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Theatre Group's Link With Doolittle May End

July 30, 1986|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

High costs may be forcing the Music Center's Center Theatre Group and Gordon Davidson, artistic director of the CTG's Mark Taper Forum, to withdraw from their participation in the booking and management of the James A. Doolittle Theatre (formerly the Huntington Hartford).

Unconfirmed reports indicate that unless a new arrangement can be struck or new sources of revenue found, Davidson and the CTG may have to pull out of the Doolittle operation in Hollywood after less than a year. A board meeting of the Theatre Group Inc. has been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. today to map a strategy for the future. (The Theatre Group Inc. is the nonprofit corporation that owns and operates the Doolittle and was formed jointly by UCLA and Center Theatre Group in 1985.)

The Doolittle's first season was a distinguished but costly one, running somewhere around $1 million, according to reliable sources. They said that amount was more than had been anticipated.

Such stunning esoterica as Martha Clarke's "The Garden of Earthly Delights," which opened the season last October, and the Bob Telson/Lee Breuer "Gospel at Colonus" were artistic successes that proved disastrous at the box office. Costs for running the Doolittle have reportedly cut so deeply into Center Theatre Group coffers that the CTG cannot continue to sustain them.

Ironically, the Mark Taper Rep's inaugural tenancy at the Doolittle this spring (offering Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing" and Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler") was its strongest entry in its six-year history.

Davidson, who has been in charge of coordinating the programming for the Doolittle, would not comment on the current situation, though in an interview with The Times last September he had voiced concern that financing might prove to be the Theatre Group Inc.'s chief stumbling block.

"The Doolittle's main uses will be to bring things in, transfer hit shows and occasionally produce," he had said. "Our ability to produce will be hampered by funding."

A number of expensive shows that Davidson had hoped to bring to the Doolittle during its first season did not materialize. (These included "Sunday in the Park with George" and Robert Wilson's "Golden Windows.") Productions that came to the Doolittle, including the extraordinary Quintero/Robards "The Iceman Cometh," have all been artistically superior.

If the Center Theatre Group withdraws, unconfirmed reports suggest that programming for the Doolittle may revert to producer James A. Doolittle, former owner of the theater (for whom it was renamed).

"There is something of that kind (being discussed)," Doolittle acknowledged, "but you should talk to CTG or UCLA about it." (Under the present arrangement, Doolittle retains an option to book programming at the theater for a few weeks each year. He was responsible for the engagement of Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey's "A Woman of Independent Means" this year.)

UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young had not returned calls by press time.

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