Show business is the focus of all three plays that opened in Ventura County last week, by total coincidence (local theater groups aren't that cooperative). However, the settings are as far apart as the styles and venues are--a serious literary study in Ojai; a backstage parody in Thousand Oaks; and an audience-participation murder mystery in one of Ventura's historic homes.
"Telemachus Clay," now at the Ojai Art Center, is an idealistic young fellow's odyssey from the Midwest to Hollywood in the '60s. Intending to sell a script to Titanic Studios, he runs into the kinds of problems that frustrated Hollywood writers are always complaining about: Hollywood is full of hypocrites, and the big studios aren't interested in a serious project like his end-of-the-world love story. Well, duh! Not to mention that Clay is the only one in the play who finds any merit in his script.
That said, "Telemachus Clay" is an interesting and worthy work, well-produced in a form--the players lined up onstage, reading from scripts--not often found outside colleges and backers' auditions.
Director Tom Eubanks has gathered a talented cast, most of whom (save for Zack Pugh, who is seen as Clay) play several roles as the show progresses. They include Seth Oserin as a worn-down screenwriter; Olivia Hunter as an actress; Terri Sheridan as Clay's mother; Mandy Myers as the Girl He Left Behind; Braden McKinley as a studio higher-up who offers to mentor Clay for a price; John Reinhart as a Preminger-esque director and the studio head; Chris Pritchard as a gay scenester; Ian Pattie as a delivery room doctor; and Victor Williams as the show's narrator.
* "Telemachus Clay" continues through Sept. 28 at the Ojai Center for the Arts, 113 Montgomery St. at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. $10, $8 for seniors and Art Center members. (805) 645-0117.
Matinees: The Conejo Players' current Conejo Afternoon Theater production (weekend matinees only) is "Ruthless!" the story of an 8-year-old girl's quest for stardom. The closer you are to theater and film actors, the funnier "Ruthless!" is likely to strike you. Playwright and lyricist Joel Paley's favorite show seems to be "Gypsy." His play is riddled with references to it, and more than one character is played as if by Ethel Merman. Other touchstones include "All About Eve," and, briefly, "Mommy Dearest."
Jessica Seely stars as the ambitious tot, with Devery Holmes as her mother and Celeste Russi as the drama teacher. Other players include Danielle Judovits as an early rival for the role of Pippi Longstocking in a third-grade play; Morgan Lindsay Tatchco as a drama critic whose big song here is titled "I Hate Musicals"; Erin Bordofsky as a personal assistant; Kim Coger as Emily Block, reporter for "Modern Thespian" magazine; and Shawn W. Lanz as the starlet's somewhat mysterious mentor.
Paley's often hilarious script falls apart for much of the (quite brief) second act, before coming back together. The characters are all stereotypes, but that's the point. Thyra Lees-Smith directed, with Kevin Parcher as musical director and leader of the small but effective band.
* "Ruthless" continues through Sept. 27 at the Conejo Players Theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks. Shows are at 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays only. $5. (805) 495-3715.
Involving the Audience: The volunteer staff of the Dudley House Historical Society in Ventura are raising funds with "Thoroughly Deadly, Dudley!," written for the occasion by Carol Mills and Jim Bidwell. It's set sometime during Prohibition, with the Dudley House as a speak-easy and all-around den of iniquity. As the audience gathers in the main room, one of the participants is murdered. Several policemen show up, and the audience (in groups of five or six) gets to interrogate the suspects. At the end of the evening, the groups compare notes and--it's hoped--incriminate the real killer. Or killers.
The cast consists of Norm Weitzel, Glenda Jackson (not the British actress), Richard Senate, Sherilene Oelschlager, Rod Doran, Brenda Pizzan, Maxine Pensyl and Doc Reynolds, with Bill Garner, Debbie Senate, Alberta Word and Joan Garner as the investigative officers. The acting on opening night wasn't always all it might have been, but the cause is good; the mystery, fair; and the fun, undeniable.
* "Thoroughly Deadly, Dudley" continues at the Dudley House, 197 N. Ashwood Ave., Ventura. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and Oct. 10, 11, 17 and 18. $30 ($25 for groups of 10 or more). Tickets at Sea Things, 500 E. Santa Clara St., Ventura, or by mail from (with checks payable to) San Buenaventura Heritage, 4235 Gettysburg St., Ventura 93003. 642-7664.