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STAGE WEEK

Robinson: Ups, Downs . . . And Straight Talk

July 27, 1986|LAWRENCE CHRISTON

If the history of this era in Los Angeles theater is written in the 21st Century, for openness and candor one could hardly ask for a better witness than actor Andrew Robinson, who opens in Sam Shepard's "Curse of the Starving Class" Saturday at the Tiffany Theater.

Robinson is formidably talented, but he'll be the first to admit his performances have been uneven. He burned into your psyche as killer-convict Jack Henry Abbott in "Belly of the Beast," and then followed with a constipated performance in Howard Brenton's "The Genius." ("I wasn't really ready for that. I was in rehearsals while I was still doing 'Beast' and I let the colors of one bleed into the other in a way that didn't work--I lost touch with 'Genius's' manic, black character, and I never came to grips with the play's latent anti-Americanism.")

In "The Greeks" at the Back Alley theater, he was part of a motley crew. ("I admire the courage of the Back Alley to put on such a project, but there was too much hubris in thinking it could be done this way in the first place. It would take a year under the most difficult circumstances to bring off such a project. It was just beyond the means of an Equity Waiver theater to do.")

Robinson has just finished filming "Extreme Prejudice" in El Paso with Nick Nolte and director Walter Hill. One thing a professional in any career doesn't like to do--unless it's for charity--is to work for free, particularly in a culture where worth is validated, however absurdly, by income. All reservations in Robinson's mind are waived, however, about "Curse" (even though the originally announced cast found reasons to depart under the direction of Roxanne Rodgers, Sam Shepard's sister. When one actor flies the coop, that's tough luck. When the whole cast splits, that's a statement. Gillian Eaton is the new director).

"I come from a school of acting that says you don't protect yourself," Robinson, who plays the father, said. "If you don't put yourself out there, you're nowhere. What comes, comes.

"I think this is Sam's best play. It's not naturalistic, but it's not expressionistic either. It's an allegory, yet he puts in details like frying eggs on stage. You have to be right there, yet you have to go through your changes in a detached way, like a Kabuki actor, or else you'll burn out. The play is as complex as 'Long Day's Journey Into Night.' "

No one who saw James Gammon in the original role as the father can forget him. Robinson can't forget him either. "Gammon made such an impression on me that I didn't know if I could get him out of my mind and do the part. When I read the first two acts, I felt Gammon had the lock on, there was no chance. But we're playing a couple who married and had their children young, which makes a certain difference. And in the third act, well, I felt there was something I could do. That's where the father has a rebirth and opens up to the possibilities of living a life again, of going back to the family--even though it's too late. There's such a vulnerability there. I thought that that's the kind of thing I could bring something to. You don't want to be known as a specialty actor."

The peripatetic Padua Hills Playwrights Festival opens its ninth season Thursday, this time at Loyola Marymount University. The two-program session starts with Part A (which also plays Aug. 2, 8, 10, 14, and 16) and consists of Martin Epstein's "How Gertrude Stormed the Philosopher's Club," Murray Mednick's "Zohar" (the title of a cabalistic book); and a new untitled work by Maria Irene Fornes.

Program B (Aug. 1, 3, 7, 9, 15, 16, 17) consists of "True Beauties," Julie Hebert's 60-year overview of the lives and after-lives of a Bayou family; a new untitled work by John Steppling; John O'Keefe's "The Magician" and Marlane G. Meyer's "Kingfish."

The festival begins at 7 p.m. with student readings (except for Aug. 16), and has a dinner break ($8 for catered food, or else bring your own, picnic-style). The Aug. 16 performance is a gala festival where all the plays, and additional new works, can be seen in one night. Tickets for that performance are $100 and reservations are a must.

The South Coast Repertory has announced its coming season, whose Mainstage schedule begins Sept. 9 with Keith Reddin's "Highest Standard of Living," directed by David Emmes. Tad Mosel's "All the Way Home" follows, with Martin Benson directing. Craig Lucas' "Three Postcards" follows that (with music and lyrics by Craig Cornelia, with Norman Rene directing) on Jan. 6.

Edward Payson Call directs "Romeo and Juliet," which opens Feb. 24. Arthur Giron's "Charley Bacon and His Family" opens April 7, directed by Martin Benson (this play came out of the SCR's recent Hispanic Writers Project). Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing" closes out the Mainstage season May 19.

On the Second Stage, Caryl Churchill's "Cloud 9" opens Sept. 26, directed by Jules Aaron. Lisa Loomer's "Birds," (also a Hispanic Writers Project work) opens Nov. 7. Martin Benson directs Sam Shepard's "Fool for Love," opening Jan. 23. David Emmes directs the world premiere (commissioned by the SCR) of Neal Bell's "Cold Sweat," opening March 13. The last play in the series hasn't been determined.

Other openings for the week include: Today, "Brothers" at the Gnu and "Burke Byrnes, America's Finest" at the Boyd St. Theater; Thursday, "Plato's Symposium" at the Powerhouse and "The Most Happy Fella' " at the Santa Barbara Repertory; Friday, "My Jewish Vampire" at the Wilshire Ebell, "Under Fire" at the Harman Alley Theatre, "Sand Castles" at the Fig Tree and "Porch" at the Stable Theatre; Saturday, "Microtheater for the Digital" at the Galaxy and "Hollywood Summerstock" at St. Ambrose Genesius Society.

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