Coloring outside the lines
Fall plays challenge convention
By Jenny Lower 09/13/2012
This fall, Ventura County theaters wrap up their 2012 seasons and look ahead to 2013 with a collection of shows about transgressors, rule breakers and envelope pushers. An apparently innocent little girl plots wrongdoing. Teens yield to the siren call of their bodies. Adults violate political and racial barriers, and siblings and parents torment each other with psychological warfare. Even Death and the Devil shirk their professional responsibilities.
What’s more, all this is deeply American, with plays and musicals rooted in the identity of our country. Sure, there are Grease, Damn Yankees and 1776, with their souped-up cars, baseball gloves and feather quills. But even plays from our broader artistic family speak to our passion for justice and independent thought, as in the South African drama Hello and Goodbye and the German roots of Spring Awakening. If our art is any indication, Americans admire boundary breakers. Test the limits, and see one for yourself.
Comedy of Errors, Classics in the Park (through Sept. 16)
Classics in the Park theater company returns to the stage after a two-year hiatus with Shakespeare’s early farce about two sets of identical twins separated at birth. Antipholus of Syracuse and his manservant Dromio sneak into neighboring Ephesus in search of their lost siblings — conveniently also named Antipholus and Dromio. The interlopers soon get a taste of the Cheers effect, as total strangers welcome them by name, while their Ephesian counterparts are chided for the foreigners’ misdoings. Directed by company founder Michael Jordan, the production stars Kenny Larsen as both Antipholuses, with Alex Matute as the duplicate Dromios. Hillcrest Center for the Arts, 403 W. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oak, 381-1246, www.hillcrestarts.com.
Private Lives, Rubicon Theatre Company (through Sept. 30)
Rubicon closes out its 2012 season with Noel Coward’s stylish 1920s comedy about a pair of exes who run into each other while on their honeymoons — with other people. When sparks fly, the old flames ditch their other halves and elope. Featuring slinky dresses, martini glasses and plenty of witty banter, the show is being co-produced by the Laguna Playhouse and directed by Andrew Barnicle. Starring Eileen DeSandre, Joseph Fuqua, Julie Granata, Alyson Lindsay and Matthew Floyd Miller. 1006 E. Main St., Ventura, 667-2900, rubicontheatre.org.
photo by Mary M. Long
Grease, Ojai Art Center Theater (through Oct. 7)
Break out the Brylcreem. Sandy, Danny and the gang return for this revival of the popular 1971 musical. Sweethearts Sandy and Danny got plenty of action under the boardwalk during those warm summer nights. But when the lovebirds return to Rydell High School, their true identities assert themselves: Sandy is a Sandra Dee square, Danny a leather-clad greaser. Can the bad boy tap his inner softie? Will the good girl become a Pink Lady? C’mon. Do teenagers like fast cars? 113 S. Montgomery St., Ojai, 640-8797, www.ojaiartcenter.org.
Hello and Goodbye, Santa Paula Theater Center (through Oct. 14)
South African playwright Athol Fugard has often been called “the conscience of his country” for his plays critiquing the apartheid system. In this early work, the personal becomes political as Fugard explores how the past haunts the present through memory. Johnnie lives alone in a hovel in Port Elizabeth, where he has been caring for his crippled father. When his estranged older sister, Hester, arrives to claim her half of an inheritance, the siblings must confront the legacy of their troubled childhood. Starring Eric J. Stein and Cynthia Killion; directed by Taylor Kasch. 125 S. Seventh St., Santa Paula, 525-4645, www.santapaulatheatercenter.org.
