Conejo Players Seek to Give Credit Where It's Due


Not long ago, a local community theater company sent out a press release, which asserted that one of the leads in an upcoming production was voted "best actor in Ventura County" by "local area critics." This was news to us.

This corner hadn't weighed in on any such poll. Nor, we discovered, had the county's other major daily newspaper. After continued checking, we discovered that the actor in question--who is very good, no argument here--had been cited by a single local weekly, and not as "best actor," but in a somewhat more ephemeral category.

Truth be told, there are no countywide community theater awards. Most publications don't cover the entire scene, and no other body has stepped forward to organize such an honor.

Some groups do pat themselves on the back though. The Moorpark Melodrama used to let its patrons vote for their favorites (as if those who voted had seen all the group's productions) and it's possible that some of the youth-oriented groups pass out plaques or ribbons.

But the most organized effort comes from the Conejo Players. Last weekend, the Thousand Oaks group had its 23rd annual Harlequin Awards (in its 39-year history), presented at a dinner held in the theater's large, backstage scenery-construction area.

The Conejo Players bestow three categories of awards, in ascending order: Honorable Mention, the Harlequin Award itself, and Honorary Life Membership in the group. Recipients of the first two levels are chosen by a committee picked from the group's board of directors. To become a Lifetime Member, recipients "have to impress a larger group of people," which means the entire board, says Executive Director Dick Johnson. Awards are given on the basis of service to the Players--the more time a person devotes to the group, the higher the citation.

About 94 awards went to directors, concession-stand operators and crew as well as actors; ages ranged from preteens to grandparents. Three people--Johnson, Jeanne Murry and Herman Deterling--each won 23rd Harlequin Awards on Saturday night; Life Memberships went to Murl Caswell, Ken Endress and Melanie Lindgren.

'Nunsense!' in Camarillo: The second production of "Nunsense!" to appear in Camarillo in five months is the version now playing at the Marquie Dinner Theatre. It includes a decent meal, features a strong cast under the bright direction of DeeAnn Helsel, and makes good use of the cast's ability to roam among the tables before the show and during intermission.

The show remains overly obvious (a song postulates that "Nunsense is habit-forming.") But it's a real crowd-pleaser, none--or nun-the less.

The cast consists of Lisa Bohn, Eleanor Brand, Deanna Lynn Milsap, Celeste Russi, Laurie Stevens, and musical director Barbara "Sister Liberace" Swanson. Houses are selling out, and who's to argue with that?

* "Nunsense!" continues Thursday-Saturday evenings through April 18 at the Marquie Dinner Theatre, 340 N. Mobil Ave., Camarillo. Doors for all performances open at 6:30 p.m.; dinner is served at 7 p.m., and the show begins sometime after 8. Tickets are $33, which includes the show, buffet dinner with a choice of entrees, nonalcoholic beverages, tax and tip. A full cash bar is available, and there is a $3 discount for seniors. For reservations (mandatory) or information, call (805) 484-9909.

Mea Culpa: An actor was misidentified in last week's review of "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail" at the Arts Council Center in Thousand Oaks. Thoreau was played by James Edwards, and Ralph Waldo Emerson by Rob Goldman. The two featured dancers in the production of "Beggars, the Musical" playing at the Ojai arts center are Devin Fulton and Dan Christie.

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