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Lyman's Southern 'Dramedy'

March 09, 1986|JANICE ARKATOV

"Theater gives me the chance to do things I'm not allowed to do on TV," reflected actress/director Dorothy Lyman, who directed "Vicious" (a play about the murder of Nancy Spungeon by her rocker-boyfriend Sid Vicious) in 1984.

"Of course, 'Vicious' was very dark," she added. "This one isn't." Lyman was referring to Terry Garner's "Livin' on Salvation Street," which opens under her direction Thursday at the Fountain Theatre.

The four-character piece, which she labels "dramedy--funny moments, but a serious story," focuses on three generations of Kentucky women in 1958, a "coming of age" time for a granddaughter who wants to leave home. Lyman was attracted to the work not only by a "distinctive writing voice" but by its cultural underpinnings:

"It's kind of Beth Henley in flavor, very Southern. I'm from the Midwest, but I have a Southern mother and I've played a lot of Southern characters"--most notably on "All My Children" (where her portrayal of dynamo Opal Gardner garnered two Daytime Emmys) and "Mama's Family".

While motherhood--to 7-month-old Jackson Malle--has kept her career on hold for the past year, Lyman (who directed both the original 1980 Off-Broadway production of "A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking" as well as the recent national tour with Elizabeth Ashley and Sandy Dennis), admitted that the transition of performing-to-directing has not been an easy one.

"I'm still looking for legitimacy as a director," she said. "People are shocked to think of me as anything but an actress."

"This is a very cynical piece--a big emotional impact mixed with Brechtian distancing," noted director Jules Aaron of "Strider" (based on a Tolstoy short story, adapted by Mark Rozovsky). It opens Wednesday at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre as part of the CalArts in Town series.

The story--"a parable of the human condition"--concerns a piebald horse, "different from the rest of the herd, who, because of being different, goes through some joyous and terrible things. The message is that life is not easy, we learn its lessons early, but we can still live it with zest.

"It also deals with transformation, our ability or lack of ability to become something else. Since the (21) actors play horses, the theatricality parallels the story. The actor becomes a horse by adding a tail, a general by adding a coat. What's wonderful is seeing it happen, watching those lines change."

This weekend marks Albert Einstein's 107th birthday, and to celebrate, "The Life and Times of A. Einstein" (a four-character "offbeat comedy") will have a two-night run--Friday and Saturday--at The Studio, 1021 1/2 N. La Brea.

"I was always interested in Einstein, and thought it might be fun to do something about him," said actress Kres Mersky, who developed the project five years ago in a Theatre West workshop. "But what I wanted to do was Einstein from a woman's point of view. So I read, did research and developed this character who is Einstein's secretary."

In fact, such a woman did exist: Helen Dukas, his assistant for 30 years. "But there's very little written about her. So I just took the character and made up my own story.

"In a sense, the whole play is a demonstration of the theory of relativity," Mersky continued. "There's a mysterious shifting of time, very subtle, cumulative; time changes and you don't know quite where you are." She assured that the unscientifically motivated theatergoer should not have anything to fear: "It's only baffling in the way that trying to understand relativity is baffling."

LATE CUES: Producer Milt Larson has announced a three-show variety/revue series to christen the newly renovated Variety Arts Center Main Stage Theatre. First up is "Hats Off!" (March 12-April 20), featuring "a new generation" of vaudevillians: comic juggling by the Raspyni Brothers, sword swallower Johnny Fox, "magic mime" Ken Saunkin and comedy cyclist Bob Hunt. Magician Larry Clark is director and host.

Theatre Exchange presents its Fifth Annual Casino Night benefit March 22 at the Van Nuys Women's Club. The "Vegas style games" include blackjack, craps, roulette and wheel of fortune--with prizes donated by such benefactors as Western Airlines, The Magic Castle, Trader Joe's, Universal Studios, Sea World and the Hyatt Islandia. Call (818) 981-6082 for reservations.

Tomorrow actor Patrick Stewart, an associate artist with the Royal Shakespeare Company, will offer a free lecture at 12:30 p.m. in the Studio Theatre at Cal State University, Long Beach. Call (213) 498-4280 for further information.

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