College's outdoor Remsen Bird Hillside Theater, this dynamic company of talented actors, guided by artistic director Jamie Angell, is as fresh and entertaining as ever.

In the show's "Ugly Duckling" centerpiece, a bad kitty (Olivia Killingsworth) is a major player in the illegal rare-bird trade, stealing eggs and selling the fledglings. Her plans for a particularly large egg, however, go awry, and the resulting strange hatchling (Ursula McClelland) is rejected by a daffy duck (Aaron Henne), who relinquishes its care to a mysterious cowboy (Joe Quadres).

With his help, Ugly finds her real family, despite a mean sheriff ("In these here parts, bein' ugly is a hangin' offense"), Kitty's bumbling canine henchmen and goofy one-liners throughout.

Three other wacky adaptations precede this ducky tale: "The Fox and the Monkey," a humorous cautionary fable from Bolivia; "Foma Berennikov," a Russian yarn about a one-eyed simpleton who inadvertently becomes a hero (a hilarious turn by tall, lanky Joseph Chandler); and "The Flying Head." In this strange little Iroquois tale, actors Quadres, Chandler and Eamon Armstrong portray the marauding, monster head.

All four tales are brought vividly to life without benefit of sets or props, save for long wooden poles and swaths of black cloth. These are creatively manipulated by the actors to serve as walls, houses, rivers, mountains and more.

The actors themselves, solo and in acrobatic groups, use their bodies to form thrones, boats, trees, doors, and a stew pot (Killingsworth) that the greedy Monkey (Quadres) gets stuck on his head.

One memorable innovation: a "babbling brook" formed by three actors lying flat on their backs in a vertical row. They comically underscore the action of the scene with a steady stream of hot air and petulance, punctuated by their fretfully waving hands. As the brook dries up, the actors, one by one, somersault out of the scene. It's a little gem of a performance in this unpretentiously clever show.

* "The Good, the Bad & the Ugly Duckling," Occidental College, Remsen Bird Hillside Theater, 1600 Campus Drive, Eagle Rock, Thursdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m. through Aug. 24. Adults, $8; children ages 12 and under, $5. (323) 259-2922. Running time: 1 hour.

Making Music: Three top-notch performers are making local family concert appearances in the coming weeks, beginning with very off-the-wall rock duo, They Might Be Giants, who will perform songs from its first family album, "No!" on Sunday at Storyopolis.

Acoustic duo Trout Fishing in America, a 2002 Grammy nominee for "Best Musical Album for Children" for its "inFINity" CD, will appear in concert at the Getty Museum on Aug. 17. And longtime folk singer-songwriter faves Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer will provide family entertainment at the Skirball Cultural Center's "Food Festival" on Aug. 18.

* "They Might Be Giants," Storyopolis, 116 N. Robertson Blvd., Plaza A, L.A., Sunday at 2 p.m. $6-$10; under age 3, free. (310) 358-2500. "Trout Fishing in America," Getty Museum, 1200 Getty Center Drive, L.A., Aug. 17, 4 and 5 p.m. (310) 440-7300. "Food Festival: Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer," Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., Aug. 18, 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Festival admission: $6-$8; members and children under age 12, free. (310) 440-4544.

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