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Pasadena Playhouse: Footlights On Again

February 27, 1986|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

Is the Pasadena Playhouse really back? Can we believe it this time?

To hear David Houk, managing general partner of Pasadena Playhouse Associates and the main man behind the much ballyhooed, much stalled resurrection of the playhouse, perhaps we can.

Appointments have been made. An opening date is set.

The new artistic director is Jessica Myerson, formerly producer of San Francisco's improv group the Committee. The new executive director is Bob Siner, a former president of MCA Records.

The playhouse makes its comeback April 19 with Shaw's "Arms and the Man," the first show to be mounted in the elegantly restored 700-seat mainstage in 20 years. It will be staged by Nikos Psacharopoulos, artistic director of Massachusetts' Williamstown Playhouse, and will run to May 11.

Following "Arms and the Man," Myerson herself will stage Thomas Wolfe's "Look Homeward, Angel" (June 7-29) and Lewis Arquette will direct Stewart Parker's "Spokesong" (July 12-Aug. 3).

Funds for all this? At a press conference last week, Houk presented an oversized check for $1 million to Margaret Sedenquist, chairwoman of the nonprofit Pasadena Playhouse State Theatre of California Inc. The gesture--much more than symbolic--effectively launches the first playhouse mainstage season since the once-glorious, debt-ridden theater and school were unceremoniously closed by the IRS (1966), decimated at auction (1969), repeatedly vandalized (1969-79) and gradually revived through the wisdom of the Pasadena city fathers, a maze of complex financial deals--and a sharp $4-million renovation.

So can we believe it?

"It was a million-dollar cash donation," Houk said, "just to get things started. Our obligation with the city is to guarantee the season: three plays the first year; four to six plays, a minimum of 18 weeks, from the second to the sixth year. Historical Restoration Associates (a Houk company) guarantees it. The individual partners back it up."

To raise the needed funds, Houk and associates sold a half-interest in the real estate which had been free and clear since May, 1984.

All playhouse property currently is owned by Houk's Pasadena Playhouse Associates, Historical Restoration Associates and 80-plus new partners (acquired via shares sold by Direct Capital Corp. of Santa Monica). The Mainstage Theater is leased back to the nonprofit Pasadena Playhouse State Theatre of Calif. Inc., Houk said, "in perpetuity, for nothing."

"That corporation contracted with our firm to manage the theater. It has no rights to the rest of the building" (the two stories north of the patio and the six-story tower, which, Houk said, "will take another $4 million" to restore).

The present plan is to lease back the second floor to the State Theatre, which will give it office space and preserve the 99-seat theater created in 1982. A restaurant--"still unidentified"--will occupy the ground floor.

Getting back to the plays themselves, what prompted their choice?

"Part of it was how to solve the problem of having the integrity of a total program with only three plays," Myerson said.

" 'Arms' comes at the dawning of modern drama. 'Look Homeward, Angel' takes place at about the time that the playhouse itself was started. And 'Spokesong' reflects the present era. 'Arms' is witty anti-war satire. 'Look' is compelling drama that hasn't had a major revival since it was first done--I don't know why. It's also a very human play about a very contemporary struggle: that of a young man to leave home. And it has a big cast that, under the terms of our Equity contract, allows me to involve the community."

As for "Spokesong," "We were seeking to have a relationship with the Old Globe (in San Diego). Craig Noel (executive producer of the Globe) is a playhouse guy.

"Our survival is partially dependent on developing tours and exchanges. Originally, we hoped to bring in the (Globe) production of 'Spokesong' but the timing didn't allow it. So we're buying their set and costumes, and actors who fit the costumes are welcome to try (for the roles)," she quipped.

As Myerson sees it, most productions will be jobbed in one by one, but just as she's anxious for a relationship with the Old Globe, she's also exploring an alliance with Williamstown.

This was confirmed by Psacharopoulos:

"It would be wonderful if we could do a winter residency for a month or two," he said Monday from New York. "It's very early (in the planning), but obviously we have been talking. . . . "

Myerson already is working toward a fall season of plays and talking to Andrei Serban about possibly getting involved.

What of the 99-seat theater?

"That's a recent development," Myerson said. "It'll take some looking into to decide how best to use it. It may be the place to develop new playwrights. A good simultaneous use would be children's programming--if we can find ways not to bump into one another."

But first things first.

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