By Rita Moran
Arts writer, the Ventura County Star
Friday March 2, 2001
Ventura College's Student One-Act Play Festival gives fledgling actors and directors an opportunity to flex their theatrical muscle, and audiences a chance to see a diverse group of performers and plays at a very reasonable price. It's an unbeatable combination.
For David Mamet fans, the biggest surprise of the play trio may be his whimsical one-act, "The Frog Prince." Snatching essential elements of the fairy tale and transforming the royal ambience into contemporary casual, Mamet shows a kinder, gentler side that contrasts dramatically with his more biting dramas ("Glengarry Glen Ross," "Oleanna").
The most startling action in the amusing one-act is the prince's punishment for refusing to relinquish flowers plucked from the soil of his kingdom but claimed by another. He turns into a frog until he can be released by a kiss. Given his royal self-righteousness, that kiss is hard to come by, especially when he looks like a frog.
Justin Pool plays the prince with just the right air of self-indulgence and density. The royal ruler spews high-flung rhetoric about the entrancing beauty of nature but can't see the nobility of mankind, especially of the lower order. Pool gets the humor just right.
Brandon Frazier is the even denser servingman, loyal to the prince and solicitous toward the distraught milkmaid whose fiance has been whisked away. Amber Landis is bright and cheery as the simple milkmaid whose good favor the prince hopes to maneuver into the all-essential kiss. Michelle Gorospe is the Witch, whose chief function is the declaration of the curse. The entire cast acquits itself well in the enjoyable one-act directed by [self], with Michael Logan as assistant director.
The other comedy of the festival is David Ives' "Sure Thing," a constantly rewinding rendition of a chance meeting until the young man gets it right. Ives has a way of seeing the world from a quirky perspective, and this quick one-act gets the fumbling approach just right. Fortunately, in Ives' world there's a second chance.
Frank Cruz plays the young man and Suzanne Papini the young woman in the pick-up scene that finally works after incessant missteps. Who wouldn't like to replay life's pivotal moments Ives-style? If Oral Roberts University doesn't work as an entre, how about Harvard? Bingo! The pair tries various opinions about Faulkner and politics, too, until they get the mix just right. For director Jas Batra and the actors, it's all about quick reaction and the ability to play immediately off the previous line. It works.
A more formidable acting exercise is presented by Keith Alan Benjamin's "Mary MacGregor," in which death has created a divide that is nearly impossible to breach. Laura Asbury plays the bereaved Mary and Zack Gallagher is the late David, who is in the room with Mary but only psychically sensed by her.
Asbury has the difficult task of virtually acting alone, working her way through Mary's sense of denial, loss and resolution, bolstered by lots of booze and familiar music. Gallagher has the equally challenging task of responding to Mary but not being seen or heard by her. Asbury never loses her concentration and runs an impressive emotional gamut. Gallagher mirrors the frustration of not being able to communicate with a loved one, despite David's intense efforts. Both handle well the difficult interplay in which Mary and David make parallel confessions of infidelity.
Guiding the players through "Mary MacGregor's" slippery slopes are director Nisia Gil, assistant director Jose Leon and production assistant Claire Culver.
STUDENT ONE-ACT PLAY FESTIVAL
Ventura College Theatre Arts department is staging three one-act plays performed and directed by students: "Sure Thing" by David Ives, "Mary MacGregor" by Keith Alan Benjamin and "The Frog Prince" by David Mamet. Performances 8 tonight and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday in the Ventura College Mainstage and Circus theaters, Loma Vista Road, Ventura. $5 general; students and seniors $3. 654-6397.