Damn Yankees, Simi Valley Arts Center (through Oct. 14)
The Faustian myth gets a 1950s spin in this tale of a baseball fan who really, really wants his team to win. Middle-aged Joe Boyd agonizes every time the Washington Senators lose to the New York Yankees. Then the devil appears and cuts him a deal: trade his soul, and get reborn as “Shoeless Joe” Hardy, a young hotshot who can lead the team to the World Series. But, as always, there’s a catch when the devil sends a seductress to tempt Joe into betraying his wife and losing his soul forever. The Broadway original and 1958 film version starred Ray Walston as the dapper devil and Gwen Verdon’s legs as Lola. Directed by Fred Helsel, with musical direction by Gary Poirot and choreography by Becky Castells. 3050 Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley, 583-7900, www.simi-arts.org.
The Bad Seed, Conejo Players Theatre (Sept. 14 - Oct. 6)
Have you ever wondered what an 8-year-old psychopath looks like? Watch one in the making in this stage adaptation of William March’s 1954 novel. Angelic Rhoda wears pigtails and demure dresses, but her mother suspects she has a dark side. Then a classmate wins the penmanship medal Rhoda wanted for herself, and he mysteriously drowns. Patty McCormack received an Oscar nomination for her chilling turn as the young she-devil in the 1956 film. 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks, 495-3715, www.conejoplayers.org.
Assassins: A Musical, Camarillo Skyway Playhouse (Sept. 28 - Nov. 4)
“Everybody’s Got the Right” to take a break from Rodgers and Hammerstein now and then.
The recently rebooted Skyway Playhouse closes out its 2012 season, “American Experience,” with this darkly funny Sondheim revue about aspiring and triumphant assassins of U.S. presidents. Join John Wilkes Boothe, Lee Harvey Oswald, Sara Jane Moore and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme — the last two of whom both tried to off Gerald Ford — as they sing about their hopes and dreams. 330 Skyway Drive, Camarillo, 388-5716,skywayplayhouse.org.
Escape from Happiness, Elite Theatre Company (Oct. 5 - Nov. 11)
Canadian playwright George F. Walker’s tale of spectacular dysfunction borrows from Sam Shepard’s family plays, Eugène Ionesco’s Theatre of the Absurd and the 1930s screwball comedy You Can’t Take It With You. Nora’s three grown daughters suffer from a raft of problems, while her ex-cop husband has returned after trying to burn the house down 10 years ago. Throw in some drug dealers and self-help addicts, and you’ve got a clan that rivals the Westons of August: Osage County for sheer craziness. Directed by Peter Krause, the show finishes off Elite’s 2012 season, themed “Deliverance.” Will we see any? Maybe. Petit Playhouse, 730 S. B St., Suite. 20, Oxnard, 483-5118, elitetheatre.org.
Tales from the Women’s (and Men’s) Locker Room, SENGA Classic Stage Company (Oct. 12 - Nov. 4)
SENGA returns with its annual collection of new short plays by local playwrights, this year with a Halloween twist. In Stuffed Dressing by Elixeo Flores, a fading drag queen readies herself for one last show and relives old memories. In Erin McLaine’s Blind Date, a young woman seeking a date with a vampire isn’t sure whether her Google searches have turned up the real thing. In How to Make God Laugh, by Elite Theatre’s artistic director, Tom Eubanks,
a college student meets a stand-up comedian in a locker room and confides a bet she’s made with a classmate: beat her at tennis and she’ll sleep with him. The two women discuss the wager, with surprising results. Ojai Valley Grange, 381 Cruzero St., Ojai, 646-4885, www.sengaclassicstagecompany.com.
Seussical the Musical, High Street Theater (Oct. 12 - Nov. 18)
Some of Dr. Seuss’ most beloved stories come to life in this family-friendly frolic by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Watch as the Cat in the Hat leads young JoJo, thinker of great thinks, on a zany detour that reunites Gertrude McFuzz, Horton the Elephant, Mayzie LaBird, Sour Kangaroo and all the residents of Whoville. Musical numbers include “The Butter Battle,” “Horton Sits on the Egg,” and “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!” 45 E. High St., Moorpark, 529-8700, HighStreetArtsCenter@gmail.com.
