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A Treat of Four Tall Tales

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The respected Occidental Theatre Festival, now in its 39th season of under-the-stars plays for adult audiences at Occidental College, began offering an under-the-sun children’s show three seasons ago. It’s proving to be a summer treat to look forward to.

This year, the Occidental Children’s Theater is presenting “Snow White and the Seven Samurai,” a sunny and silly original comic romp that shares a bill with three other tall tales drawn from folklore: “The Last Laugh,” from Armenia, about an arrogant king who picks the wrong ugly old hag to laugh at; the German fairy tale “The Bremen Town Musicians”; and “Anansi and His Visitor, Turtle,” a fable about a spider undone by his greed, with origins in the Ashanti tribe of Africa.

Staged with imaginative, witty touches and with precision by Jamie Angell on the amphitheater green--a grassy square beside the amphitheater proper--the four short plays are funny, visually appealing and performed with verve and polish by a six-member ensemble.

The actors not only manage multiple roles, they also exhibit the stamina of circus performers as they somersault and tumble in and out of scenes and play the props and sets too. The unusually physical production requires the actors to use their bodies to form doorways, a king’s throne, a queen’s bathtub, a spider’s web, trees, a mirror, stones and fences.

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Luckily, this well-trained cast--Aimie Billon, Melissa Hernandez, Angela Kang, Erik Patterson, Carie Yonekawa and Ken Zinn--are more than up to the task. Kang is hilarious as an ugly old witch with a conscience. Another high point, literally, occurs in “The Bremen Town Musicians,” as the actors wow the audience by balancing precariously, one on top of the other: the donkey (Zinn) underneath, topped by the dog (Kang), the cat (Hernandez) and the rooster (Yonekawa).

Perhaps the biggest visual crowd-pleaser is the impressive way the cast serves as the blades of grass that Anansi (Yonekawa) creeps through on her way to Turtle’s abode. Yonekawa is borne up by the actors, dexterously walking from one to the other, using their hands as footholds. Meanwhile, Hernandez’s excruciatingly slow Turtle is a hoot.

Even though the last play on the bill--the comical, offbeat title story--is not as tight in concept or execution as the other tales, genuine humor and the cast’s assurance keep things entertaining to the end.

* “Snow White and the Seven Samurai,” Occidental College, Hillside Amphitheatre, Thursdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m., through Aug. 22. $4-$8; (213) 259-2922. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

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Feel the Beat: It’s Carnaval time as dancer Shamel Ayanna Contreras and musician Lulu Almeida get kids and their families moving to the “Rhythms of Bahia,” a participatory exploration of traditional Brazilian dance and music, on Sunday at Watts Towers Arts Center. It’s part of the Friends of the Junior Arts Center’s free “Sunday Open Sunday” program of free arts family workshops.

* “Rhythms of Bahia,” Watts Towers Arts Center, 1727 E. 107th St., Los Angeles, Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. Free. (213) 485-1795; “Sunday Open Sunday” information: (213) 485-4474.

A Family Treat: The 1998 Taiwanese Music and Art Festival, “Taiwan Facets,” ends Aug. 2 with a special family presentation of “The Dream Journey of the Little Balloon,” a children’s opera based on Taiwanese folk songs, at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex. It will be performed by the Los Angeles Symphonic Camerata, conducted by David Buck, and will feature the combined Honor Choir of the Southern California Chinese Children’s Chorus and Women’s Ensemble of Los Angeles Chinese Chorus, plus Taiwanese soloists Wen-Chun Lin, Li-Chan Chen and Hsing-An Chen.

* “The Dream Journey of the Little Balloon,” Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Cal State L.A., Aug. 2, 3 p.m. $10-$50. (213) 343-6600.

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It’s All an Act: Interact Theatre in North Hollywood presents the culmination of “Interplay ’98,” its four-week children’s theater workshop, with free public performances Saturday and Aug. 8. In the workshop, children ages 6 to 16 explore live theater through games, storytelling and improvisation and collaborate with theater professionals in a summer day-camp environment.

* “Interplay ’98,” Interact Theatre Company, 11855 Hart St., North Hollywood, Saturday, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.; Aug. 8, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Free. (818) 773-7862.


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