The La Jolla Playhouse, which has been making a name for itself largely on the strength of its innovations, has announced a fifth season that may astonish many.
With one exception, artistic director Des McAnuff has planned a summer of wall-to-wall classics--ancient and modern, American and not--whose greater surprises come in the artists he's chosen to involve.
While one wouldn't call this the year of living dangerously at La Jolla, the season does begin with--ready for this?--Linda Hunt as Dolly Levi in a revival of Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker." It will be staged by McAnuff from May 31 to June 27 at the Mandell Weiss Center on the UC San Diego campus, where the company is headquartered.
A new "Hedda Gabler" adapted by Gerry Bamman, to be directed by playwright Emily Mann and feature Mary McDonnell, follows July 5 to Aug. 1 at the Warren Theatre--while the season's only new play, the West Coast premiere of Lee Blessing's "A Walk in the Woods" (not to be confused with the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine "Into the Woods" that played San Diego's Old Globe in December) will play the Mandell Weiss Center July 19 to Aug. 15.
McAnuff is directing this examination of the relationship between a U.S. and a Soviet arms negotiator for a Feb. 20 opening at Yale. He'll restage it for La Jolla.
Completing the season will be Mark Lamos directing the Richard Wilbur translation of Moliere's "School for Wives" (Aug. 16 to Sept. 12 at the Warren Theatre) and Robert Woodruff staging "The Tempest" (Aug. 30 to Sept. 26 at the Mandell Weiss Center).
Woodruff directed last season's "Figaro Gets a Divorce" and the previous season's "A Man's a Man." As for Lamos, now artistic director of the Hartford Stage Company, "School for Wives" will mark his return to California since the series of superb Shakespeares he mounted for the now-gone California Shakespearean Festival in Visalia, 1979-80.
"It's our revisionist classic season," McAnuff deadpanned from New York, where he's rehearsing Blessing's "Woods." "As an American artist I feel I've been neglectful of classic drama. It's a rap that's been directed at my generation and it's legitimate. You go to Europe and you see young directors doing Pirandello, Moliere.
"The way we choose a season," he said, "is to go to the artists we're excited about and ask them what their passions and interests are. Mark (Lamos) and Emily (Mann) are two people we've been trying to hook for a long time. We still have Garland Wright and Joanne Akalaitis to go.
"Emily has a real interest in Ibsen. Her 'A Doll House' at the Hartford Stage (with McDonnell and Lamos last December) was very strong. We have a new version of the play and Mary's an actress who interests me a lot."
As for the rest, "We started talking with Linda Hunt about 'The Matchmaker' two years ago and we've been discussing a Shakespeare with Bob (Woodruff) since 1984. For various reasons, it all became possible only this year."
THE RUMOR MILL: Word has it that artistic director Gordon Davidson is seriously considering bringing the Hal Prince production of "Rosa," the musical that just ended its run at Baltimore's Center Stage, to his Mark Taper Forum.
"I flew in to see it," Davidson said, acknowledging his interest in this musical based on the novel by Romain Gary about an aging hooker (played by Georgia Brown) who runs a home for the children of other hookers. Music is by Gilbert Becaud and book and lyrics by Julian More. (It was also the subject of a splendid movie starring the late Simone Signoret.)
"I was anxious to see the work," Davidson said, "and I want to help it on its journey. It's still in development but it has great strengths. We may bring it but I don't know when. I am talking with Hal and the Producer's Circle."
NEDERLANDER NEWS: A year after failing to deliver the last one, the Nederlanders are announcing a Playgoers Series.
On the agenda this time are Esther Rolle in Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun" (Wilshire Theatre, April 1 for four weeks); Jean Stapleton and Marion Ross in "Arsenic and Old Lace" (Wilshire, April 29 for a limited engagement), and Judd Hirsch and Cleavon Little in Herb Gardner's previously announced "I'm Not Rappaport" (Henry Fonda Theatre, June 3 for four weeks). Subscriptions go on sale Saturday.
Meanwhile, that mesmerizing exploration of the history of one of the hottest of social dance forms, "Tango Argentino," is returning to the Pantages March 10-29. "Argentino" was a major hit at the Pantages earlier this year, extending its run there twice.
NITE CLUB STAND-OFF: Jim Bailey's manager, Keith Lawrence, has reported that he had to go to small claims court to collect the final moneys owed female impersonator Bailey by the producers of "Nite Club Confidential." (Bailey played Kay Goodman in the final weeks of the run at the Tiffany.) Lawrence and producers Steve Gideon and T. Harding Jones had different opinions as to who owed what to whom and how much.
"Jim was owed his salary, plus 30% of the gross," Lawrence said. Jones does not disagree, but contends the difference was over what constituted the totality of that gross and over a disputed rehearsal bonus of $750.
"When we negotiated the contract," Jones said, "we included a rehearsal bonus that would be due in the sixth regular performance week. We closed in the fifth. It's a point you can disagree about. The judge did not agree with us."
Lawrence was awarded $993.57. Jones said he and Gideon plan to appeal the decision.
Meanwhile, "Nite Club" expects to open Feb. 10 at Boston's Next Move Theatre with yet another Kay Goodman: Laura Kenyon. From there the show hopes to travel to Broadway "if," said Jones, "we can pull the money together."
CODA: Mrs. Ira Gershwin and Citicorp will be honored at a luncheon Friday as Patrons of the Year by Al's National Theatre.