1776, Cabrillo Music Theatre (Oct. 19 - 28)
Get in the mood to vote with this patriotic play that opens just weeks before the presidential election. Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards’ 1969 musical opens on the Second Continental Congress, as a stubborn John Adams tries desperately to convince his fellow representatives to sign the Declaration of Independence. See history in action as the delegates wrestle with British sympathizers, debate the striking of an anti-slavery clause and sidestep snarky comments from a dozing Ben Franklin. It’s our founding fathers as you’ve never seen them before. Fred Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, 449-2787, www.cabrillomusictheatre.com.
Spring Awakening, Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Simi (Oct. 27 - Dec. 2)
This rock musical about teens discovering their sexuality in a repressed 19th-century German town electrified Broadway when it debuted five years ago. Unlike wholesome favorites where the juiciest parts play out offstage, this one defiantly and tastefully places the deed front and center. As Melchior, Wendla and Moritz struggle against their society’s rigid expectations, they set off a chain of events that permanently alters their lives. Based on Frank Wedekind’s controversial 1891 play, the original Broadway version starred Glee’s Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff. The show took eight Tony Awards in 2007, including Best Musical and Best Score for songs like the angst anthem “The Bitch of Living” and Wendla’s ballad “Mama Who Bore Me.” Directed by David Ralphe. Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley, 583-7900, www.simi-arts.org.
Mike Birbiglia’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, Fred Kavli Theatre (Nov. 2)
This American Life contributor and stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia hit it big with his one-man off-Broadway show Sleepwalk With Me, about a sleep disorder that caused him to jump out a hotel room window. The film of the same name, a winner at Sundance, rolls out at select theaters nationwide (including the Paseo Camarillo) later this month. Now the comic follows up that success with this new collection of romantic misfires, stomach-churning junior-high humiliations and cringe-worthy adult blunders. And you thought your love life was bad. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, 449-2787, toaks.org.
Miss Saigon, Conejo Players Theatre (Nov. 16 - Dec. 15)
From the creative team behind Les Misérables, this modern retelling of Madama Butterfly sets Puccini’s opera in 1960s-era Vietnam. A beautiful Vietnamese prostitute falls in love with an American GI and bears his child, with tragic consequences. Originating in London’s West End, the musical has faced criticism over the years for its supposedly racist and sexist portrayals of Asian men and women. The first U.S. production generated controversy when it cast Caucasian and Filipino actors in Vietnamese roles, though the lead performers went on to earn rave reviews. 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks, 495-3715, www.conejoplayers.org.
Death Takes a Holiday, Santa Paula Theater Center (Nov. 16 - Dec. 23)
This recent musical by Nine composer Maury Yeston adds soaring show tunes to the same
Italian play that eventually inspired the 1998 Brad Pitt film Meet Joe Black. Set in Venice, Italy, in the years following World War I, the production opens on a Grim Reaper sick to death of his day job. So he trades his black shroud for black tie and a jaunty human form, and sets off to see how the other half lives. Soon the spiffed-up mortal stumbles across the lovely Grazia, who, after a brush with mortality, falls head over heels for the very worst man in the world for her. 125 S. Seventh St., Santa Paula, 525-4645, www.santapaulatheatercenter.org.
CHRISTMAS ON STAGE
Cirque Dreams Holidaze, Fred Kavli Theatre (Nov. 27 - Dec. 2)
In this Cirque-du-Soleil-meets-the-North-Pole holiday spectacular, an international cast performs impressive acrobatic feats amidst a winter wonderland filled with oversized candy canes and giant gingerbread men. Perfect for when you’re stuffed with treats and ready to be dazzled. Directed by Neil Goldberg. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, 449-2787, toaks.org.
A Christmas Carol, Thousand Oaks Repertory Theatre (Dec. 6 - 9)
Marley’s ghost returns just in time for the holidays. In Dickens’ classic, greedy businessman Ebenezer Scrooge is offered a final chance at redemption when he is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. Scrooge’s joyous antics the morning after are worth the price of admission. Scherr Forum Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, (805) 449-2787, toaks.org.