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Parody Play : The 10-character comedy, about an amateur theater group preparing an original production, is full of onstage and offstage antics.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Amateur theater takes a good-natured ribbing in “Play On,” Rick Abbott’s 1980 comedy about the offstage and onstage antics of a community theater group, opening Jan. 7 at the Apex Playhouse.

“It’s a theater group that’s been together for years and years,” director Kathy Fitzpatrick says. “They’re putting on an original play, and they’re down to the last four days.” The first act takes place at rehearsal, the second act, during dress rehearsal, and the last act is opening night. “Since so many things have been changed during rehearsals, they forget their lines; entrances are late and early,” Fitzpatrick notes. “And the playwright--of ‘Murder Most Foul,’ the play within the play--is in the audience the whole time.”

What sets this 10-character comedy apart from Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off,” she adds, is that in the other play, the theatergoer has a backstage view; in “Play On,” the show is performed to the audience. From either vantage, it means an inordinate amount of physical business to work out. “It’s been a bit of a challenge,” the director allows. “The timing is crucial. Entrances, exits, trips and falls, phones ringing, horns blowing, sirens. Acts 1 and 3 are similar, except that Act 3 has to be changed for all of the mistakes.”

Ron Kidd, who’s one of the founding members of the 6-month-old theater and its executive producer, is playing Saul Watson, whom he describes as “a wisecracker, the hammy, pain-in-the-neck member of the troupe.” Saul, in turn, is playing “Murder Most Foul’s” villainous Dr. Rex Forbes. “It’s very funny,” Kidd explains of the selection of this play. “And it’s also innocuous. There’s no social commentary; it’s an evening’s entertainment without a message. A lot of people will consider it fluff--and they may be right.”

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Fitzpatrick, too, is one of the Apex’s founding members, and its artistic director. Born and raised in Chicago, her father was a stagehand at the Chicago Opera House and a stage manager for ABC--"So,” she says wryly, “I grew up with this craziness.”

After a family move to California in 1966, she returned to Chicago, married, and started a family (her children are now 20 and 23), returning to theater with a move to Orange County and involvement in children’s theater through the Capistrano Unified School District.

After a divorce, Fitzpatrick auditioned for a Christmas show at the Granada Hills Theatre, where she subsequently directed “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers” and worked for five years; she followed that with eight years at the Sierra Madre Playhouse. It was there that she became friends with the people who would later form the Apex.

“It’s been exciting,” she says of the theater’s maiden season, which continues in February with a revival of “Gypsy.” “We’ve suffered growing pains, of course. But for me, it’s one of the better steps I ever made.”

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Janice Arkatov writes about theater for The Times.

Where and When

What: “Play On.”

Location: Apex Playhouse, 139 N. San Fernando Blvd., Burbank.

Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays (except Jan. 9). Closes Feb. 12.

Price: $7.50 children, $9 seniors, $10 adults.

Call: (818) 566-PEAK.


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