On Stage

On Stage

 

When Leaving Las Vegas hit screens in 1995 it was embraced by critics for its powerful insight into the brutal spiral of alcoholism. Simultaneously, the film’s realism found no sympathy in those whose lives had been altered or destroyed by alcoholics.

A similar question is posed to audiences at the world premiere of Carey Crim’s play Conviction, on stage at Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre: When someone is convicted of a crime against innocence, what are the aftereffects on the rest of his life and do we sympathize?

Crim’s dialogue flows well, and five talented Equity actors bring the work to life. But while the script contains plenty of tension, it provides little insight into the lingering question: Why would a dedicated teacher cross the line with an underage student, risking his career, welfare and the safety of his family?

From the opening, Tom and Leigh Hodges (Tom Astor and Elyse Mirto) seem to be living a dream life at bullet-train speed and enjoying the scenery. Tom, a high school drama teacher, is fresh from a successful opening of a lengthy Shakespearian play. It is here, in the embrace of good wine, friends and intellectual discussion that a call comes from his principal that shatters his idyllic life; an accusation has been made by one of his students.

Leigh and their two closest friends, Bruce and Jayne (Joseph Fuqua and the excellent Julie Granata), stick together while Tom serves a three-year prison sentence, as they once endured Tom’s two-hour-and-48-minute play. The trio initially agrees it’s a case of he said/she said, but in the end Jayne outs Tom, having seen him being a bit too cozy with the girl in question. Bruce finds it hard to believe that Tom is a monster. “What if he’s both?” Jayne pleads.

Caught in the middle of the hell storm is Crim’s symbol of innocence, teenage son Nick (Daniel Burns). We watch the youngest Hodges go from carefree to a torn-at-the-knees, pot-smoking emo kid hiding behind a wall of sarcasm and loud music. Yet for all the abuse Nick endures, Burns relates the resilience and humor of youth despite the legacy of his father’s sins being visited upon him.

Upon Tom’s return, Leigh subtly displays her own doubts about her husband’s innocence. On the night of his return she sets up a bed on the couch where he’ll stay until he woos her back. It isn’t until Jayne returns and asks hard, simple questions (a theory she calls “Achmed’s Razor”) that the truth of Leigh and Tom’s relationship is exposed and sunlight begins to burn a permanent hole into the Hodges’ lifelong web.

The Rubicon’s hybrid set is composed partially of traditional walls, doors and steps and partially of glass tubing, perhaps a suggestion to those who shouldn’t cast stones, or a tip to a glass menagerie, an enclosure of the characters’ own making in which the audience is allowed to watch their behavior unfold.

Director Scott Schwartz does well to balance the script’s extended drama and maximize its humor, and ultimately leaves the final verdict to his audience: Do you think Tom is guilty? And in the end, can you sympathize?


Conviction through Sept. 28 at Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura. 667-2900 or www.rubicontheatre.org.

 

On Stage

On Stage

 

The Conejo Players theater has long been one of the city’s best-kept cultural secrets, tucked among gnarled oaks and olive trees, a harbor for some of Thousand Oaks’ best artistic talent.

When the lights come up on the Players’ new production of The Diary of Anne Frank, a similar dim glow slowly reveals the annex where the Frank family would hide for two years while a world war raged outside.

The room truly lights up when Katie Rodriguez bounds onstage, delivering Anne Frank’s playful, insightful energy. “Let me out where there’s fresh air and sunlight,” she dreams, and soon checks her wartime optimism. “Then, I think of the Jews that aren’t in hiding.”

Rick Steinberg’s open set reveals the slow, anxious wait in the infamous Amsterdam annex and Beth Glasner’s period costuming creates a progressive sense of deterioration among its eight inhabitants. This contrast is made even more real by the regular appearance of Miep (Marisa Van Den Borre), the sharply dressed face of business and a model of womanhood for blossoming young Anne.

Anne’s paternal role model, her father, Otto (Dave Parmenter), balances optimism and reality, strength and reason. “This is the way we must live until it’s over,” Otto says of the annex. Anne and Peter (Daniel Jared Hersh) waste no time getting comfortable, and tear the yellow stars from their jackets. “Look,” Anne observes her sweater with perfect irony, “it left a mark.”

Day to day, the Franks and Van Daans maintain their optimism and a semblance of routine. Mrs. van Daan (Karen Brundage) stays attached to a fur coat until her husband tears it from her grasp, reasoning, “You can’t hold onto it when people are in such desperate need of warm clothes.”

In her bedroom or the main annex, Anne continues journaling in quiet pursuit of her desire to be a writer. When one of the adults wonders aloud how someone so young could have anything to say, her sister, Margo (Natasha Schlaffer), retorts, “Just because someone is young doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to write about.”

Yet even in this sanctuary, the nightmares of war seep through. When a dentist named Dussell (Larry Shilkoff) arrives to live with the Franks, he tells of whole families vanishing “like clockwork. Every Tuesday, the train leaves for the east.”

These nightmares wake Anne in the middle of the night. “We’re all having nightmares,” Otto consoles, “only you’re letting them out.” Here Rodriguez relates the anxiety of an active imagination, caged, waiting for freedom to return. “I want to be a better person. But not if it means shutting myself off, hiding how I feel. I want to go on living even after my death.”

And through her diary, in a little playhouse tucked among the oaks and olive trees, Anne’s story lives on.


The Diary of Anne Frank through Sept. 20 at Conejo Players, 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks, 495-3715 or www.conejoplayers.org.

 

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