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Reports Of 'As Is' Rumors Are As Is

June 20, 1985|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Staff Writer

It's true.

Rumors that New York's hit play "As Is" might show up in Los Angeles before the end of the year, have been quelled by producer John Glines.

Contacted early Wednesday in New York, Glines confirmed that negotiations are going on with James A. Doolittle to bring the William Hoffman play about AIDS to the Doolittle Theatre (formerly the Huntington Hartford) the first week in September.

"We're talking," Glines said. "We very much hope to do so."

Icing on the cake is that Richard Dreyfuss and Richard Thomas (currently making a strong impression in "The Count of Monte Cristo" at the Kennedy Center) are top contenders for the leads if the negotiations succeed.

In Los Angeles, Doolittle confirmed that discussions are taking place. Should they prove fruitful, the production would fulfill Doolittle's option to produce one play a year over the next five years in the theater he formerly ran and that now bears his name.

It won't be the first time Doolittle and the Glines will have done business together. Another Glines/Doolittle presentation was Harvey Fierstein's immensely successful "Torch Song Trilogy," which played the Hartford in 1983 and had the highest box-office grosses (and longest run) of any non-musical play at that theater.

The Doolittle, now owned and operated by The Theatre Group Inc. (a co-venture of UCLA and the Center Theatre Group) is under renovation and expects to reopen its doors in late August--just in time for "As Is"?

The Mark Taper production of "In the Belly of the Beast," so well received in Los Angeles and at Australia's Sydney Festival earlier this year, moves into New York's Joyce Theatre (Aug. 15-31) as the third offering of the recently created American Theatre Exchange.

Less generally known is that there's been some recent scuffling in the wings. Mainly over credits.

"Beast" is based on the letters from prison of convicted killer Jack Henry Abbott. It was originally adapted for the stage by Adrian Hall, artistic director of the Dallas Theatre Center and of the Trinity Square Repertory (where "Beast" first played). When it was done at the Taper, Too, "Beast" was listed as "further adapted" by director Robert Woodruff. That "further adapted" rankles Hall.

"Abbott was very anxious for me to do this adaptation," Hall explained Tuesday from Dallas. "He wanted to see his point of view expressed. He was very supportive. So was Seymour Morgenstern."

Morgenstern, who describes himself as "a producer," is pivotal to the argument. He owns all dramatic rights to Abbott's material and originally gave Hall the green light to proceed.

A contract, however, was never drawn up. ("He never asked for one," says Morgenstern.) Hall took the material under the apprehension that he would be entitled to do a cable production "and then found out (Morgenstern) didn't have the cable rights."

"It was a misapprehension," Morgenstern counters. "Hall wanted it for his own benefit. There was no indication to him that he had exclusive rights beyond the rights granted him to produce the play."

Meanwhile, Hall claims that he has a legal copyright to his adaptation and that any infringement of that copyright by anyone is illegal.

"All legal opinion on that is that he cannot copyright words that I own," Morgenstern insists. "I've worked for five years to purchase those rights. I own those words."

How completely he owns them is a matter of legal debate. The New York Crime Victims Board, charged with ascertaining that Abbott does not cash in on any proceeds from his writings, held a hearing last week to determine if any such proceeds should be shared by Abbott's victims.

"Our contention," Morgenstern said, "is that we purchased the book and Abbott's life story. The verdict is not in yet, but if the board determines that the play is an exploitation of the murder, and not about Abbott's life, then they'll apportion or claim the entire money. We'll appeal that."

What's in it for Abbott? Said Morgenstern: "Right now, nothing. He just wants his story told. I want to portray the soul of this man. It so happens there's a murder in there, but the murder is not the point."

Meanwhile, a temporary truce has been worked out in the fuss over the credits.

"It's been complicated and shredded," Hall acknowledged, "because (initially) I gave my permission, but I had no idea everyone in the country was going to want to do this thing. Eventually I would have been cut out entirely. So we're going to go ahead with it now, in New York. Woodruff's name is to be below mine, in smaller type, and all that New York commercial theater junk which is why I got out of the commercial theater in the first place."

Stephen Albert, manager at the Taper which is caught in the middle of the dispute, took a more conciliating view:

"He is part of our tribe," Albert said about Hall. "That piece had not begun to move in the direction that Robert Woodruff as a director and a writer took it. All we tried to do is recognize the step Woodruff took."

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