THEATER REVIEWS : Reassuring 'The Fantasticks' Fan : The show's shortcomings fail to thwart some of the performers in the Buenaventura Theater Group production.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

One of the longest-running off-Broadway shows, "The Fantasticks" is also a popular selection with community theaters. The newly formed Buenaventura Theater Group has chosen it as its opening production, and the show bodes well for the company's future.

The show itself sharply divides audiences. Those who are enchanted by its fanciful presentation of the growing love between a young boy and girl walk out of the theater humming "Try to Remember." But detractors find Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's show a muddled mess and the show's songs so thin that there's no impetus to recall them, even if it were possible.

Director Gary Poirot has assembled an adequate cast, with some members rising above the show's shortcomings to make "The Fantasticks" worthwhile for those who really enjoy it; those in the second camp aren't likely to change their minds.

Cathleen McCarthy and Clint Crowell star as The Girl and The Boy, who grow up in adjacent houses and gradually grow close romantically. Faith George and Roger Begley portray her mother and his father, and Robin Murphy is the dashing El Gallo, who narrates the story and plays a vital part in getting The Boy and The Girl (Matt and Lisa, actually) together.

In addition to the principals, Justin Blackburn and Jayme Housh are seen as The Handyman and The Mute, respectively--stagehands in practice, moving things around during the action--and Jimm Giles and someone who calls himself "Jarrod" play two actors brought in by El Gallo to affect the action.

It's an attractive cast, and McCarthy is a fine singer. But voices don't carry particularly well in the Elks Lodge in Ventura, so some of the characters sound a bit dim by contrast--the prerecorded instrumental backings may be a bit too forceful.

Buffoons in the old tradition, the two clownish "actors" are always worth watching, which makes it a shame that "Jarrod" hides behind a pseudonym.

Details

* WHAT: "The Fantasticks."

* WHERE: Elks Lodge (upstairs), 11 S. Ash St., Ventura.

* WHEN: Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. through Oct. 9. No performance Oct. 8; a matinee will be performed at 2 p.m. Oct. 9 only.

* COST: Adults $10; students, seniors $7. Children under 12 free.

* CALL: 643-8812.

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