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Casale Likes His Theater At Fast Pace

February 17, 1987|JANICE ARKATOV

While other directors are pining away for work, Glenn Casale has his hands full. Currently, he's represented with "Anyone Can Whistle" at the Dupree Studio Theatre, "Circle of Will" at the Zephyr and, opening Wednesday, "Strange Snow" at the La Mirada Civic (where he also staged the recently departed "Noises Off").

"But this is just happening," the New York-born director protested happily. "I've been directing for 15 years--four years out here--and only recently have I been able to do this and no other jobs. I don't have an agent, so I have to do my own hunting around for work. I send out resumes every day. And even with all these plays, you're always worrying about the next one. On opening night, you're already thinking, 'OK, now what?' "

It's a pace that the 36-year-old director has clearly perfected over the years in more than 150 productions, many of them assembled in one-show-per-week summer stock. (He boasts of once staging "Oliver!" in four days.)

All of which has served Casale well in "Whistle," the bright and sassy Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents 1964 musical boasting an inventive score and themes of love, insanity, government corruption, race, women's roles and nuclear armament--all with 36 players on a converted dance studio stage.

"I use the organic method of directing, which I learned (in graduate studies) at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas," Casale explained. "So first I sat down with the six leads, talked with them about concept, themes. Then I went back, got the whole company together and talked to each one of them, because when I'm doing a musical I don't believe in the term chorus --I remember how they used to treat me when I was in the chorus. So I had each person develop his or her own history to play off of. It keeps everyone interested and involved."

Ironically, much of the humanism that Casale now brings to his stage work was nurtured during his early teaching experiences in a drug rehabilitation program for teen-agers in New York.

"It taught me that each person has their own way of dealing, of training, of approaching the material," he said. "My job is to get the best out of each actor--but always within their own way of working.

"For instance, getting Kathryn (Grayson in "Noises Off") comfortable was not easy. She hasn't been trained in this craziness and was very unsure of herself. So she'd find a little bit that was funny--then she'd pull back. And I'd say, 'Good, Kathryn, good. Now let's try it again. Bigger.' Whereas with the other actors, I could say, ' No, you should know better.' So it's finding the buttons to push in each actor."

Often, his own work requires some equally careful button-pushing. Last year he directed revivals of "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Children of a Lesser God" at La Mirada--and very deliberately avoided seeing other versions of the works. He's done the same again now with "Strange Snow," which had a recent run at the Coast Playhouse: "If I saw Brian Kerwin, whom everyone said was fabulous, I'm afraid I'd be tempted to enforce some of what I saw. And I don't want to do that."

One remedy is working with playwrights on original material, which Casale has done twice: on Bill Cakmis and Jack Grapes' ongoing "Circle of Will" and, last year, on Bill C. Davis' "Wrestlers." (Casale is currently shopping for a local producer for Davis' newest play, "Spine.") He's also just written his first screenplay, "The Whistle," inspired by the ominous escape warnings--from a local prison for the criminally insane--which routinely sounded during his childhood in Beacon, N.Y.

And, of course, he's also got his eye on television directing.

"Unlike everyone else, I like the three-camera sitcom (format)," he noted. "So I'm really hoping for this transition into TV. But I'd never leave theater completely--never. Doing TV would give me the financial support to do the stage projects that I want to do. And I don't ever want to have to go back to waiting tables in the Valley."

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