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The More the Merrier for Fringe Festival; 'Hunting Cockroaches' Picked for Taper

June 25, 1987|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

Catch-as-catch-can is the byword for all fringe festivals and, judging from Wednesday's announcement by Fringe Festival/Los Angeles organizers (see related story on Page 1), the Los Angeles Fringe will be no exception. That's good and bad.

All it takes to join is a fee ($100-$250), no questions asked. The more the merrier. And while a massive 125 theater events are listed (the closest other discipline is visual arts with 40), not everyone has an agenda. "To-be-announced" is the most popular play.

Less than 20 producing companies of ongoing status are involved: Actors Alley, the Back Alley, the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, the Cast, Company of Angels, Crossroads Arts Academy, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Found Theatre, Grove Company, Groundlings, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Pasadena Playhouse, Second Stage, Theatre 40, Stages, 21st Street Theatre, Victory Theatre and the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum.

Two thirds of these have announced shows, among them the Los Angeles premiere of Hugh Whitemore's "A Pack of Lies" (Theatre 40) and more of Eduardo Pavlovsky at Stages.

The Johnny-come-latelys may lack track records, but not humor, calling themselves such things as Out of Nowhere, Public Nuisance, the Reduced Shakespeare, the Rough Theatre, Spontaneous Combustion and Up in the Air.

Pranks or prophecies?

A gay and lesbian group, masterminded by Michael Kearns and planning no fewer than 17 events (including an original musical entitled "Pulp and Circumstance" and based on lesbian pulp novels of the '50s), calls itself Purple Stages.

Apt? Yes. Clever? Sure. Good? There's the rub. There's no money involved (Fringe participants just get a festival listing) and no quality control. It's a seller's market, so buyer beware. The fringe takes all comers and some things will sound a lot better than they'll be.

Yet if it's just one big party, why are some people staying away?

"It's not practical for me," said Susan Loewenberg of L.A. Theatre Works, producer of "Bouncers."

"I won't have a show then ("Bouncers" will have moved to New York). But given the situation in L.A. and the difficulty of attracting audiences, I'm concerned that fringe activity will have a hard time claiming its public."

"I don't have an opinion," said Joe Stern of Actors for Themselves at the Matrix, which opens a revival of Charles Gordone's "No Place to Be Somebody" July 17. "I didn't understand it. It wouldn't be bad to get on the composite listing," he said, reevaluating. "I just couldn't commit to running in September, but now I can. I may do it."

HUNTING PLAYS: It was a tossup between George C. Wolfe's "The Colored Museum" and Janusz Glowacki's "Hunting Cockroaches" for the second slot in the Mark Taper Forum's 1987-88 season, but negotiations are over.

The "Cockroaches" win.

Aside from its inspired title, this is an unsettling comedy about the culture shock and emotional displacement of two Polish emigres , an actress and her writer husband, trying to make it in Manhattan.

Tony award-winner Swoosie Kurtz (seen last month in the American Playhouse presentation of "The House of Blue Leaves") will create the role of Anka, insomniac wife of Jan, suffering from immigrant writer's block. (No one has been set for Jan.)

Arthur Penn, who staged "Cockroaches" for the Manhattan Theatre Club last February, directs it here for a Nov. 1 to Dec. 13 run.

NEVER SAY DIE: The Padua Hills Festival, which last week lost its Chapman College venue over a misunderstanding about arrangements, refuses to call it quits.

It had immediately announced it would present four plays at the downtown Boyd St. Theatre and probably cancel the student workshop part of the event.

Scrap that. The latest plan is for a limited workshop (July 13-24) and six plays (July 30-Aug. 4) at the Boyd. These include John Steppling's "Euripides' Children of Heracles," John O'Keefe's "Osiris," Julie Hebert's "In the Privacy of Strangers" and pieces by Kelly Feeney, Kathy Hemingway Jones and Susan Champagne.

"At the moment we have about 15 writing students and five or six acting students," said festival associate Steppling. As for the housing problem, "Most of the students who remain are from Los Angeles. People also have donated rooms."

There have been casualties, however. Stalwarts Maria Irene Fornes, Jon Robin Baitz, Michael Monroe, Leon Martell and Martin Epstein have dropped out.

"We've gone through a lot of self-evaluation and soul-searching about what it is we're doing and why," Steppling said. "I think we'll achieve what we set out to do. One constant has been that it's a place where there's no pressure, a place to experiment. The play I'm doing, I couldn't take to the Taper or the Los Angeles Theatre Center or any place else. Not yet."

It's clear what the playwrights get out of this, but the students?

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