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Large Cast Lives Life Of Genius In 'Unified Field'

July 05, 1987|JANICE ARKATOV

On the heels of numerous one-man shows about Albert Einstein comes John Leone's "The Unified Field"--with 11 actors playing 64 roles. It opens Tuesday as a visiting production at the Los Angeles Theatre Center's Theatre 4.

"It's the life of Einstein," said Leone, who is also directing, "as performed by a group of mental patients (including Eduard Einstein, Albert's schizophrenic second son) in a Zurich neurological hospital in 1957." As for the large cast: "Einstein had this huge, paradigmatic, tragic life; he was present in every political and scientific event of the 20th Century in some way--from the creation of Israel, World Wars I and II, to the creation of the atomic bomb and television.

"Einstein has always been one of my heroes," Leone said, "one of the few thoroughly decent people in this world--let alone a fundamental genius who changed the course of the world." His own writing, which began four years ago at Harvard with an ode to Einstein in "verse rhapsody," now includes a full musical score (by Leone and John Charles) the style of which, Leone said, spans "Gilbert and Sullivan to Shoenberg."

As for the cerebral subject matter: "It's not hard to understand," he said. "You can say profound things to simple people--and these matters of the spirit are widely understood." In the cast: Jenny Agutter, Christopher Carroll, Jensen Collier, Dean Dittman, Tom Dugan, John Fleck, Michael D. Gainsborough, Banks Harper, Mel Johnson Jr., Allyson Rice and Deborah Van Valkenburgh.

Writer/director Reza Abdoh, who doesn't do anything anybody else's way (remember last year's "Rusty Sat on a Hill One Dawn and Watched the Moon Go Down"?), is back with an eclectic double bill: Sophocles' "King Oedipus" and the American premiere of Argentine playwright Copi's "Eva Peron," which will play in repertory at the Upstairs Theatre. ("Peron" opens Friday, "Oedipus" Saturday.)

"I'd always been moved by the 'Oedipus' trilogy," said Abdoh, "but I'd never found a good translation till now. Also, I'd seen a couple of unmoving, untouching productions. It was important to go back to Greek drama, the themes that are relevant to our chaotic times. That scope--and also that effervescence: the effervescence of institutions. (In Oedipus' world) nothing lasts, everything is fickle. Creation and destruction are continual."

Accordingly, "all the ornaments have been ripped away; the staging is stripped to the bone. Nothing is precious, sacred. Even the sacred isn't sacred. I wanted to capture that vitality--and fickleness of a hard world, not sappy and saggy. The characters wear colorful costumes (a South American influence from Abdoh's 1984 stay in Peru) and a lot of gold. But it has nothing to do with Greek costumes. No one is going to be wearing a sheet."

By contrast, " 'Eva Peron' is a meditation on avarice, greed, how far people are willing to go when what's at stake is money. It's what happens when the Imelda Marcoses of the world aren't in front of an audience or a camera; it (conjectures) that they'd react very crudely and manically, especially in moments of crisis. So it's an examination of (someone's) true nature, the demolition of media myths built around these people."

LATE CUES: Also new this week is Paul Howard Nicholas' "The Male Box," (opening Friday at the Wilshire Ebell), an urban drama set in the criminal courts. Nicholas, a former Terminal Island inmate, whose "The Far Other Side of a Very Thin Line," "Wolf Tickets" and "Made in USA" have been produced locally, premiered this work on Father's Day to an inmate audience at the prison.

The 17th annual Nosotros Golden Eagle Awards Banquet will be held July 17 at the Beverly Hilton. Nosotros founder Ricardo Montalban will host the event, with entertainment provided by Chita Rivera, Trio Calaveras and singer/composer Mark Allen Trujillo. Tickets are $150; (213) 465-4167.

CRITICAL CROSSFIRE: Herb Gardner's Tony-winning "I'm Not Rappaport," starring Judd Hirsch and Cleavon Little as sparring octogenarians, opened recently at the Henry Fonda Theatre.

Said The Times' Dan Sullivan: "Maybe Gardner doesn't want to get in too deep. As in sitcom, the play keeps walking up to the line, making clever observations and backing off. Sitcom sells, of course--audiences don't want to get in too deep either. 'Rappaport' has been running for three years. . . . Another director might make more of the play's dark aspect, but Daniel Sullivan keeps it from interfering with the evening's chief purpose, which is to be 'heartwarming and hilarious.' "

The Herald-Examiner's Richard Stayton had loved the previous production in San Francisco--but here came away with reservations: "On any given night, the same material can be brilliant or flat. But an examination of Gardner reveals a glib, remarkably agile comic writer. . . . This does not approach the wisdom of David Mamet's 'Duck Variations' or the tragedy of August Wilson's 'Fences,' but 'Rappaport' deserves and earns our admiration for its craftsmanship."

Said Kathy O'Steen in Daily Variety: "Hirsch won a Tony for his performance in this work and it's no wonder. He totally embodies Nat (down to the bent knees, the stooped shoulders, the nagging shake of his hands), struggling to maintain his independence in the face of threats from his daughter to put him in a home. . . . Little, too, has the heart and soul of this character down, even to the defiant smoking of a cigarette, making it as notable as Hirsch's performance."

From the Hollywood Reporter's Jay Reiner: "There are, in the lexicon of Broadway, two different kinds of schmaltz. The first is what we usually think of as mush. . . . The second kind of schmaltz is what Herb Gardner writes. Instead of sweet, we get bittersweet; instead of a happy ending, we get a faintly nostalgic, bloodied-but-still-unbowed resolution; and rather than reaching for the insulin, a sip of dry sherry (with a spritz of seltzer) is the nightcap of choice."

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