Ventura County Gilbert and Sullivan Repertoire Company offers a pleasant respite from the worries of the world with its production of Patience, onstage at Theatre on the Hill in Thousand Oaks. While it evokes the past, the Gilbert and Sullivan musical manages to hold up a mirror to our current obsession with celebrity.
Patience takes place during the Aesthetic Movement of the late 1800s, when art and literature favored the beautiful and aesthetically pleasing over realism. Artists, writers, poets and others pursued “art for art’s sake” in reaction to the strict, conservative morals of Victorian society. Aesthetes valued creative expression and sensuality and glorified the days of Ancient Greece and Rome and the Renaissance. In such a setting, Gilbert and Sullivan introduce us to Reginald Bunthorne (John Pillsbury), “a fleshly poet,” who is adored by every maiden in the land. Bunthorne, however, only has eyes for Patience (Laura Jackson), the lovely milkmaid. Patience confesses that she’s never known love — although as a young girl she did have feelings for a boy. That boy, now grown, is the “simple” poet Archibald Grosvenor (William Carmichael), who comes to town and threatens to steal the spotlight, and Patience, away from Bunthorne.
Under the direction of Rebecca Pillsbury, the cast clearly enjoys fleshing out Gilbert and Sullivan’s work. They’re accompanied by a live ensemble, led by music director Zach Spencer. Some cast members have an easier time with Sullivan’s lively music and Gilbert’s tongue-twisting lyrics than others, but together the cast, which includes lovesick maidens and hapless Dragoon Guards, presents a show that is good fun.
Standouts are Laura Jackson, whose classically trained voice is clear and strong. During a duet with Amanda Benjamin (Lady Angela), Jackson’s and Benjamin’s voices meld together beautifully to create a moment of transcendence. William Carmichael captures the humor of the silly, lovesick Grosvenor. Sydney Bowers is terrific as Lady Jane, bringing sauciness and sweet pathos to the role of an older maiden who fears her best years have passed her by. Gary Saxer is very funny and agile as The Duke, an upper-crust fellow who has some of the best moments in the play, while Genevieve Levin (Lady Saphir) offers a lovely voice and a wink of mischief.
Ventura County Gilbert and Sullivan Repertoire Company is helping to keep the works of the beloved masters alive for modern audiences to enjoy. In her Director’s Notes, Pillsbury states, “In a time fraught with fears, it is good to have an opportunity to come together and step into another world.” Not a bad idea at all.
Patience runs through Oct. 22 at Hillcrest Center for the Arts, 403 W. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. For tickets and more information, call 381-2747 or visit hillcrestarts.com.