Series of One-Acts at Ventura College Festival Scores a Passing Grade : Set of five plays this weekend offers more than most stagings of its kind.


One-act plays seem to be sweeping Ventura County these days, to the point wherewe're about to cry "uncle." Too often, it seems, presentations of one-acts exist for the benefit of fledgling actors and directors, not offering much to audiences other than (perhaps) the opportunity to see these people at the beginning of their theatrical careers.

That said, there are exceptions, however scattered. Witness, for instance, the group of one-acts continuing through this weekend at Ventura College.

The plays in this year's Ventura College One-Act Play Festival are all written by professionals--not necessarily a recommendation over student writings. Two of the five were also recently offered at the Plaza Players Theater, with the same director in charge, and a couple of the same actors. The producers of both shows confirm that Ventura College's were planned first.

Four of the Ventura College plays are pretty ordinary, though well-enough performed. One is worth the price of admission in its own right, though it's true that the price of admission is fairly low.

"The Field" and "The Interrogation" were both featured at Plaza Players in January; both productions are superior here, though one might wonder why the two soldiers in this version of "The Field" are attempting to meet in the middle of a minefield. This staging, however illogical, works very well in the college's Circus Theater, where the action is surrounded by the audience.

Robin Todd and John Uelmen portray the two soldiers, trying to work up courage by telling elephant jokes and anecdotes from earlier armed engagements; other than the faux pas in logic, Jill Goforth's direction of Robert Spera's play is otherwise competent. In the Plaza Players version, also directed by Goforth, the soldiers were more rationally headed for the same side of the field.

Goforth, who should not overextend herself so (or should at least learn some new plays), also directed Murphy Guyer's "The Interrogation," in which former lovers meet at a restaurant, with bittersweet results. She (Tanya Ditzel) has changed considerably and for the better during their time apart; he (Todd Garrett, in what may be the evening's strongest performance), is still a pig. Garrett also appeared in one of the Plaza Players' shows, also (though in a different play) as a man wearying of a relationship.

"The Interrogation" is presented at the college's Mainstage Theater. The audience is required to move back and forth between there and the Circus, which is no fun in the rain and especially difficult (though not impossible) for the physically impaired.

Also on the Mainstage is the opening playlet, "Sunday Go to Meetin'," by Shirley Lauro, directed by Jennifer Brown. Cleverly set and costumed to look like a missing scene from "Oklahoma!" the play finds two Southern schoolgirls on the day (as the character played by Rebecca Steir puts it) "a pack of Jews moved into town and opened up a fruit stand on their front yard." Though the girls (Holly Matakiewicz plays the other, more reluctant one) are on their way to church, their reaction to the newcomers, personified by Natasha Saum, is rather less than Christian. Talk about being hit over the head with a hot irony.

In Donald Margulies' "Pitching to a Star," New York playwright Peter Rosenthal (Austin Bay) presents a potential script to uncultured producer Dick Feldman (Vincent Ugolini), development assistant Lauri Richards (Jasmina Walea) and falling starlet Dena Strawbridge (Sarah P. Meaney, another alumna of the Plaza Players production who seems to imitate Drew Barrymore imitating Marilyn Monroe).

Margulies must be a New York playwright who himself has had a property rejected, or severely doctored, by a Hollywood producer and uses this opportunity to get back at his tormentors. It's all funny enough but would appear far more authentic if Ugolini or director Gregory Small knew how to pronounce "bubeleh" or its diminutive, "bubbe." A vulgar Hollywood producer, Jewish or not, would know that "bubbe," here used as a term of implied intimacy, rhymes with "goodie," not "rubber".

The best play--best-written, best-directed and best-performed--comes just before intermission. Jane Anderson's "Lynette at 3:00 A.M." is a funny, original look at a male-female relationship. The romance has gone out of their marriage, and Lynette allows her mind to wander. Not a word more about the plot, but Heather Acerro and Paul Sust are very good as the couple, and Simon Alvarado creates the funniest character of the evening under Carissa J. Martin's assured direction.


* WHAT: Student One-Act Play Festival.

* WHEN: Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m.; closes Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.

* WHERE: Ventura College Mainstage and Circus theaters, Loma Vista Road (west of Day Road), Ventura.

* HOW MUCH: $5 general admission; $3 students, staff and seniors.

* CALL: 648-8922.

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