On Stage

On Stage

 

Flying H’s latest production, Women Behind Bars, allows us a very up-close look at the women living the prison lifestyle. Each has chosen her own campy, B-movie stereotype to survive the raunch and bad circumstance of a women’s correctional facility. Inmates paw each other like caged animals and fight over the slightest perceived threat to their territory, which makes one wonder what they’re really protecting. Easy: the same thing that anyone who plops into a non-descript import car and trudges off to a mind-numbing job protects. Like those souls, the inmates bide their time until they can emerge and release the soul inside that yearns to be free.

And those who will survive are the ones who have built the best façades. Blanche (Brenda Evans) walks around with a hand fan, quoting from Streetcar Named Desire. Guadalupe (Julian Acosta) truly puts the behind in Women Behind Bars and lists off all the family members she aches to see. She sneaks a chicken into the cell block, nurtures it, enjoying the eggs it gives in return until it’s taken away by her captors.

Mary Ellen (Megan McCorkle) enters the Women’s House of Detention wearing her claims of innocence on her sleeve. She is met by Ada (Shelby Maloney), a doll-clutching basketcase who blurts out sentences that seem random, loud and nonsensical but are actually loaded with depth and accuracy. Maloney’s is the kind of insight only available from someone who’s retreated into her own mind for protection. After seven years of imprisonment, Mary Ellen will mostly resemble Maloney’s Ada in the end, completely withdrawn into the last refuge of the psyche until the cage is sprung and she can roam free again.

The inmates have a few moments of freedom when they burst into a free-for-all jailbreak, quickly quashed by the prison matron (Paula Maxwell) and her handsome guard Louise (Robert MacNeal). “Did you think you’d make it?” The matron says. “You’re here because you didn’t make it.”

Those who have been following Orange is the New Black will relate to the bluntness of the material director Taylor Kasch selected. What’s more, there’s topical material inter-woven: The matron defends her role containing evil and lends a moral compass, then goes Cosby by giving Mary Ellen a Quaalude to make her complacent while she inflicts her own immoral agenda.

When the prison psychiatrist (Johnny Avila) insists that Blanche needs to face reality, she retorts in perfect Streetcar tone, “How can I, without the protection of makeup?” Her rant underscores the most important survival tool an inmate, or an office worker for that matter, can possess: a good mask to hide behind until they’ve served their time.


Women Behind Bars through Aug. 1 at Flying H Group, 6368 Bristol Road, Ventura, 901-0005 or www.flyinghgroup.com.

 

On Stage

On Stage

 

Last month a group of pub patrons in Thousand Oaks huddled around a bank of televisions, domestic brews sweating in their hands. New arrivals looked on: Was it the Stanley Cup? World Cup? World Series?

No. Something about the Scripps National Spelling Bee had them captivated. Some tried spelling the words before the kids, but most rolled their eyes and let the prodigies do the work. They wondered aloud, “How do they do that?”

The Elite Theatre Company’s latest musical offering, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, is a charming look at the world of those whiz kids and the competition that isn’t always friendly, pleasant or without a price.

Past-champion Rona Peretti (Erin Fugundes) wins the audience from her first appearance. Alone with the Putnam County trophy, Rona recalls her glory and that winning word: syzygy. Throughout, Fugundes lends both motherly charm and, as the spelling bee’s host, a colorful commentary that’s hilariously candid. Her co-host (and husband, Mark) isn’t much help to contestants either when asked to use the words in a sentence.

As the kids are assigned words most grown-ups have never heard, through each façade seep inevitable moments of childhood wonder and a need for love. Olive (Samantha Eve) imagines her father (Carzie Carter, in one of his three well-crafted roles) and mother singing “I Love You” to provide her the strength to endure. Chip (Daniel Jared Hersh) is also busy with his own fantasy world, one that unfortunately involves another contestant’s attractive sister and, eventually, leaves him too distracted to compete.

An edge sees contestants through the long-haul. Logainne (Kelly Whitaker) writes words out on her arm. William Barfee (Noah Terry) drags a “magic foot” across the stage. Leaf Coneybear (Tyler Capritto) swoops about in a cape and plays with action figures but, under duress, enters a trance (using Steve Grumette’s creative lighting) to recite each letter perfectly.

If disqualified, contestants receive a consolation juice box before being sent off. Their dreams might come true next year, but for now, they’ll just have to settle for being smarter than the average bar patron.

Costumer Beth Glasner does well to make each character visually memorable. Olive is always clad in pink overalls, a soft tone that invites affection, the very thing Olive herself is starving for. Coneybear is described as making his own clothes, and as the audience giggles at co-host Peretti’s description of his handmade threads, Capritto gives a little flip of his cape and focuses back on the competition. Marcy spends all her time in her Catholic schoolgirl skirt and as for Barfee,’ all you have to do is have him roll up a pants leg, show off that magic foot and go to town.


The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, through July 12 at Elite Theatre Company, 2731 S. Victoria, Channel Islands Harbor. For tickets, call 483-5118 or visit www.elitetheatre.org.

 

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