My Sweet Alibi

Alibi

 

 

My Sweet Alibi

 

Azar’s Sports Bar

2215 Borchard Rd

Newbury Park, CA

July 17, 2016

 

My Sweet Alibi turned in a nice performance at Azar’s Sports Bar this past Sunday on a lazy afternoon in Newbury Park. Yet rather than settling to be just another cover band straining to deliver FM crowd-pleasers, singer Laurie Martz and her bandmates chose recognizable songs suitable to both the audience and Martz’s vocal range. They weren’t here to welcome you to the jungle; rather, mild cheers sounded when the band built upon the opening chords of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Gold Dust Woman.’

 

The band adapted their sound to fit the venue and their afternoon audience. Between the BBQ in the parking lot and the smartly-mixed sound, it didn’t seem at all unusual to see one band member’s family friend in the front row beside her 11 year-old son, an aspiring drummer, decked in his black Metallica t-shirt clocking every move made by drummer Milo Todesco.

 

Todesco set the tone of the band’s muted, easy sound. The drummer respected the ears of his faithful by swapping out the heavy sticks for a pair of Fat Cat brushes. And the usual bass drum? Todesco put bricks in a plastic wastebasket, the type found beside any desk in any office in town. The result was a unique, perfectly balanced accompaniment.

 

Similarly, guitarist Sam Ortolano brought along a customized Guild acoustic, its sound hole filled with a Keeler processor only a tech head would recognize. Everyone else just enjoyed the warmth of the guitar’s sound and Ortolano’s smooth playing as it matched the band.

 

The whole effort came together particularly well on Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie.” Ortolano and bassist Sam Norman grooved perfectly and the lyrics provided one of Martz’s finest vocal moments. Where Winehouse’s voice had been a whiny 70’s Motown squeak, Martz was smooth and rich. A good choice for a lovely afternoon.

 

 

MY SWEET ALIBI

 

Azar’s Sports Bar

2215 Borchard Rd

Thousand Oaks, CA

 

Laurie Martz – vocals

Sam Ortolano – guitar

Sam Norman – bass

Milo Todesco – drums

FIGARO

Figaro

 

FIGARO

 

Hillcrest Center for the Arts

403 W. Hillcrest Dr, Thousand Oaks, CA

Playing thru June 19, 2016

Friday & Sat, 8pm – Sunday 2pm Matinee

 

 

Every engine requires even its smallest system to be perfectly synchronized to get us where we’re going. And when that engine runs on all cylinders, it is truly a powerful and amazing work of magic.

 

Director J. Bailey Burcham has finely-tuned the cast of “Figaro” just this way. The cast races about the stage of the Hillcrest Center for the Arts, working every opportunity for a well-timed laugh without becoming overly-hammy. ‘Figaro’ is a true ensemble piece, and Burcham made sure there is not a dead cylinder in the production. The cast keeps the action moving while remaining charming and believable. Even when a leap from a high-story window can’t be believable, it’s still made quite funny.

 

Based on the classic French tale “The Marriage of Figaro,” author Charles Morey (whose adaptations include The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers) has made the story accessible by updating it to 1960 and placing it in the era of Mad Men. Morey has provided the Hillcrest cast a compact, tight script, where small details play a large role (note Figaro whistling an oddly familiar tune while shaving the Count).

 

Set in a French château, Figaro (the infectiously energetic Matt DeNoto) is a servant one day away from marrying his beloved Suzanne (Alisa de Los Santos). Figaro spends his waking hours plotting to get his marriage contract signed by Count Almaviva (Paul Carpenter). Carpenter delivers the Count with equal parts overbearing cad while remaining the gullible, fallible buffoon. Again and again, the Count falls victim to his own lust and the opportunities power provides. Everyone wants something from him, and he knows just how to scheme and get what he wants in return.

 

Jeff Calnitz provided a moodily-lit and simply decorated set. Only during the final garden scene does Calnitz’s work get a chance to stretch its legs, opening to reveal a simple trellis. Coupled with soft night lighting, Calnitz’s simple design serves its cast well without the need of complicated changes or sleight-of-hand trickery.

