Those who favor English-style murder mysteries should fancy Don Nigro's semi-Gothic "Ravenscroft" at the Elite Theatre Company in Oxnard. There's a dead body, a manor house full of suspicious characters, and a police inspector to sort out everything.
Anyone noticing similarities to JB Priestly's "An Inspector Calls," which just moved from Santa Paula Theater Center to Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, is on the mark, though Nigro's play (which takes place in 1906, just before "Inspector," and in rural New Hampshire, rather than rural England) is a more recent creation. And, although "Inspector" is occasionally and intentionally amusing, "Ravenscroft" is an out-and-out comedy.
(Nigro is much like Jack Sharkey, a prolific playwright who has managed to mostly evade Broadway, designing his large body of work specifically for community theater production.)
As the play opens, Inspector Ruffing (Larry Duff) is investigating the death of handsome, 29-year-old Ravenscroft Manor servant Patrick Roarke, whose fall down a stairway may or may not have been an accident.
If he was killed, the suspects include virtually everybody: Mrs. Ravenscroft (Judy Heliger), a lusty widow whose husband died several months earlier; her precocious teenage daughter Gillian (Lissa Giosi); Marcy (Terra Shelman), a governess with a mysterious background; Mrs. French (Stephanie Moro), the cook; and maid Dolly (Leslie AnnRenee), terrified and--in the words of one character--"dumb as a turnip."
The acting is generally appropriate to the script under Art McDermott's knowing direction, although one performer was having trouble with Nigro's humorously convoluted lines at Saturday night's performance.
AnnRenee gives one of the funniest performances seen locally in some time, and Paula Smith gives an ethereal performance. Giosi has no trouble as a 17-year-old who spouts phrases such as "desperate prevarication" and lines including "I think you aren't nearly as stuffy as you think you ought to be."
* "Ravenscroft," through Aug. 18 at Petit Playhouse, 730 South B St., in Oxnard's Heritage Square. 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. No performance July 4. Tickets are $12; $10, seniors. (805) 483-5118.
Casting Call: The Conejo Players will hold auditions Sunday-Tuesday for a production of "To Kill a Mockingbird," to be presented Aug. 28-Sept. 26. There will be auditions June 28 for the production of "Daddy's Dyin', Who's Got the Will," to be presented weekend matinees in September. For information on "Mockingbird" auditions, call Amy Sullivan at (805) 987-7287; for "Daddy's Dyin' " information, call Annie at (818) 991-7454.
Comedy Tonight Productions will hold auditions June 27, by appointment only, for one-show concert sing-along productions of "The Mikado," "H.M.S. Pinafore" and "The Pirates of Penzance," which will all be performed for the First Annual Gilbert & Sullivan Festival at Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center in August and September. All vocal roles are open; there will be no spoken dialogue. (805) 389-3193.