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STAGE WEEK

Czeching In To America

September 27, 1987|JANICE ARKATOV

East meets West and has a hard time of it in Richard Nelson's new drama, "Between East and West," just opened at the Callboard Theatre.

"It's about two Czech emigres arriving in New York in 1983," said the playwright. "He's a stage/film director in his mid-50s, she an actress in her early 50s. So it's about them in America, dealing with that. She has a very difficult time finding work here. He can work, but not at the level he had before.

"It's also about displacement--anybody who's ever moved has felt that. And a relationship goes through a lot of tension in any move, especially if it's for one person's career. It's also about the displacement many people feel in a world where there are two superpowers and everyone else is pawns on a chessboard, people not in control of their own fate.

"It's also a love story. And it's about America and about art in America: watching an artist try to make it--and about culture. But mostly it's about two people trying to survive in a new place."

Nelson (whose plays include "Return of Pinocchio," "Vienna Notes," "An American Comedy" and the translation of Dario Fo's "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" that played Broadway) said he has "a tremendous amount of Eastern-European friends, so it's a lot about their lives. The Czech (element) is important in the sense that both these people, artists, lived in a period of great thaw.

"They had hopes, felt the opening, the freedom; it's hard to give that up again. Czechs of that age have a certain longing for the West--and at the same time, a love of their own country and anger/disappointment at what's happened there since 1968. So it's not specifically a political play, though it certainly does deal with that political-social framework."

"Between East and West" features Richard Green and Soviet actress Larisa Eryomina, and is staged by Czech director Pavel Cerny. As companion pieces, Cerny will also stage two Czech one-acts, Ladislav Smocek's "A Lovely Place for a Picnic" and "Labyrinth," opening next Sunday at the theater.

It's a busy time at Theatre/Teatro. On Oct. 6 the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts' co-founder Carmen Zapata and Ivonne Coll embark on a six-week tour of Emillio Carballido's "Orinoco" (on the "comic misadventures of two faded showgirls"), which Zapata played at BFA's Theatre/Teatro in 1986. On Oct. 12, their children's group, Teatro Para Los Ninos, also begins a tour--of the Los Angeles City School District--in "Young Montezuma." And Wednesday marks the opening of Juan Rulfo's "Pedro Paramo," adapted and mounted by Mexican director Roberto Ramirez.

"It was originally a novel," said Zapata of the work (reincarnated in the '60s as a Spanish-language film starring John Gavin). "It's the story of a young man who goes in search of his father, Pedro Paramo, to a little town called Comala--where he encounters the ghosts of the people who lived there before. There are 30 characters in the story. It's magical, mystical, full of imagination, ghosts, mystery--and passion. You see, the father was quite a womanizer."

Danny De La Paz plays the young man. English-language performances will run Wednesday-Nov. 19; the Spanish-language version plays Friday-Nov. 22.

LATE CUES: Arriving Thursday at the Groundlings Theatre is Melanie Graham's "Just Like the Pom Pom Girls," which asks (and hopefully answers) the burning question, "How far will an ex-chorus girl go to find love, happiness and a peach-colored sofa in the pit of Hollywood?" William Schreiner directs. . . . Next Sunday a fund-raising/book-signing party will be at the First Stage, First Methodist Church, celebrating the publication of Peter Hay's "Theatrical Anecdotes." Information: (213) 850-6271.

CRITICAL CROSSFIRE: "Italian American Reconciliation," the newest play by New Yorker John Patrick Shanley ("Danny and the Deep Blue Sea," "Savage in Limbo"), opened recently at the Gnu Theatre in North Hollywood.

The Times' Dan Sullivan liked the acting ensemble--especially Joe Pantoliano, Patti D'Arbanville and Nichelle Nichols, noting that "Hostility between the sexes is true to the environment of the play and it pays off in theatrical terms. Elsewhere, 'Italian American Reconciliation' too often suggests a self-struck tenor practicing scales--great, but not a lot happening."

From the Herald Examiner's Richard Stayton: "The first-rate cast is intensely committed to making this work, and the production has been well endowed. And yet the fruit of these labors of love is an overwrought, contrived, indulgent, self-serving and dubious 'Reconciliation' . . . Shanley is a playwright with a macho soul and a romantic heart; he is at his best exploring more abstract themes, as he did with personal growth in 'Savage in Limbo' (now in a superb production at the Cast). But this time Shanley has lost his delicate balance of romance and realism."

The Daily News' Tom Jacobs grumbled a bit over the writer's dramatic "excesses," yet concluded that the material's "emotions run so deep, and seem so real, that the play can't help but communicate. Shanley is unafraid to dig down inside himself and reveal his hopes and fears. He tackles the big issues of life and love and commitment in a way that makes most other playwrights' works seem superficial by comparison."

Kathleen O'Steen, in Daily Variety, was likewise engaged, tagging the comedy/drama "a piece from the heart, touching on such wholly confusing subjects as life, love and divorce. While the piece sometimes borders on verbosity, it is nonetheless an oddly endearing testimony to such emotional trials, thanks to Shanley's keen perception and a top-notch cast."

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