Three recent one-act plays by Harold Pinter, who needs no introduction, make their Los Angeles debut Saturday at the Odyssey II. "Other Places" is the umbrella title for the evening; the individual titles are "A Kind of Alaska," "Victoria Station" and "One for the Road." Ethan Silverman directs.
Silverman, 26, has worked as assistant on "The Elephant Man" and "The Lady and the Clarinet" in New York and directed "1984" at the Cast in, fittingly enough, 1984. Of this bill, he says:
"Neal Hunt and Lowell Thomas, who make up MZH Productions, were looking for the rights to an older Pinter play, like 'The Homecoming.' Pinter's agent said, 'If you're working in a small theater, why not try these?' What luck! 'Alaska' is inspired by Dr. Oliver Sacks' 'Awakenings' (he's the neurologist who wrote "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat"), and deals with a woman who's been asleep for 29 years. This is based on a real epidemic of sleeping sickness that swept Europe and the United States in 1910, and was cured by the discovery of L-Dopa. Sacks has been very cooperative in furnishing us with documentary detail, and the play asks: 'When a 15-year-old woman lives in the body of a 44-year-old, whose reality is this anyway?'
" 'Victoria Station' is a simple play but hard to describe. A cab driver and his controller (someone who tells cabbies where to go next) have a conversation. The cabbie doesn't know where he's supposed to go, and it's absurd, because the destination is as famous as Hollywood and Vine. Imagine a cabbie not knowing where Hollywood and Vine is! The controller thinks he knows, but as it turns out. . . . Well, there's lots more.
" 'One for the Road' is Pinter's most overt political statement to date. It's set in an office and deals with the interrogation of a family of intellectuals--a man, his wife and his young son. The setting is vague, but Pinter's stance against torture is unmistakable. This is something that could happen anywhere, which means it could happen here.
"These are probably the least obscure works Pinter has ever written. The famous pauses are still there, but not in a way that they wouldn't occur in real conversation. These are works completely of the moment. They're really alive."
Cabaret acts, if they're not restricted to song-and-dance, tend to be uncategorizable and therefore left without mention in our departmentalized way of doing things. That doesn't mean they don't deserve mention, particularly when they involve theater people.
Fred Barton is assistant conductor on the musical "Zorba," but he also has eyes for being, as he puts it, "the Woody Allen of musical theater." "Miss Gulch Returns" (opening Friday at the New York Co. Bar & Grill) is a showpiece totally of Barton's devising--which treats his strong suspicion that the Miss Gulch of "The Wizard of Oz" has not been fairly dealt with, and may indeed be a classic figure.
"I've written 15 songs for the show, including one called 'I'm a Bitch' which turns her loose in 1986. I think as people get older they begin to see in her someone less ridiculous than in the past. That image of her on a bicycle is a classic--Margaret Hamilton, who played the role, was wildly cheered in a 1982 motion picture academy tribute. I got the idea then. She isn't someone to be slighted."
"B. J. Ward at Carnegie Hall" consists of all the material Ward would do if and when she should play Carnegie Hall, which she hasn't done so far. That's not stopping her, however. We'll get all the Carnegie Hall program trappings and hoopla, and maybe a sense of deja vu when Ward appears onstage at the Gardenia Friday--she's done so many voice-overs on TV, including Saturday-morning cartoons and major fast-food commercials, that we're liable to feel a Big Mama voice outside the bedroom door of our subconscious once she opens her mouth. Ward is not physically big, however--she's slight and winsome, and a veteran of Las Vegas and the legit stage.
Maybe she'll make it to Carnegie Hall one day after all. Then what'll she do--sell Gardenia posters?
Life and Love and Sex and Death in Canton, Ohio, and other places, are some of the things touched on in Kedric Wolfe's busy and peripatetic "Warren's Story," which had a successful run during and shortly after last fall's Angel's Flight series downtown (it's playing at the Wallenboyd). Wolfe was a big hit on the East Coast in a TV commercial where, dressed like a Wall Street exec, his airline seat was so small that he had to sit with his feet behind his head. Things have been a bit slower here, but he's catching on as a performance artist ("The tag attached itself to me rather than the other way around").
"I tend to put myself into a lot of physical extremes," he said of his solo performances. "I punish myself. Once I had the idea of coming out like Spalding Gray and flattening everyone without breaking a sweat. I'm 46; I don't like the idea anymore of having to go through a pane glass window for effect. I'm learning to do more with less."
LATE CUES: The director for "Virginia" at the South Coast Repertory is Robert Berlinger, not Roger, as erroneously printed here last week.
Openings for the week include "Zorba" at the Pantages, Tuesday; the West Coast Ensemble's Celebration of One-Acts, "Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights" at the Ensemble Studio Theatre and "About Anne" at Stages, Thursday; Florence Lacey returns in "Evita," at the Long Beach CLO, Saturday.