Writing a play is flying in your mind with characters and a situation you've dreamed up.  A solo flight.  Directing that play is inviting other dreamers - skilled actors - to co-pilot the dream with you.


In "No Limits" the co-pilots - David Stewart, Suzanne Gallaher, Shayne Bourbon and Lenny Klaif - escalated the dream with tattoos, falls happening on-the-run, and Yiddish humor, all soaring differently every performance, as is the magic of live theater.


Re-writing is never-ending, as the (recently)late, great Edward Albee demonstrated when he added a second act to Zoo Story almost 50 years after its' first New York staging - due to a nagging feeling.  In other words, dreams continue to fly.


Richard Herd, character actor known for being George Castanza's boss on Seinfeld, among other roles, will be one of the co-pilots in a Staged Reading of Christine's two-act play, "Whatever Your Heart Desires.” and has postponed and will be read in the future.



By Sami Zahringer

 The ladies’ bathroom at Ojai ACT is one of the best places to hear candidly how a performance is being received.

 The consensus from overheard conversations there -- and from talking with audience members at the party after “One Act Laugh Tracks” -- was that were was no consensus. It seems everybody had a different favorite from the six short comedy pieces performed, proving that this refreshing collection of appealing, cannily-acted, and highly collaborative plays has something for everyone.


      Five of the six are written by local playwrights and selected by producer John Hankins, on the basis that they made him “laugh out loud.”


  It opens with Sindy McKay’s “Fourth Time’s a Charm” about a woman – the playwright, actually, cast by Director Angela DeCicco – who is enjoying her bachelorette party with friends. When they leave the room she is visited by the ghost of her mother (Christina Colombo), who criticizes her weight, the wedding dress and just about everything else, preying upon her daughter’s insecurities until her friends set her straight again with earthy good humor in a well-choreographed piece of fine ensemble acting.


 The figure of the loving but critical mother is familiar to many and McKay nimbly mines the situation for laughs while preserving the psychological tension between mother and daughter. The bridesmaids are Suzy Thatcher, Erin McLaine and Sheila McCarthy.


      Next up, David Stewart and Suzanne Gallaher are a young couple looking to buy their first car in Christine Rosensteel’s “No Limits.” It soon becomes evident he is far more keen than his naive partner on the transaction and, furthermore, that the jobless young man, egged on by a seedy car-salesman (Shayne Bourbon), has some pretty obnoxious views about the role he expects her to play, and -- by the way -- pay for too.


 The sexist quips, especially from Stewart, build and build until eventually, the salesman -- under pressure from his shrewd, cynical boss (Lenny Klaif) to make a sale -- feels he can no longer participate and comes to a radical decision.


 This transference of the action from the couple’s relationship to the moral crisis of the salesman is unexpected and, coupled with some hilarious physical comedy, adds to the richness of the play’s comedy.


       Director Dave Cintron brings a savvy comic toughness to Shelby Maloney’s charming vignette “Too Strange” in which a young woman (Megan McCorkle) struggles to tell her vain, self-involved partner (Sean Mason) about a new super-power she has suddenly acquired. While he struts and frets, demanding that she feed him, she reveals her superpower, which he ignores. The twist at the end is beautifully realized with some fine comic dialog from both actors.


      Cintron and Maloney team up with the same two gifted actors again in “The Tape,” telling the story of an upwardly-mobile politician and her blackmailing former lover. He is demanding money in exchange for a sex tape they made together years earlier, threatening to reveal it to the media, and likely ruining her career. The politician though, didn’t get where she is by being a soft touch, and in the course of their negotiations she finds his unexpected weak spot.


       “I’ve met someone.” The words from the 98-year-old father, (played hilariously by Steve Grumette) in Elizabeth Surdo’s wonderfully wry “Spry” seem, at first, eccentric but fairly benign to his son (a splendidly exasperated Larry Swartz) until the details start to unfold … and the stubborn old man will not be persuaded by his hapless son that he is acting foolishly.


 Over the course of their wickedly funny conversation, directed by Howard Leader, the faults of both father and son are uncovered and past hurts are excavated. Surdo has a terrific ear for dialogue and her tight, deliciously written script is a gift to Grumette and Swartz. Both fully inhabit their roles in a convincing, brilliantly realized double act that achieves a life- and love-affirming conclusion without ever straying into the mawkish.


       In Tom Walla’s lively “Table for Three” a young man (Sean Mason) nervously awaits his former girlfriend in a restaurant at the table at which they had their first date. Having come to terms with his commitment issues, he has realized his mistake in letting her go and plans to propose to her.


 Things take an unexpected turn, though, with the arrival of a willful, scarlet-clad older woman (Suzy Thatcher) who promptly seats herself at his table and declares that she will not be moved until her husband arrives for a business dinner. She suspects him of losing interest in her and plans to test his love according to how he reacts when he sees her having dinner with a good-looking younger man.

 Directed by Angela DeCicco, Thatcher is an irrepressible force of nature as the entitled, high-handed, but nevertheless winning older woman, clearly relishing the role of the cougar vamp flummoxing the bewildered, and finally hilariously furious young man. Things get really interesting when the young girlfriend (Anna Kotula) shows up, along with the woman’s husband (James Svatko) while the waiter silently (Scott Blanchard) oversees the action in his own comical way.


 An added directorial treat by DeCicco is pulling actors from the previous plays as patrons in the restaurant, who dutifully react.


      These six short humorous pieces show that with good writing, discerning direction, and smart cast choices much can be packed into a short play. The choice and order of presentation of the plays is astute and there is something here to tickle everybody’s ribs.


      (Parents should be advised that there is some occasional profanity in a couple of the plays and some of the themes might escape younger children, but all the plays are broadly suitable for teens and young adults.)


      The “One Act Laugh Tracks” festival runs through Oct. 2 at Ojai ACT, 113 S. Montgomery St., playing 7pm Fridays and Saturdays, and 2pm Sundays.


 Tickets are $15 dollars general admission, and $12 for seniors, students, and Art Center members. For reservations and more information, call 640-8797 or visit www.OjaiACT.org.