The last time Los Angeles saw John Cullum was with Elizabeth Taylor and the late Richard Burton in "Private Lives." That didn't work out so well. Before that, he appeared in the Broadway productions of "Shenandoah" and "On the 20th Century," and as far as Los Angeles' regard of Cullum is concerned, that didn't work out at all--he didn't come west with those productions.
Cullum has taken matters into his own hands. He's playing a national tour of "Cyrano de Bergerac," which thrusts home at the Ambassador Auditorium Thursday for one performance. "Cyrano," admittedly, is not a play he regards with unqualified admiration. "Redundant . . . boring . . . I can't stand the idea of being serious in a big nose" are some of his notes on the play.
Then why bother with it?
" 'Cyrano' is not my idea of theater--submitting people to three hours of punishment," he said. "But my wife, Emily Frankel, fell in love with the movie version with Jose Ferrer. 'But that's just the movie ,' I told her. 'It's been cut to ribbons. You don't see all those campy scenes with the baker, the poet, and the carriage made out of food.' But she was challenged. She said she could do an interesting translation, and she did. She came up with free-flowing verse and a wonderfully lilting quality that still sounds like prose.
"Arthur Storch was going to produce it, but he fell in love with it so much that he wound up directing. We played it in Syracuse three years ago, and after an appearance at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Columbia Booking Agents put us into a national tour. I had a piece of the revenue from 'Doubles,' which I played on Broadway, but I left the show to do this. We have a modern unit set and music by Michael Jay, who composed the music for the movie version of 'Key Exchange.' I've played 'Hamlet' and Moliere and Oscar in 'On the 20th'--all those parts are related and come together in this. You get to fight, fence with words, make love to a woman, be extravagant, and die on stage. What more can an actor ask for? As for the Royal Shakespeare Company version everyone saw last year, I'm anxious to see how people think we compare."
It's momentarily clear sailing for the Tiffany Theater, now that it's won a court order freeing it to operate on an Equity Waiver basis. On Thursday, "Rain," the stage adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's treatment of religiosity and sexual repression, will open. Producer Bob Marcucci has never ventured into Equity Waiver waters before, but he's overseeing a $30,000 budget for this one.
"I'm a lover of anything by Maugham," he said. (Marcucci produced the remake of "The Razor's Edge" starring Bill Murray.) "He's people people. He wrote 'Rain' in Hong Kong in 1906. He was always before his time. 'Razor's Edge' had the ultimate spiritual message, that you can travel all over the world but the answer is in yourself. In 'Rain,' you have the theme of the born again and the flesh. Maugham knew human nature so well that he never gets dated."
Allan Rich directs.
It's a great actor's question--"Who Am I This Time?" And an actor has responded. Kevin Bourland appears in TV commercials, but he's also started a writing career with a partner named Brad Kessel, with whom he has collaborated on the Kurt Vonnegut short story under the above-mentioned title.
"The story is set in 1963 in North Crawford, Ohio, and deals with a shy, introverted hardware store clerk who can only come out of his shell when he acts with the North Crawford Masque and Wig Company," Bourland said. "A girl comes to town who works for the telephone company and joins the group, and they fall in love playing a scene from 'A Streetcar Named Desire.' A version of this story was done on PBS a few years ago with Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon, but I think ours is richer. Here he gets to play five characters, and proposes as Marchbanks in 'Candida.' I think too that this version shows how easy it is to mis-communicate when people are too involved in their fantasies."
Bourland plays the young man, Carol Zorn plays the phone company girl, and Kessel directs. The play opens Friday at the Company of Angels.
Other openings for the week include: Friday, "Fruits of the Earth," the latest installment of the Angel's Flight series at the Wallenboyd downtown; "An Evening With Thomas Edison" starring Pat Hingle at Loyola Marymount; "Tales of the Great Depression" at the 21st Street Theatre, and yet another installment of the indefatigable Groundlings, this time called "The Groundlings From Outer Space."