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STAGE WEEK

Shaw's 'Misalliance' At South Coast

September 13, 1987|JANICE ARKATOV

"Sure it's daunting," said South Coast Repertory artistic co-director Martin Benson of the prospect of staging George Bernard Shaw's "Misalliance" (just-opened on the theater's main stage). "But there's also the security of knowing no matter what I do to it, the play will endure.

"There's the sense with this that Shaw is having more fun with his writing: If he wants to bring in a new character--fine, he has her crashing through a greenhouse. As the title says, there are all sorts of misalliances: between youth and old age, men and women, the aristocracy and the middle class, philanthropy and public service, freedom of will and conventionality, action and talk. He even sends himself up: there's a line about 'people's plays that read well, but don't act well.' "

In spite of Shaw's acerbic view, Benson said, "he never stacks the deck. Each character gets his own inning, a chance to air--with plausibility--his argument. And the ideas are profound, yet there's such a spirit of fun. Of course, staging it is very tricky. There are nine people on stage, all pressing their own points of view. You have to balance it so all the arguments get a fair airing. In some cases, that means submerging my own prejudices."

Such as? "Well, when I first read the play in college 30 years ago, my sympathies were very much with the younger characters. Now they're more with the older ones."

And speaking of older folks: 12 seniors, 65 to 85, return to their show business roots in Mel Tolkin's "Ode to a Bit Player," opening Thursday at L.A. City College's Camino Theater (an Ensemble Studio Theatre entry in the Fringe Festival).

"These people are vaudevillians, singers, dancers; some were headliners, some were chorus people," said producer Wendy Robbins. "One of them has five gold records and a star on Hollywood Boulevard. Then there's Ginger, who's 82 and still stripping. . . . So it's a blend of entertainment, stories--of the '20s, '30s and '40s--and working into who they are today: (their motto being) 'Don't give up the fight.' "

While auditioning for this project, Robbins interviewed each of the performers for two hours on videotape, which she plans to edit into a "senior citizens' 'Chorus Line' " documentary for public television.

"The documentary will be a lot darker, more real," she said. "In that, their life stories come out: the pain, the lows, living on Social Security, what it's like to still be working in this industry. The theatrical production has all of that, but it also has performances, it's fun. This town is so youth-oriented; hopefully this is going to break that. Some of these ladies--well, you've never seen better legs."

CRITICAL CROSS FIRE: John Patrick Shanley's "Savage in Limbo"--about a group of 32-year-olds sorting out their claustrophobic lives in a Bronx bar--opened at the Cast (where it plays through Sept. 27) to multiple thumbs-up.

Noted the Herald-Examiner's Richard Stayton: "Shanley's aptly defined 'concert play' is a tone poem of alienation, stunningly acted by a quintet of gifted performers and directed with savage irony by Roxanne Rogers. Shanley is a major player in the experimental theater scene, capable of linking comedy to pathos with acrobatic language that keeps your ears poised for the next existential zinger. Call his style 'slapstick anguish.' "

Said F. Kathleen Foley in Drama-Logue: "Shanley's characters are all wise-quacking odd ducks, have no doubts about that. They're also endearing--don't doubt that either. They're a disparate group but they have a lot in common: all are (exactly) 32 years old; all are displaced persons, mainstream American refugees of sorts riddled with fears about branching out on their own and establishing happy, independent existences."

From Sylvie Drake in Calendar: "John Patrick Shanley is an American Gorky. The lower depths are his warm swimming pool. There is nothing he understands better than desperation, no one he writes better about than the beaten-down. Denise Savage (Laurie O'Brien) is his 'Savage in Limbo,' the central figure in a frequently funny and surrealist metaphor."

From Ed Kaufman in the Hollywood Reporter: "Credit Roxanne Rogers with the sensitive direction and Lee Wilkof and Betsy Slade with some first rate-portrayals. Elizabeth Ruscio and Laurie O'Brien are wonderful and convincing as Linda and (Denise), a couple of lost characters searching for some sort of emotional fix in a world that's without rhyme or reason."

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