 

Equally well-designed are Barbara Mazeika’s costumes, who has her cast looking sharp in colors that are pleasing to the eye without distracting from the action. Even when the young Cherubin (Brain Felker) bounds across the stage dressed as a woman, Mazeika has him doing so like a Shakespearean Raggedy Ann doll.

 

Robert Weibezahl is ‘Figaro’s’ man of all trades, playing every minor role from a crestfallen melon gardener to a hilarious stuttering judge. Recent CLU grad Michelle Miller gets every bit of charm and humor from her role as French maid Fanchette, who needs only to roll her eyes a certain way to extract a hearty laugh from her audience.

 

Throughout, Sontos plays Figaro’s beloved Suzanne with a Mary Tyler Moore-esque sex-kitten charm, balancing equal parts scheming temptress and eager bride-to-be. Suzanne finds herself in a whirlpool-speed plot, and she’s along for the ride. One expects that her marriage to Figaro is off to quite a start, and it won’t be a quiet one, but it is clearly love.

 

“Love is a fiction written by the heart,” says the Count, which his secretary backs up by declaring that “marriage is absurd.” There may be enough bed-hopping going on in ‘Figaro’ to knock the underpinnings out from any happy home, but at every turn the characters find themselves speeding toward the happily-ever-after they secretly desire, all with the speed of a finely-tuned engine.

 

 

Figaro

Thru June 19, 2016

Hillcrest Center for the Arts

403 W. Hillcrest Dr, Thousand Oaks, CA

Tickets: 805-381-1246 or online at:

http://www.hillcrstarts.com

Tickets: $17.50 – 20.00

WAITING FOR GODOT

Godot

 

WAITING FOR GODOT

 

Riverbank Theatre Ensemble

Namba Performing Arts Space

47 S Oak, Ventura, CA

Playing thru April 9, 2016

 

 

Years before Bert & Ernie were bouncing around their Sesame Street apartment, long before Jay & Silent Bob started loitering in front of the Quik Stop selling weed, there was Vladimir and Estragon. These two wrote the book on hanging around, waiting for someone named Godot, occupying themselves and each other during the slow passage of time that is not unlike life itself.

 

Riverbank Theatre Ensemble’s new production of Samuel Beckett’s infamous, irreverent “Waiting for Godot” succeeds in showing audiences just how much can be done with so little. From a minimal set comprised of little more than a ladder, a couple saw horses and some wood planks, the duo and their two comical visitors make mountains out of the molehills they’ve been given.

 

The crucial ingredient in Beckett’s show is each actor’s physical dexterity and broad range of voice and facial expression to keep audiences interested. Nigel Chisholm (Vladimir) and Ron Feltner (Estragon) make the most of their space, their set, and each and every word. Everything is exaggerated, from stomping feet to Chisholm and Feltner’s seemingly rubber limbs. Rag-tag costumes and set pieces suggest that these two are workmen sent to do a job of some sort, but very little actual work is getting done around here. Instead, Vladimir and Estragon are content to twirl around their surroundings like a set of monkey bars, giving weight to the most nonsensical topic as if each might lead to a solution for world peace.

 

And what does one really need to endure for a lifetime, anyway? Little more than a place to be, and someone to be there with. OK, maybe something to eat, and even then these two turn that into a game. And when one suggests that they might go their separate ways, the audience is struck with remorse. The threat turns out to be an empty one because, after all, what would Bert be without Ernie or Jay without Bob?

 

And just when the wait seems tumultuous, in walks Pozzo (Byron Hays) with his traveling companion Lucky (Christopher T. Wood). Hays’ Pozzo is like a demented Richard Branson, barking orders in a German accent, espousing his theories on life. Lucky is initially a source of curiosity for Vladimir & Estragon, as he appears to be an enslaved deaf-mute. But when Lucky puts on his special hat, what spills forth is a stream of intellect not unlike the Scarecrow getting his diploma from the Wizard of Oz.

 

“Waiting for Godot” doesn’t require elaborate sets or broad production values. Good actors can make a whole lot of something out of nothing – and here, that something turns out to be a pretty good show.

