Henry David Thoreau is one of those great American writers whom many of us managed to avoid reading in high school or college, though most everybody knows something about the proto-hippie living on nuts and berries at Walden Pond.
"The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail," playing in Thousand Oaks under auspices of Comedy Tonight Productions, could have been written specifically to help educate the Thoreau-ignorant among us.
Playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee took facts about Thoreau's life, messed a bit with the time line, created a fictional cellmate for the protagonist to bounce off his opinions, and came up with an entertaining two hours.
Rob Goldman plays Thoreau, who was about 28 at the time (July, 1846) of his incarceration, though the action here moves back and forth in time. Among the principal players are Arnold Fadden as a priggish deacon; Lesley Tesh as Thoreau's first and only love, Ellen Sewall; and Will Shupe as Bailey, Thoreau's vagrant cellmate and philosophical foil.
While allowing for varying degrees of skill among the actors, the main problem is tone. Acting styles and costumes seem split between a historical play and a contemporary TV drama. That said, Megan Pryor, directing her first adult production, did commendable work. To point out that she's 16 years old may sound patronizing, but it's noteworthy because her age doesn't show in her work.
* "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail" continues through March 22 at the Arts Council Center, 482 Greenmeadow Road, Thousand Oaks. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 7 p.m. Sundays. $11. For reservations, call (805) 381-2747.
'Tribute' in Oxnard: Playwright Bernard Slade's "Tribute" is the latest production of the Oxnard-based Elite Theatre Company, under the direction of Art McDermott.
"Scottie" (Ron Rezac) is in public relations, where he's landed after unsuccessful attempts at writing. He's almost universally beloved--even his ex-wife, Maggie (Mary Super) and a former mistress (Judy Heiliger) hold him in the highest esteem. The one person he fails to impress with his wit and intelligence is his college-age son, Jud (Neil Kopplin).
Rezac is most attractive in the role originated by Jack Lemmon on Broadway and in the subsequent film. It's the veteran Ventura County actor's Elite debut and a real coup for the company. Lea Baskas plays the young woman in question, Sally, and makes her almost believable. Stan Seavey is perfectly cast as Scottie's business partner and straight man.
* "Tribute" continues through April 11 at Petit Playhouse, 730 South B St., Oxnard. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with matinees at 2 p.m. Sundays. $12, $10 for seniors. For reservations, call (805) 483-5118.
Casting Call: Auditions will be held in Ventura on Monday and Wednesday evenings for the Plaza Players production of "Sylvia," to begin in May. All roles are open, including the title role, a Labrador retriever-poodle mix to be played by a woman who is "agile and very physical" (it was Sarah Jessica Parker on Broadway). Contact director Michael Maynez at (805) 653-2378.