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Turkey Time: Nederlanders Lead the Way

November 26, 1987|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

Gobble gobble. Cluck cluck. Here we are again--ready to give thanks on the one hand and pass out those sizzling annual Turkey Awards on the other.

The task, which despite the (lam)basting and roasting has always had its humorous side, is tougher this year. Theater has had a rough time. Except for the resurrection of the Pasadena Playhouse (largely by "Mail" order) and the better aspects of the Los Angeles International Festival (not everything in that was a winner), theatrical 1986-87, Thanksgiving to Thanksgiving, has been a lean, hungry, hard, scrappy, poor, shabby and gimmicky year.

On the Equity Waiver scene, the quantity went up while the quality got scarcer. Just like last year.

On the Equity theater scene, too many of the larger houses were operating on empty, or nearly empty. Just like last year.

The Shubert was closed for renovations all year. The James A. Doolittle doesn't seem able to find or create the right stuff to stay open much, while the Coronet (formerly the L.A. Public Theatre) and the Beverly Canon (formerly L.A. Stage West) are shut tight, and the Hollywood Playhouse, hasn't been able to get momentum going on anything it gets ("Lady Day at Emerson's Bar an Grill").

Not what you'd call encouraging.

The Las Palmas had a spurt of activity with the runover of "Pump Boys and Dinettes" from last year, but it has otherwise been dark or moved over to rock concerts.

The Wilshire, Henry Fonda and Pantages were only intermittently filled. The Nederlanders, who operate all three, delivered their Playgoers' Series this year (which is more than they did last year), but they're also delivering a repeat performance of "Me and My Girl" as part of their 1988 Los Angeles Civic Light Opera season.

This has angered some patrons who complained that they just saw this show as part of the 1986 LACLO season. The Nederlanders' Stan Seiden denied that anyone has complained, but we get letters. . . .

"Mr. Seiden is mistaken," wrote Ethel Oshatz of Camarillo. "After 27 years as a subscriber, I am canceling our subscription. . . ." Echoed Joan Major of Tarzana: "I know several now-former subscribers who did not renew because of ("Me and My Girl's") return. . . . In my circle of acquaintances, the number is 100%. . . ." And in a letter addressed to James Nederlander (copied to Stage Watch), Dennis Conde, a 49-year subscriber, repeated, "you could not revive 'Me and My Girl' so soon . . . without inviting a rash of refunds."

All of them also cited shabby treatment among their complaints, so we kick off this year's Roasted Bird awards with a Turkey to the Nederlanders who seem to forget too frequently that the customer is, at worst, nearly always right.

A runner-up Turkey goes to the Center Theatre Group-Ahmanson's board of directors for talking about taking action to fix the Ahmanson's faltering operation rather than fixing it.

On Dec. 4, 1986, Watch quoted executive managing director William Wingate saying that "aggressive strategies are being planned," but the year gave no sign of vigor. It gave instead "Sweet Bird of Youth," "Social Security" and "Wild Honey." Then Martin Manulis announced his resignation in October, after less than a year on board as the artistic director to succeed the outgoing Robert Fryer. The search is on for another successor who should have a few demands of his or her own. Try better funding for a difficult and expensive theater.

(In fairness, this season has its problems--"The Best Man" got less than the best reviews--but it has some promises, too: "Broadway Bound" should be a shoo-in; "Coastal Disturbances" was scrapped in favor of "I Never Sang for My Father," a wise move; and "Bus Stop" may be replaced by Tennessee Williams' "Summer and Smoke" featuring Christopher Reeve. With Marshall W. Mason directing and sets by John Lee Beatty, it could be good-- if they find the right actress.)

Our third Turkey goes to ABC-TV, for dropping its bold effort at hourlong prime-time dramatic specials before giving them a real chance. Gary Pudney, ABC vice president and senior executive in charge of specials and talent, who had put the interdisciplinary project together knew the dangers.

"All I want is for these specials to be special ," he said. The first one wasn't (Harold Pinter's "Dumb Waiter," directed by Robert Altman) so, characteristically, the others were never made--and we never had a chance to find out how special they might have been.

Turkey-related Ostrich awards go to John A. McQuiggan, New York producer of "The Common Pursuit" and to Lou Adler and Michael White, New York producers of "Bouncers," for doing their level best to ignore both of those productions' Los Angeles origins.

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