 

 

Waiting for Godot

Thursday, Friday and Saturdays, 8pm

Thru April 9, 2016

Namba Performing Arts Space

47 S Oak St, Ventura, CA

Tickets: 805-628-9250 or online at:

http://rtegodot.brownpapertickets.com/

$20 adult

 

 

THE WIZARD OF OZ

Oz 1

 

Conejo Players Theatre

351 W. Moorpark Rd, Thousand Oaks CA

Currently Playing thru April 10, 2016

 

 

Most Americans grew up with L. Frank Baum’s classic story, first as a theatrical release, then an annual televised event, followed by retold versions such as ‘The Wiz’ and the newer adaptation ‘Wicked.’ Now under the meticulous direction of Devery Holmes, local audiences have the opportunity to see Baum’s timeless tale come to life – complete with all the endearing nuances of live theatre.

 

The Players’ Dorothy is 16 year-old Quinn Martin, fresh from a stint on Nickelodeon TV, paired with her dog Toto (the Lovelle family’s amazingly well-trained Maltese Tilly), who hits all her entrances, exits, and even steals hot dogs on cue. Lesser performers might feel upstaged by such a well-trained animal, but Tilly merely compliments Holmes’ stellar cast. Jared Price gives a nimble Tinman and David Colville’s ever-blustery Cowardly Lion bounds and goofs his way across set designer Dick Johnson’s elaborately planned stage.

Oz 2

In such an ambitious production, it would be easy to lose smaller details, a cue here or an actor’s voice there, but sound designer Tim Reese has the cast miked and well-balanced, easily heard even from a back row. When the twister strikes and carries Dorothy to Oz, an effective projection screen creates a dizzying effect as Reese fills in the crashes and booms of a violent storm. Even when the Tin Man’s creaky limbs break free with the help of his trusty oil can, we hear it at just the right pitch.

 

Much to its staff’s credit, the Players’ ‘Wizard’ strikes the right balance between electronic gadgetry and traditional theatre. When the gang finally get in to see the Wizard (Ray Mastrovito), rather than simply projecting The Wizard’s image onto a screen, a set piece that looks suspiciously like Mastrovito is rolled out under dramatic lighting effect. Bellowing and blowing steam, the theatre experience is brought to the audience, rather than simply projecting what they could’ve stayed home and downloaded on Netflix.

 

Opening night audiences were treated to a particular version of the peculiarities of live theatre. Early in the first act, when Dorothy released the Scarecrow (Daniel Egan) from his perch, the Scarecrow performed a series of rubber-limbed moves. When the sold out audience adjourned to the patio during intermission, they watched an ambulance carry away a young man who looked very much like the limber and talented Scarecrow. Egan had thrown himself into his role, literally, and was headed toward the hospital. Without missing a beat, ensemble member Kyle Johnson stepped into the role for the second act so smoothly that, if not for the book in his hand, audiences might never have known they weren’t watching the same Scarecrow. ‘The show must go on,’ and it did so perfectly. In true theatrical fashion, Egan performed the rest of the weekend’s shows.

 

Musical directors Jim Holmes and Shelley Saxer keep the show’s score moving, and even loan out one of their musicians (Jennifer Bliman) who sets down her French horn long enough to perform backflips across the stage. Lighting director Jim Diderrich provides the infamous yellow brick road, and when the Wicked Witch (Kurt Raymond) throws a ball of flame at the scarecrow, it’s done by a clever special effects touch from effects wizard Mastrovito. Smaller touches are abundant, such as hair & make-up designer Christopher Mahr’s vision to don the Cowardly Lion’s hairdresser (Claire Harvey) in flowing, curly red locks that mirror her client’s. These little touches make the Players’ version of ‘Oz’ a unique theatrical experience.

 

One of the best reasons to see the stage production arrives during the second act: here you’ll have the chance to see and hear ‘The Jitterbug,’ the ‘lost’ song left out of the original film (you can find Judy Garland and the gang dancing thru it on YouTube). The number remains in the Players’ version, and provides Martin a showcase for some of her most adept moves. Additionally, the Scarecrow’s song is nicely extended to include three silly-dressed crows (Kyle Johnson, Andrew Nunez and Lauren Rachel) similar to those found in ‘The Wiz,’ who provide harmony and hilariously well-timed caws.

 

Like most stage productions, there will always be little differences between the live show and the version audiences have grown to love and memorize. And that’s most of the fun.

