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Stage Watch : O'caseys Are Plotting A Dandy 'Cock-a-doodle'

October 17, 1985|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

Sean O'Casey's widow, Eileen, and daughter Shivaun left town Wednesday after what they felt was a productive 10-day visit to the Southland.

The attractive O'Casey ladies, who strongly resemble each other, came to see what they could do to help get a production of O'Casey's "Cock-a-Doodle Dandy" mounted in Los Angeles. And while, as reported in last week's Stage Watch, there were talks with Gordon Davidson about a possible slot at the Doolittle Theatre after the first of the year, by Monday some of the timing had changed.

"If it happens," Shivaun said, "it will now be in September, 1986." This will allow more time to raise the $900,000 needed for production.

"That would ensure five weeks' rehearsal and a six-week run," Shivaun said, "but we're also trying for an additional $200,000 to videotape the production."

We spoke Monday at a reception at the Columbian Fathers home on North Vermont, where the O'Caseys were being honored by members of the L.A. Irish community--among them, a vivid contingent of local Irish actors.

Topping the guest list, however, was a significant non-Irishman: director/coach/guru Bobby Lewis, handpicked by the O'Caseys to stage "Cock-a-Doodle Dandy."

"Bobby is the one director Sean wanted to direct the play," Shivaun emphasized, explaining that it harks back to a friendship between Lewis and her father--and to a memorable 1973 student production staged by Lewis at Yale in which, Shivaun was quick to point out, a young woman temporarily named Meryl O'Streep took on the role of Loreleen.

Aside from the fact that it was the author's favorite play, why "Cock-a-Doodle Dandy" in particular, and why now?

"It's the right time for it," Eileen O'Casey answered without hesitation. "It's so complete, so magical, very like Shakespeare in its use of fantasy and timelessness."

It's also very demanding (as a 1975 production at the Los Angeles Actors' Theatre demonstrated), because its political views and philosophy are couched in some barnyard symbolism and the central symbol is a real live cock of the walk. As Eileen O'Casey explained, "The cock is the joyful spirit of Ireland overriding superstition."

"He's the joyful spirit of life," Shivaun added, "what life should be--sexy, musical, exciting."

"It's a deeply truthful play," Eileen said. "The message comes through very clearly."

"And," Shivaun concluded, "it's very well structured. I don't mean it's a well-made play; that can be boring. This is fun."

As for Lewis, he can hardly wait to put his hand to it. And while no actors have been approached at such a premature date, he's at least thinking of Jack Lemmon and possibly Walter Matthau. You may recall they were paired once before in another O'Casey play, "Juno and the Paycock" at the Taper (1974).

Theater, like life, sometimes comes full circle. Take "Tracers."

This startling Vietnam memory started small at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble in 1980 as John di Fusco's brainchild. It won big from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, then, four years later, had a Chicago production at Steppenwolf that catapulted it into a New York hit (at Joe Papp's Public Theatre, 1984) and a London smash (at the Royal Court, 1985).

It returns to Los Angeles on Nov. 15 as an Equity production to be presented at the Coronet by Susan Dietz, Susan Loewenberg and Peg Yorkin, who some weeks ago announced they would occasionally produce together. In this first joint venture, they'll be presenting the New York Shakespeare Festival/VETCO (Vietnam Veterans Ensemble Theatre Company) staging of "Tracers."

"When John (di Fusco) returned from London," Dietz said Monday, "he said he'd love to do another production here. Peg (Yorkin) had the available theater, Susan (Loewenberg) had the experience with touring. So, we went ahead."

Aside from the Los Angeles run, "We have a six-week guaranteed run in San Francisco at Marines Memorial (Auditorium)," Dietz said, "which seems very fitting. There's also interest from Seattle, Cincinnati, Denver, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Houston, Florida, even Australia (the Sydney Festival in February). The show was conceived at the Coronet bar, so it returns to its true point of origin. It's an important piece. Los Angeles should be happy to have spawned it."

Previews begin Nov. 6, with a free performance Veterans Day, followed by a reception in the lobby catered by Mirabelle, a veteran-owned restaurant.

"We're using five of the New York actors, plus Harry Stevens (the original professor), Richard Chavez (who played Los Angeles, New York and London) and an unknown. All are vets."

John di Fusco, again, directs.

"Cotton Patch Gospel," with music by the late Harry Chapin and book by headliner Tom Key and director Russell Treyz, is not a black show. It has a white cast, is based on the Books of Matthew and John and is described by company manager Gary Whitehead as "a contemporary Southern Bluegrass retelling of the story of Christ."

It is currently at the Center Theatre in Long Beach, but not for long. On Nov. 6 it moves to the Westwood Playhouse. How come?

"I'd seen it in New York at the Lambs Club (1981) and loved it," said the Westwood Playhouse's Norman Maibaum. "Since then it's had a successful run in Atlanta and other places. Art Fegan (of Bill Fegan Attractions, a Dallas promoter who produced it and controls the rights) called me about bringing it to the Westwood. At that time 'Jeeves Takes Charge' was coming in and their arrangement with Equity did not allow them to wait, so they went to Long Beach."

But "Jeeves" closed early and "Cotton Patch" executive producer Michael Meece, who had wanted to take his "Gospel" to Los Angeles all along, decided to try Westwood again. This time it worked.

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