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Publicity Keeps 'Dream' Alive--for Now; Taper, Ahmanson Director on Sabbatical

October 29, 1987|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

Give a show a little negative attention and look what happens.

When Ray Loynd sounded the alarm in last week's Stage Watch about plummeting attendance at Los Angeles theaters, one production at least--a "Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Westwood Playhouse, set to close last Sunday for lack of funds and audiences--found just the attention it needed.

Actress Karen Grassle came forward and offered Actsport Productions ("Dream's" producer) the $26,000 it required to post a two-week bond with Actors' Equity.

The television media (in the person of ABC's Gary Franklin) gave the Dr.Seuss-inspired staging a flurry of favorable attention.

Best of all, audiences began showing up at the door. The result? The colorful, comical "Dream" has been extended through Nov. 8.

The climate remains guarded, however. "We're going week to week," said Actsport's George LePorte. Last week, box-office sales doubled to about $16,000 after the negative/positive publicity and, LePorte says, it's picking up again:

"Franklin gave us another wonderful plug Monday on the (KABC-TV) 5 o'clock news."

(That's in addition to Franklin's admirable radio acknowledgement Friday that theater wasn't covered enough on television because this is such a film-industry town--and in addition to his upbeat reviews of "The Gospel Truth" and "Dream" that same night on KABC-TV's 11 o'clock news.)

"We need $35,000 weekly to break even," LePorte added. "If we can double last week's take. . . ."

If. Meanwhile, Grassle invited a number of Hollywood stars and celebrities to attend Wednesday's performance of "Dream."

To stir up community interest? Make friends? Find backers?

"We should get a lot of indicators from that about where we're headed," LePorte said cryptically. "We've also considered the possibility of moving to a non-union house to reduce costs, though the actors would still be paid an Equity salary," he added quickly.

Fundamentally, though, time and money still press. Actsport must decide this week if and where the "Dream" will go on. So if you haven't seen the show, you have 10 days. What happens beyond that is still anybody's guess.

THE RUMOR MILL: Denying rumors that he might be resigning as executive managing director of the Center Theatre Group Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson, William Wingate said Tuesday that he'll be taking a six-month sabbatical beginning Jan. 1.

"It's my first sabbatical in 18 years," Wingate said, "and it was negotiated 3 1/2 years ago. So it's not a recent decision. I just had done nothing about taking the time off."

Wingate and his wife Anne are building a house. They plan a visit to Asia and he hopes to intensify the voice training he's been pursuing for well over a year.

"I can't wait," he said.

So no resignation in sight?

"Not unless something happens during my sabbatical," he replied.

And no replacement either.

"The things I do will be redistributed among the managers of both theaters (Stephen Albert at the Taper, Ellen Fay and Drew Murphy at the Ahmanson) and CTG's chief financial officer (Faith Raiguel). They're very strong."

SWITCHEROO: Speaking of the Taper, George C. Wolfe's "The Colored Museum," will replace August Wilson's previously announced "The Piano Lesson" at the Mark Taper Forum, due to scheduling conflicts for Wilson and director Lloyd Richards.

Wolfe's sendup of black stereotypes and pop culture, which was a hot ticket at New York's Public Theatre last year, will run May 5-June 19 as the fifth production of the Taper's 21st season. L. Kenneth Richardson will direct.

AND TAPER TOO: If you have to save money and are going for a three-event season of one person shows, the only thing to do is to go for the top. Joseph Chaikin, Spalding Gray and David Cale are the featured artists in the Taper, Too's 1988 economy lineup.

Gray ("Swimming to Cambodia," "A Personal History of the American Theatre") launches the Taper, Too's limited season with a two-part program. The first is "L.A. The Other, Conversations With . . ." yet another of his highly individual interview shows, during which he'll talk with members of the community. (It plays Jan. 6-17.) The second part, called "L.A. The Other, Building a Monologue" (Jan. 19-31), is a work-in-progress.

Cale, new to Los Angeles, comes next (Feb. 12 to March 6) with something called "The Redthroats," four tales tracking a man's coming of age in Britain and immigration to America. (The event is part of the UK/LA Festival that will be held Feb. 4 to April 28.)

Finally, Joseph Chaikin, who inspired last season's Jean-Claude van Itallie play at the Taper, "The Traveler," comes to Taper, Too with two monologues: van Itallie's "A Day in the Life" (commissioned by the Taper and again dwelling on the mysteries of the world rediscovered through the eyes of an aphasic) and "The War in Heaven," originally written by Chaikin with Sam Shepard as a radio play and dealing with human aspiration viewed through the character of an angel fallen to earth.

Hard shows for hard times.

HAVE AN AWARD: It was good news that the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP decided to separate its Theater Awards from the rest of its annual Image Awards for the first time this year.

It was bad news they--well, spoiled it by awarding too many.

Twenty-two productions shared a whopping 112 awards. When you spread it that thin, you tend to diminish the very excellence you want to recognize.

More food for thought: The awards were segregated as Equity, Equity Waiver and Specials. The first two are self-explanatory; the third is a catch-all, mostly to catch productions that played non-union houses larger than Waiver.

Why categorize at all? Excellence is excellence wherever you find it. And categorizing makes room for mistakes. "West Memphis Mojo," at Long Beach's International Theatre, a special show to be sure, was not a "special" as listed. It was an Equity Waiver show.

Well, piffle. Just as good a time will surely be had by all when the awards are presented at 8 p.m. Monday at UCLA's Royce Hall.

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