 

 

The Wizard of Oz

Thru April 10, 2016

Conejo Players Theatre

351 W. Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, CA

Tickets: 805-495-3715 or online at:

http://www.conejoplayers.org

Tickets: $20 adult, $18 senior/student/military

Photos: Conejo Players

DRESS REHEARSAL THURSDAY

Baskerville‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’
Conejo Players Theatre
351 W. Moorpark Rd
Thousand Oaks, CA
8pm

 

Everyone in theatre has a favorite show. A favorite building to work in. A particular night that keeps them coming back.

Dress Rehearsal Thursday is unlike the rest of a show’s run. In here there’s still time to adjust a light, paint a last part of the set, juxtapose a line, trip over something or someone one last time. It’s the last night an actor can fall in the forest and not be heard.

We’re so close to perfect. We’ve been working for months on character, their back stories, why they do what they do. The crew has given us everything we need. As actors we’ve come to know each others moves, and as people we’ve been in each others pockets every night lately. On our way into the building we’ll say hello, quote one of the lines from the show and suddenly begin an impromptu line-thru. We like one another, and that will show when you see us.

Tonight, there will be a sense of relaxation among the cast and crew that will vaporize the following day. On Opening Night, those people will have paid to see our best, and they’ll come backstage afterward to mingle and chat, have finger foods and sparkling apple cider. We’ll catch up with faces we haven’t seen in years and listen to what new projects they have in the works.

But for now, this one more night, we’re still perfectly imperfect. And at 8pm we’ll recite a contemporary rendition of Sherlock Holmes’ famous tale for everyone who wants to come out, watch, and spend the warmest night in theatre I know.

Conejo Players Theatre
351 W. Moorpark Rd
Thousand Oaks, CA
Admission: Free tonight, 8pm

FOLLIES

Follies2 (Annie Sherman
Annie Sherman in the Conejo Players Theatre’s latest production ‘Follies’

 

FOLLIES

Conejo Players Theatre

351 W. Moorpark Rd, Thousand Oaks CA

Playing thru December 13, 2015

 

Whatever show you slip in to see, in any theatre or any particular part of the world, the chances are pretty good you’re only seeing half the story. For behind all the curtains and scrims, make-up and costumes, there’s often something else going on between performers. It may be the bond actors form under pressure – the skipped meals, auditions made and roles missed, and always the dreams of success off in the distance. Sometimes, however, that bond turns romantic.

We call it showmance.

The showmance often blooms at the start of the production and winds down by closing night. Sometimes, however, as is the case of Ben and Sally (Richard Osborne and Autumn Bodily), like a love of the theatre, it’s a flame that never totally dies out. The real relationships they’ve maintained throughout their lives are thin substitutes for the one romantic lead they missed and have never really recovered from.

When the curtain rises on the Conejo Players latest production, “Follies,” the Harlequin masks look down on Rick Steinberg’s dilapidated set of the old Weissman Theatre, a building whose years of pure joy have fallen into disrepair. But the good times are going to be had once more as Dimitri (John Barker) assembles the old gang for a final night together.

Director Arryck Adams does well to present each character in a similarly dual light. When the aged version of Solange (Wendy Babb) sings her ode to Paris, it is with her younger counterpart (Renee Delgado) spotted in perfect sync upstage. When local theatre veteran Richard Osborn sings about ‘The Road You Didn’t Take,’ it is with lament about the opportunities caught, cherished, and yet still with the lingering thought: ‘what if..?’ And though Osborn’s Benjamin Stone has achieved success and notoriety, he’s still left to wonder about ‘lives I’ll never lead.’

The one road Stone didn’t take was a lifelong showmance with Sally (Autumn Bodily). Bodily’s vocal range is one of the highlights of ‘Follies,’ and throughout we feel her pining beside the flame she’s kept for Ben all these years. The tune that has held her marriage together with husband Buddy (Andy Brasted) has always been played as a second fiddle; it’s just something to whistle until the full symphony that she believes could be life with Ben finally cues and life begins. Buddy curses his bad luck, having married a wonderful woman who doesn’t love him.

