Conejo Players Theatre

351 W. Moorpark Rd, Thousand Oaks CA

Playing thru September 17, 2016


If you’re feeling like the political season has been dragging you through the muck and mire, you’re not alone. American audiences are no doubt in the mood for a positive message or wholesome diversion and a bit of entertainment to offset the inundation of an unusually negative election season.

While the current production of ‘Farragut North’ contains some worthwhile performances, unfortunately it has not been staged this time around to serve audiences as either diversion or entertainment.

Any successful theatrical production requires three essential elements: script, acting, and visual impact. Playwright Beau Willimon, creator of Netflix’s political drama House of Cards has provided a solid piece of writing. Following that, the acting of “Farragut’s” current production is anchored by two standout performances: Parker Harris as politico Stephen Bellamy, who carries the show from beginning to end with conviction and depth, and local stalwart John Eslick, who as Tom Duffy gives us a southern-tinged version of the creeps (a worthy mention also goes to Bryan White, whose cut-throat take on strategist Paul Zara has shining moments.)

Unfortunately the third department of visual impact is where ‘Farragut’ falters. Director Elissa Polansky has given her actors little more than an empty stage to work with. The set is sparsely decorated with oversized chess pieces that double as both decor and functioning furniture; we quickly get the metaphor as they’re moved from scene to scene. Then the gimmick wears thin, and the simplistic choice grows limiting to the cast and visually dull. A lack of identifying detail is thorough; a reporter enters without even a simple pen & pad or electronic tablet in her hand to remind the audience of her role.

With an impressive theatre’s full resources at their disposal, much more could have been done to remedy “Farragut’s” visual aesthetics. The insistence on the chess pieces, the stage might have been remedied with creative chess-themed effects. Projection would certainly have helped: a swarm of bodies moving about during the play’s airport terminal scene would have provided viewers with a sense of place – but four moved chess pieces are all we get. Similarly, when Parker beds young intern Molly (Katy Jarvis), only a bed is introduced and we’re left to wonder… are they at a motel? Someone’s house? The projection of a seedy no-tell motel sign or other establishing demarcation would help here.

Political strategists know that if a candidate has a good story to dress up – he’s a war hero, she’s a rags-to-riches story – voters are more likely to pay attention and follow thru to the ballot box. Similarly, if paying audiences are to endure a slog through the political gutter, the reward of an aesthetically pleasing show isn’t asking too much.




Thru September 17, 2016

Conejo Players Theatre

351 W. Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, CA

Tickets: 805-495-3715 or online at:




Ave Q 2



Hillcrest Center for the Arts

403 W. Hillcrest Dr, Thousand Oaks CA

August 17 – 20, 2016, 8pm  (This week only)



Think life is horrible and that it sucks to be you? Come take a walk down the geographically-undesirable Avenue Q, where a young man without a purpose can live in a building full of singing monsters and have Gary Coleman for a landlord.


Production company YA4Ever has drafted a group of their finest alumni for a pleasant outdoor production of the R-rated puppet-musical “Avenue Q.” On a small corner amphitheater at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts, and for one weekend only, the group will bring Sean Harrington’s puppets to life for the high-energy, hilariously un-PC musical.


Director Kevin Gilmond couldn’t have chosen a more perfect setting; the evening weather is slated to be lovely thru the weekend, and when a plane passes overhead or a siren goes by in the city below, well, it just lends a little free ambience to Avenue Q.

Ave Q 1

Those familiar with “Q” will see this particular production has two clear strengths: its core material, and the ensemble energy of its players. The material drips with topical sarcasm and was written for a group like YA4Ever; there are times when the audience might wonder if something is scripted and being pulled off really well, or was just invented by the player’s imagination. The ‘Bad Idea Bears,’ who shoot across the stage full of terrible advice, seem particularly infected with this kind of energy; players Chris Reilly and Aly Valles hold back nothing and hit their timing just right, setting the overall tone for the production.


Newly arrived in the city, Princeton (Kurt Kemper) gets laid off from his new job before he’s even worked his first day. Like Steve Martin’s Navin Johnson, this sets Princeton on a quest to find his purpose.


Here in his new home on Avenue Q, Princeton meets Kate Monster (Natalie Hightower), a part-time school teacher with a beautiful voice who is equally smitten. How does she know Princeton likes her? He makes her a mixed tape. She’s a good sport throughout, even when Princeton takes her to see a show featuring Lucy the Slut (Francesca Barletta). Disgusted, Kate has a moment similar to Elaine Robinson of The Graduate, turning shy and inward when thrust into a situation clearly beneath her.


Gilmond kept his orchestra a simple trio: drummer, guitarist and pianist are led by conductor Susan T. Calkins. Similar instructions went to costumer Beth Glasner, whose simple designs don’t draw from the action of the puppets.


“Avenue Q” is the Blazing Saddles of contemporary musicals; no sensitive subject or ethnicity is going to get away unscathed. Audiences should be prepared to hear why the internet really exists, how everyone is a little bit racist and that, some days, looking at Kim Kardashian’s fat behind might just be the exercise in schadenfreude you need.


Avenue Q

Hillcrest Center for the Arts

403 W. Hillcrest Dr, Thousand Oaks CA

August 17-20, 2016, 8pm

Tickets $15 – 20: 805-381-1246 or online at: