Worthy of Applause


There are two fine new choices this week for adult theatergoers looking for something worthy and different.

One is "Equus," a high-quality college production of a classic contemporary drama in Moorpark; the other is an exciting new--if not original--musical in Ojai.

"Equus," an incisive psychological drama by British playwright Peter Shaffer, brings a troubled young man to the one psychologist who may be able to help him--as in "Good Will Hunting"--only in a case is far more troubling.

Alan Strang, a stableboy, is brought to the attention of Dr. Dysart after Strang--known for his love of the animals--has hideously disfigured several horses. There must be a reason, but Strang's only words are the commercial jingles he's singing.

To say more would reveal Strang's motivation, which it takes Dysart the entire play--several weeks in dramatic time--to unravel. In any case, the journey is more important than the arrival. And the cast, headed by Jeremy Crockett and Seth Allen as Dysart and Strang, respectively, coupled with Shaffer's script and Les Wieder's direction, make the journey fascinating.

Other principal cast members include Carlotta Huber, Molly Sirota, Matt Carpenter, Matt Ferrill and Morgan Tachco. The powerful set was designed by Owen Smith.

Special notice to choreographer Daniel Berney, costume designer Abra Flores Paudler and dancers Karen Jordan, Rebecca Pichotta, Robyn Rafnson and Chris Asiatico, who have created a terrific set of impressionistic "horses."

"Equus" is pure theater.

* "Equus" at Moorpark College Performing Arts Center, 7075 Campus Road, Moorpark. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; also March 11, 1:30 p.m.; ends March 14. $8-$10. Not recommended for children. (805) 378-1485.


'Beggars' in Ojai: No, panhandlers aren't lining the Arcade. Rather, Ojai's Flying H Productions is presenting "Beggars!--the Musical" at Ojai Center for the Arts. Artistic director Taylor Kasch and screenwriter Richard Dewhurst have taken John Gay's 1728 "The Beggar's Opera" and modernized it. (Perhaps they were inspired by the success of "Rent!," an up-to-date adaptation of "La Boheme.") The tone of Lionel Bart's "Oliver!" makes it clear that he was doubtless familiar with Gay's play, first adapted in the late '20s as "The Threepenny Opera."

Dewhurst and Kasch (who also directed) have taken liberties with Gay's story and characters, but since few contemporary Americans are familiar with the originals, that hardly matters. Here, a fiery preacher, Rev. Peachum (Gary Best), ministers to street people, but his motives aren't, as is soon revealed, all that selfless.

A murder, an attempted cover-up, and corrupt police and politicos also figure in the plot.

In the center is Macheath (John Cowsill), a thief and sometimes killer who is (sort of) trying to go straight, a process that involves marrying Peachum's daughter, Polly (Delaney Gibson). Macheath's old flame, Pirate Jenny (Julie Christensen), isn't thrilled; nor, for that matter, is Peachum. There's a large supporting cast and 22 musical numbers, and the whole show comes in under 2 1/2 hours.

The music, which alternates between gospel-blues and cocktail-lounge pop, was composed by musical director Jimmy Caliere, who leads the strong, five-piece pit band. Mitch Kashmar, lead singer of well-known local band the Pontiax, co-stars and occasionally joins in on harmonica.

Space, or lack of it, prohibits singling out every impressive performance in addition to those listed above, but recognition is due Dan Fulton and Devon Christie in one of several dance numbers choreographed by Pamela Pilkinton; Jaye Hersh is the choral director; and Jeff Rack has come up with another of his massive, evocative stage sets.

There's talk of taking this show on the road. It certainly deserves a life beyond the Ojai Valley.

* "Beggars!--the Musical" at Ojai Center for the Arts, 113 S. Montgomery St., Ojai. Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends March 27. $20. Not recommended for children. (805) 646-8353.

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