Similarly, Ben’s wife Phyllis (Dana Kolb) is a bombshell who doesn’t get the love she deserves from Ben because he’s in love with, well, nobody. But could she leave “the quips with a sting, jokes with a sneer, passionless lovemaking once a year?” Yes, she could. But will she?

And yet the one character who never tied down to any particular showmance is Carlotta, played with a keen sense of independence by Kathleen Silverman. In her number ‘I’m Still Here,’ Silverman recants the trials of a life in the theatre, a path she’ll keep walking without regret. When Ben tries to make a move on her she lets him know she liked him once, but now she likes someone else. And “next year I’ll like some other guy.” Unlike Sally, whose life is dictated by the love that never was, Carlotta’s is a love that will march on, stage after stage.

The first act comes in just under two hours, then it’s a race to the finish with a flurry of numbers and a visual parade of knock-your-eyes out costuming by Beth Glasner and Elena Mills. There’s one last dramatic scene between Ben and Sally, each nearing a breakdown. Ben is buckling under the pressure of performance and forgetting lines, while Sally realizes that she’s nothing now but forty-nine years old and alone. The warmth of their showmance may have once been enough, but on this final night in the old theatre, the warm memory of their time together will have to carry them through.

 

Follies

Thru December 13, 2015

Conejo Players Theatre

351 W. Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, CA

Tickets: 805-495-3715 or online at:

http://www.conejoplayers.org

Tickets: $20 adult, $18 senior/student/military

 

 

FIVE COMEDIANS, ONE HASHTAG

Hashtag2.JPG

 

Hashtag Comedy

Hillcrest Center for the Arts

Saturday, November 21, 2015

8pm

 

Comedienne Carol Burnett famously quipped: “I couldn’t tell a joke to save my soul.” Yet for eleven years, week after week, Burnett went before audiences with a talented troupe of friends. And everywhere they appeared, audiences fell in love.

One click on YouTube and it’s clear that Conejo Valley native Julia Jasunas can tell jokes. And tonight she’s bringing a very talented troupe of friends to the Hillcrest Center for the Arts.

The latest incarnation of what Jasunas calls #Comedy (on Facebook at HashtagComedyLA) includes Conan O’Brien writer Laurie Kilmartin, comedy producer Bronston Jones, and Chris Porter, a Last Comic Standing finalist who opens regularly for Kid Rock.

The group, Jasunas says, is “high-caliber. The level of talent you find on a Saturday night in LA. They’re trekking out here because they love the art form.”

“Chris, Laurie – they are amazingly talented comics. And they’re not in this area very often. It’s a great show right in our backyard.”

Jasunas grew up working with the Young Artists Ensemble in Thousand Oaks. She studied at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia but, “not a fan of cold weather,” she admitted, Jasunas was soon home auditioning for Cabrillo Music Theater. There she ran into Hillcrest Arts director Scott Buchanan.

When Jasunas mentioned doing stand-up in L.A., Buchanan suggested bringing the show to town. #Comedy began in April 2014, mostly as a monthly feature.

“We expected a younger crowd,” Jasunas said. “We got the newspaper crowd. They didn’t really know what a hashtag is.”

In LA, Jasunas found a mentor in comedienne Jodi Miller. “It’s a tight-knit community,” she says of the scene. “I got my commercial agent thru a fellow comic. I got my modeling agent thru a comic…”

“You produce your own content, work on your craft, showcase yourself and that you’re working toward something.”

And what is this all building toward?

“The ultimate goal is film and television. When I can fully support myself with the creative arts, commercials, stand-up, acting – that’s when I’ve made it.”

And tonight, like Burnett, Jasunas will appear with yet another very talented group of friends.

 

#Comedy

Hillcrest Center for the Arts

403 W. Hillcrest Dr, Thousand Oaks. 8pm

Tickets $15 at the door or $12 pre-sale online at:

http://www.HillcrestArts.com

805-381-1246

 

Note: Admission is 18+. Beer & wine available with a valid ID. Please also note: these shows are meant for adults and may feature humor that will be offensive to some.

THE LOVELY BOAT

LovelyBoat2

THE LOVELY BOAT

High Street Arts Center

45 High Street, Moorpark, CA

Currently Playing thru November 22, 2015

If you’re from a generation past, sometimes there’s nothing like a little fantasy trip back in time.

