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'The Winter's Tale' At Theatricum Botanicum


The Theatricum Botanicum opens its summer season today with "The Winter's Tale." Artistic Director Ellen Geer directs. "It was written late in Shakespeare's career, around the time of 'Lear' and 'The Tempest,' the plays that were most filled with his sense of the human heart," she said. "It's a study of jealousy--one of our worst emotions--and I think it's one of the most heartfelt pieces he wrote. Shakespeare could be very cynical, but 'The Winter's Tale' is written in a spirit of human forgiveness."

Set in Ancient Greece's Sicilia, the production will keep a Spartan look. "It's cheaper for us to costume in togas," Geer said. "And perverse that we are, we've cast a black actor, Hubert Kelly, to play Leontes, who is often referred to as 'the white Othello.' "

Other productions for the summer season include Tennessee Williams' "Suddenly Last Summer," which plays on a double bill with Terrence McNally's "Botticelli" and George M. Cohan's "The Tavern."

Geer expects that the summer season will draw 10,000 to the Botanicum's bucolic setting in the heart of Topanga Canyon. Founded in 1973 by Will Geer, the theater now has a staff of 81 (including its educational wing) and offers a youth drama camp, Shakespeare seminars, and even monologue classes. "We're growing," Geer said. "We offer theater that touches every socioeconomic level, and we've been able to pay our actors since 1979."

Of all that's been written and said about the Holocaust by way of statistics, how-could-it-happen theory and abstract commentary, one figure seems to humanize the suffering of the Holocaust victims more than any other--the teen-ager Anne Frank, whose hope and belief in mankind reaches us from the other side of the grave.

Mayor Tom Bradley has declared June as Anne Frank Month. The Martyrs Memorial Museum of the Holocaust has been offering special programs and seminars and has also commissioned a play on the subject. Nanci Rossov's "My Name Could Be Anne" is the result (Rossov directs); the play--co-produced by the Ensemble Studio Theatre--will have a single performance next Sunday at Hollywood High School.

"The piece is about young people who have suffered from war and persecution," said producer Fran Alswang. "It not only deals with Jews, but with Central Americans, Armenians, Haitians, South Africans and Vietnamese, all groups who have faced their own holocausts. We drew our material by having a team go out into the refugee community--you'll be surprised how many there are in Los Angeles. Anne Frank universalizes their experience. The play tells us how the living have a responsibility to themselves and the dead to stop persecution, war and genocide."

"My partner Richard Lenz says it's about the dichotomy between man and God. I say it's a farce. Rubber noses, mistaken identities." Michael Norell was speaking about "Dirty Words," a 10-year-old play having its West Coast premiere Thursday at Room For Theater.

"It's set in 1973, around the time of the Supreme Court's anti-obscenity decision, and focuses on the last remaining girlie magazine airbrush artist whose father, the anti-obscenity commissioner of the state of Nebraska, believes the dirty parts of flowers should be blocked out and domestic animals should be made to wear pants.

"We've subtitled it 'a clean comedy.' We wrote it in 1969, and when we did it in Jackson, Mich.--Dick's hometown--10 years ago, Dick was terrified the blue-haired ladies would be incensed. But they rolled in the aisles. I think it's because the people in the play are real. Joshua Logan once said, 'The secret of farce isn't pace. The secret of farce is desperation.' "

The Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Solvang and Santa Maria begins its new season Thursday with "The Crucifer of Blood" in Santa Maria, and "Funny Girl" at Solvang.

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