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STAGE WEEK

A Long Conversation . . .

March 22, 1987|JANICE ARKATOV

For a production that was only supposed to run four nights, Ray Stricklyn is doing pretty well.

His "Confessions of a Nightingale" (a conversation with Tennessee Williams, largely gleaned from the playwright's interview with Charlotte Chandler) opened locally on Jan. 4, 1985--and is still going strong. Last year, after 101 performances at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, Stricklyn embarked on a national tour which brings him to the Pasadena Playhouse, beginning Tuesday.

"The whole experience has been extraordinary--and it's getting better," noted the actor. "The (original) response was certainly unexpected; we hadn't even planned to have it reviewed. But the critics showed up, wrote about it, and it just kept going. In New York last September we played for eight weeks. But it was really the Time magazine review that catapulted the show to a national level. I'd always known that Time had power, but not that much. . . ."

As for his own power, "It is exhausting to do," he conceded. "I don't like doing four performances back-to-back." But does Stricklyn ever just get plain tired of the role?

"Talk to me six months from now," he said. "I haven't gotten that way yet. The flush of newborn success is still with me. And just being a working actor (for many years, Stricklyn toiled as a local publicist) is a shot of adrenaline. Not to mention my salary, which has tripled--all the way from nothing at the Beverly Hills Playhouse."

He described the show as "an intimate visit with the playwright. (Audiences) learn about his survival, his guilt, his pain. It's certainly not the definitive statement on Williams' life; it wasn't designed that way. But what's really flattering is people coming backstage and saying that this makes them want to re-read his work--or young people who say they want to start reading him."

Also flattering, Stricklyn adds, has been his onstage reception. "In Cleveland, they literally wouldn't let me get off the stage. Finally I yelled, 'I love Cleveland!' And they yelled back, 'We love you !' That was kind of the high point for my ego as an actor."

Those who caught Fred Pinkard's "Thurgood Marshall--Justice" when he performed a snippet of it during January's "An Anthem to Black Artistry," are in for a bigger treat: this week the full, formal production opens at the Ensemble Studio Theatre.

"Thurgood Marshall comes onstage in his Supreme Court garb, then takes off his robes and begins to talk about his life," offered the actor (whose TV credits include "The Cosby Show," "Roots II" and "Hill Street Blues"). The story begins in his youth, following Marshall through his years at Howard Law School, and in 1962, his appointment by President Kennedy as a federal judge.

"Then he says, 'Six years later, Lyndon Johnson sent me to the Supreme Court, where I'm still doing time,' " added Pinkard, quoting from the show. "Near the end, he talks about the (growing) threat to the Supreme Court, what happens when the executive branch takes power away from the judicial. And he reminds the audience, 'Stay in the fight.' " (Marshall himself has vowed to remain on the court "until the next administration, because he doesn't want a conservative judge to take his place.")

The actor's motivation for undertaking the piece?

"I felt (Marshall) was fit for the American people to know about," he said. "Also I wanted to tell something that was entertaining--and had a degree of pride. In this business, there aren't a lot of those roles. So I did it also to save my sanity. But as I got into it, I found we had a lot of things in common. Marshall's father was a waiter; I have waiters in my family. His mother was a teacher; my aunts were teachers. I know that middle-class life he came from."

And what he doesn't know, Pinkard (who previously toured another one-man show, "Lift Every Voice," for eight years) has made up for in homework: "It took me from 1979-82 to research all of this," he said cheerfully. "I went to libraries--in New York, Minneapolis and L.A., read court cases, the Congressional Record. I went to the library so much that people thought I worked there."

Also new this week is "Waiting" at the Carpet Company Stage, a group-composed "offbeat drama" (by Lee Garlington, Laura Hinton, Kathy Miller, Anne Elizabeth Ramsay, Jane Sibbett, Valerie Spencer and Dana Stevens) about five waitresses saying goodby to each other on New Year's Eve.

"It all started when I was a 29-year old freshman at UCLA," explained Garlington, who's directing. "I was in a class, an acting continuum, with a group of women, most of whom were younger than I. After that, I went up to San Francisco to do 'Bluefish Cove' (a role she originated at the Fountain in 1983), but they stayed together, and a year ago, they began working on this play. I decided to direct it last December, and since then, we've done nothing but write and rewrite and write and rewrite.

"We're taking chances," added the director, who staged last year's "Panic in Griffith Park" at the Court Theatre. "The play is risky, black, absurd--it's out there. I've already written the reviews in my mind; they always say, 'Uneven.' And it is . When it works, it's incredible. When it doesn't, it's glaring."

Garlington (whose performing credits include both of the recent "Psycho" sequels) was also taking time off last week to shoot a coming episode of "L.A. Law," in which she says delicately, "I play a baby killer. . . . What's really nice now is that I can make a living in acting--which allows me to do things that I want in Equity Waiver theater. But one thing's changed. Acting in Waiver used to be my passion. Now it's directing."

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