High Street Arts Center’s “The Lovely Boat” provides just such a cruise into the glorious-if-you-say-they-were 70’s, when disco was the drug of choice and “The Hustle” was enough to transform American nightclubs into a room of dancing zombies.

And that’s just the way the evil Mr. Bjorke wants it.

Bjorke and his sidekick Baboo (Terry Miles and Chris Carnicelli, doing their take on Roarke & Tattoo of ‘Fantasy Island’) have concocted a fiendish plot: once the Lovely Boat sets sail, they’ll slip everyone genetically modified pineapples, laced with a mind-altering drug that will make everyone their slaves.

But not everyone’s going to go down easy. Captain Stubbing (Scott Pond) and his purser CHiP (the nimble and quick-witted Christopher Mahr) will fight them with their smarts and, if need be, shuffleboard cues in a well-lit and acrobatic fight scene. Perhaps Brock Masters (local theatre veteran Dale Alpert) might take the evil duo down with Barty (Quinn Lasher), his otherwise silent partner. And if that doesn’t work there’s always mild-mannered cruise director Lonnie (Kim Iosue) to enter guns-a-blazing ala Scarlett Johanssen’s ‘Black Widow.’

Costumer Reign Lewis has done well to differentiate her characters with the bright colors and patterns of the era’s spirit. When June (Sandy Pratt) first appears onboard, her wardrobe is borrowed right out of Mrs. Roper’s ‘Three’s Company’ closet. And when disco queen Christy (Laura Norkin) slithers onstage, Lewis’s shining ensemble is both dazzling and accurate. The show is accompanied by the tireless and intricate keyboard work of Rick Pratt (also the show’s director and playwright), who has sewn together a soundtrack of the deepest 70’s anthems.

Veterans of Moorpark Melodrama productions will recognize the audience-interactive spirit they’ve come to expect. When the bad guys show up, they don’t mind at all when the audience boos and hisses. Likewise, audiences are encouraged to let out a good “hummina-hummina!” when their favorite character strides onstage. The Melodrama is still a style of entertainment not often seen and thoroughly enjoyable.

Before “The Lovely Boat” set sail, Pratt introduced the show by asking how many in the audience lived thru the 70’s. Hands shot up. Pratt then asked how many actually remember the 70’s; not as many hands. But do you really need to have lived thru the decade to appreciate a cruise on “The Lovely Boat?” If the young girls spontaneously doing the ‘YMCA’ dance in the aisles during intermission is any indication, the legacy of the era will sail on much longer than any of us ever expected.

The Lovely Boat

Thru November 22, 2015

High Street Arts Center

45 High Street, Moorpark, CA

Tickets: 805-529-8700 or online at:

http://www.HighStreetArtsCenter.com

UNDER FIRE

Under Fire 1

“UNDER FIRE”

California Lutheran’s Theatre Arts Dept

141 Memorial Parkway, Thousand Oaks, CA

November 11 – November 22, 2015

American revolutionary Thomas Paine said that “an army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot.” California Lutheran Theatre Arts Department’s latest offering, “Under Fire” takes aim the hearts and minds of its audiences by reflecting the common struggle of those who have answered the call to protect those principles we enjoy every day.

Playwright, director and Vietnam veteran Michael Arndt has brought together a script and cast that harmonizes beautifully to hit a single, universal chord: regardless of the war, the year or level of the sacrifice, the guiding principles of the soldier have remained steady throughout the ages.

“Under Fire” doesn’t complicate its delivery with elaborate costume changes, set pieces or complex sequences. Instead it fills every inch of stage with bodies at attention, and utilizes crafty silhouette and shadow designed to imply rather than overtly state. The result is a harmonious balance of choreography, lighting, script and acting that fires on all cylinders. Its multi-media approach, projecting footage of the real people whose stories the play is based upon, speaks as loud as the RPG or Huey that buzzes thru the theatre’s crisp sound system.

No need to mike these actors; their stories speak loud and clear. Based on the real experiences of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq veterans, audience members watch generations of young faces enter basic training with an earnest sense of hope. Soon we see them shed their skins of naiveté and innocence for a jacket of responsibility toward their country and one another.

