New adaptations of old works seem to be the order of the week in local theater. First comes "June Second" (just-opened at the Landmark Theatre at the First Methodist Church in Hollywood), an adaptation--by Anthony Grumbach and D. Paull Yeuell--of the second chapter of William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury."
"It's probably the novel for which Faulkner got the most attention, but it's not very well read," said Yeuell, a former American Conservatory Theatre member/teacher who's also directing. "There's a reason for that: It's difficult. Four different chapters told from four different points of view--one of them an idiot's--and it jumps all over time and space. In those days, it was a very novel way of telling a story, and Faulkner had quite a jazzy approach.
"The book tells the story of a Southern family in 1909-10, and their four children--centering on the oldest son, Quentin Compson. Quentin is in love with his sister, Caddy, and wants to protect her from other men, save her virginity. So there's incest, revenge, a family struggling to stay together. . . . The psychological arena is very fruitful ground. It's closest, I think, to Expressionism: The action is formed by the character's psyche, not by chronological storytelling."
Also fruitful is the grand scope of the piece, partially reflected by its cast size: 34 characters, played here by 10 quick-changing actors. "We (skirted) around doing this for a long time, but it seemed too ambitious, too big a chunk (to bite off)," Yeuell said. "Finally we just said, 'Heck, let's go for it.' "
The other adaptation is Philip Barry's comedy "In a Garden" (book by Norman Cohen, lyrics and music by Aminadav Aloni), opening Thursday, under Cohen's direction, at Room for Theatre.
"It all came about because Philip Barry Jr. is a friend of this theater," said Cohen, who's just back from restaging "A Woman of Independent Means"--this time in San Diego. "I'd done a Barry play, 'Philadelphia Story,' at the Callboard a few years back, and this theater had done 'Holiday.' One day, Barry came to them and said, 'Why don't you do a musical of one of my father's works?' There was talk about 'Animal Kingdom,' 'Hotel Universe.' Then one day, I said, 'Philip, what's "In a Garden"?' "
"Garden," which played Broadway in 1925 with Laurette Taylor, is the story of two writers (here, songwriters): Adrian, played by Rick Lenz, and his partner Roger, played by Billy Barnes, in his first Equity Waiver appearance. Adrian wants to retire to the country with his wife, Lissa. Roger, feeling abandoned, lashes out and tells him Lissa had an affair before their marriage. Adrian decides to test her love . . . in the garden.
"Without updating, we've got a much more modern feel," Cohen said. "Also, I'm so proud to have Billy Barnes. And it's really the first time I've ever done my own thing--because primarily I'm a director who writes, not a writer who directs. But I like it so much, I'll probably do it again."
LATE CUES: On Friday, Doug Holsclaw's award-winning "Life of the Party" opens at the Celebration Theatre. . . . Also on Friday, performance artist Liebe Gray presents "Natural History: Telling About the Unknown Animals" at the Woman's Building. . . . Friday, too, marks the premiere of Dura Temple's "God's Blind Eye" (winner of the 21st Street Theatre Company's 1987 Playwrights Competition) at the theater.
Tow one-acts, Stephanie Satie's "Duse, Heartburn and Me" and J.D. Hall's "Jubie," have their world premiere Monday at Theatre 40. . . . On Thursday, the Back Alley's "Jacques Brel" reopens . . . And today, the Grove Theatre Company hosts its annual Wine Testing Benefit at the Mills House Galley and Courtyard. Information: (714) 636-7213.
CRITICAL CROSSFIRE: The Harold Prince staging of "Roza," the Julian More/Gilbert Becaud musical about a French heart-of-gold ex-prostitute and her relationship with Momo, an Arab teen-ager, opened at the Mark Taper Forum to mixed reviews.
Said Dan Sullivan in The Times: "Inside 'Roza,' there's an interesting musical trying to get out. Or perhaps it's trying to lie low . . . When (Georgia) Brown is on, 'Roza' makes a brave if rather synthetic try at being a toast to survival, on whatever terms--'Zorba' in a housecoat, if you will."
In the Herald-Examiner, a disappointed Michael Lassell dubbed the piece "thoroughly banal, relentlessly obnoxious and, in these days of poverty consciousness, grotesquely overproduced. The effect of 'Roza' on anyone who happens to love 'Madame Rosa,' the 1977 Academy Award-winning film . . . is akin to spending eternity listening to a broken bottle being dragged across a blackboard."