In England, the day after Christmas is called Boxing Day. According to custom, it's the time for the upper classes to pass along presents--in boxes--to servants, tradespeople and so on.
Here, it's an opportunity to put as much of the past year's theatrical events into a box and let them hereafter rest in peace. Sort of like Marley's Ghost, relieved at last of all those burdening chains.
It was a busy and largely productive year, worth taking one or two last looks at as 1997 looms into view.
In the seven or so years that the Ventura County edition of The Times has been covering the local theater scene, its beat has grown to include about 25 groups. This number has increased as dissatisfied members of one group have splintered off to form another or someone comes in from out of the county determined to show the locals how to do things right. The number has decreased as groups lose their financing or civic support.
Maybe if everybody would stop doing the same plays, audiences would have more variety and the theatrical scene would be stronger.
"A Christmas Carol" can be seen locally in at least two versions every year--this year, it was three, counting the Moorpark Melodrama's affectionate trashing of the Dickens classic.
"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" was intriguingly and effectively performed by the Comedy Tonight troupe, with a cast of seniors as the "Peanuts" characters, and by Cal Lutheran University's drama department with a more traditional set of young adults in Peanuts roles. The number swells to three versions of "Charlie Brown" if you count one with a somewhat younger cast performed late last year in Simi Valley.
"The Wizard of Oz" was produced in Camarillo, Ojai (with a youthful cast) and by Moorpark Melodrama this year; and January's Thousand Oaks production of "To Kill a Mockingbird" followed an equally strong Santa Paula Theater Center version of the play by less than a year.
If all of that duplication seems to reflect a lack of imagination, count your blessings: We came close to near-simultaneous productions of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" in Simi Valley (where it did not run) and Ojai (where it ran as the main feature of the annual Shakespeare Festival), and of "A Secret Garden," both of those scheduled for Thousand Oaks (one dropped out just in time).
And wait 'til you see, in this space two weeks hence, what duplications are already lined up for next year.
Despite the plethora of Charlie Browns and Tin Woodsmen, there were several notable musicals during the past year. Comedy Tonight gave us a no-frills "Mikado" that suffered not at all for its lack of scenery. And the same group wrapped up the year with "Tomfoolery," a seldom-performed revue of songs by satirist Tom Lehrer.
Moorpark College, whose flow of musicals generally reflects imagination and quality, came up with Franz Lehar's operetta "The Merry Widow" and Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music"; a Simi Valley youth group performed a capable "Once Upon a Mattress"; the Conejo Players presented "A Secret Garden" (ambitious but confusing) and "Mame" (solid and comfortably old-fashioned); the Camarillo Community Theater tried hard with "Paint Your Wagon"; and the Cabrillo Music Theatre blessed Ventura County with a production of "Damn Yankees" that didn't feature Jerry Lewis' gratuitous mugging.
Not locally originated, the Theatre League's touring version of Stephen Schwartz's "Godspell," at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, brought the somewhat dated musical nearly into the '90s with an effective blend of slapstick comedy and topical references, added by director Gerald Casale and the cast to Schwartz's pleasant score. Schwartz showed up one night and was, reportedly, impressed.
The 1996 Ventura County theater season in review will continue next week.