Here, Arndt hasn’t just enlisted 22 actors. The cast of “Under Fire” were united not only by want of a role in a production. Accepting a part came with a price. They assembled for cadence drills and the same hard physical work that their predecessors would have experienced at the hands of a retired Marine. And there are no starring roles in “Under Fire;” rather, a company of actors are simply assigned letters instead of names. “Under Fire” is truly an ensemble piece.

The set maximizes every inch of space. What seems like a corrugated outbuilding become backlit so actor’s shadows can dance and twist accordingly while a tale is told. Jeff Wallach’s choreography and Gary Mintz’s lighting blend evenly to set a mood then take right off again.

Perhaps it’s no accident that third on the list of credits is military trainer David Lopez. The cast of “Under Fire” are so thoroughly disciplined by Lopez and Arndt’s influence that one need only watch them reenact the joy of ‘mail call’ as soldiers, then stick around after the show to see a stagehand arrive with the actors phones in a Tupperware container. Each member then breaks from the ranks they’ve formed and the responsibilities shouldered for their 21st century mail-call. Soon they’re checking precious messages and updates in the real world where, let’s face it, the rest of us have it comparatively easy.

It is one more reminder that, in “Under Fire,” our American principles and comfortable real worlds are allowed to continue when others shoulder the responsibilities we may not be able to take upon ourselves. The cast, crew, and staff have done a near-perfect job of reminding us just how sweet a night at the theatre can be.

Under Fire

CLU’s Theatre Arts Department

141 Memorial Pkwy, Thousand Oaks, CA

November 11 – November 22

Tickets: 805-493-3452 or http://www.callutheran.edu/theatrearts

A LION IN WINTER

Lion2
Vivien Latham and Alan Waserman in the Elite’s latest offering “A Lion in Winter” (photo credit: Jennifer Corntassel)

A LION IN WINTER

Elite Theatre Company

2731 Victoria Ave, Oxnard, CA

October 23 – November 22

Election cycles are ideal for local theatres to stage shows about the pursuit of power and those who seek it. Elite Theatre Company’s latest offering, “The Lion in Winter” provides the insight into those bold enough to be ambitious and the inevitable trappings they’ll encounter. “Lion” is James Goldman’s play of wit and not a wasted word. Director Tom Eubanks has arranged so that the crisp dialogue is delivered in a space intimate enough to hear, yet broad enough to feel like a 12th Century palace. “Power is the only fact,” bellows King Henry II (a perfectly cast Alan Waserman). Henry is on a mission: having built an empire, this is the story about his pursuit of another end – that of transition. Knowing that his sons are lined up and conniving for his throne, Henry is having his final say: he chooses his mistress Alais (Morgan Bozarth) to marry his warrior son Richard (Adam Womack). Henry knows: if he doesn’t hand Richard the crown “he’ll take it anyway.”

Strong as Henry has built his heir apparent, his mother Eleanor (Vivien Latham) has also had her hand in building Richard’s character. By lending him the gift of poetry and instilling in him a love for words, she has created a weakness she can exploit at her will.

Like many elder statesmen Henry now desires peace to be his legacy and he’s called in Phillip, the King of France (Alex Czajka) to help negotiate a deal. With his other sons Geoffrey and John (Eric McGowan and Trent Trachtenberg) conspiring against him, Henry counts on the priests to write his ultimate legacy. “Henry,” they’ll say, “was a master bastard.”

The pursuit of power is a dungeon of its own. Is there anyone in “Lion” who doesn’t have an agenda? No. They’re all captive to their ambitions. Therefore Bob Decker’s set makes sense, giving the impression that, while safe from the outside world, each is in a dungeon of their own making.

Roger Krevenas has provided the palace with some nice furnishings and Jaye Hersh’s costumes are simple and functional, the centerpiece being Latham’s royal purple coat that flows nicely with a sheer dress and headscarf. Like each of the others, Eleanor seems prepared for the winter ahead, until power – and lives of those wanting it – finally transition.

The Lion in Winter

Elite Theatre Company

2731 Victoria Ave, Oxnard, CA

October 23 – November 22

Tickets: 805-483-5118 or http://www.elitetheatre.org