'It's a post-revolutionary play," said Kevin Heelan, whose "Distant Fires" just opened at Long Beach's International City Theatre.
Set in Maryland in the mid-'70s, the six-character drama features an interracial construction crew, whose emotions flare at news of a race riot in a nearby town.
Heelan based the story on his own experiences doing construction work in Ocean City, Md. "It was an interesting confluence: kids down from Boston--like me; townies who were there for the rest of their lives, and black guys from West Ocean City, in for the day and home for the night."
The piece implodes, rather than explodes, Heelan said. "And it's not about evil whitey or sanctifying black people. It's just a bunch of guys working and trying to get by."
"The (actors are) all close to 30--and I call them 'kids,' " joked director Bradford O'Neil, 23, who's staging Norman Lock's "House of Correction" at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. (It opens Friday.)
The story, he said, "is about Karl (played by Ron Campbel) and Marian (Katie King), a very happy couple who live in the suburbs in New Jersey. He's a successful advertising copywriter and she's a moderately attractive homemaker. They're complacent . Then they invite a man (Christopher McDonald) they believe to be a friend into their home--and he ends up terrorizing their lives with a vengeance.
"I first directed it as a straight absurdist play," O'Neil said, "but then I thought, 'Hey, wait a minute. Why am I laughing?' My job is to make sure that audiences have a good time, whether it's sad, mad or happy."
LATE CUES: Preston Sturges' romantic comedy "Strictly Dishonorable" opens Thursday at Studio City's Room for Theatre, directed by Beverly Sanders. . . . Off-Broadway's Yiddish-English musical hit, "On Second Avenue," opens Saturday at the Wilshire Ebell. . . . Sam Shepard's "A Lie of the Mind" opens Thursday at the Taper.
CRITICAL CROSS FIRE: A revival of Rick Cluchey's 1965 prison drama "The Cage" recently opened at the Odyssey Theatre.
Said Robert Koehler in The Times: "Cluchey's Hatchet recalls a Richard III sifted through Elmer Gantry. He is both gigantic in voice and precise in detail and nuance. It is also a performance that triumphs over text."
From the L.A. Weekly's Steve Mikulan: "A diorama of penitentiary existence in which most of the subjects continually proclaim to one another without conversing."
In the Herald-Examiner, Richard Stayton wrote: "An overwrought, underthought psychodrama that may have been therapeutic for convicts 20 years ago, and may have seemed educational in the polemical 1960s, but in 1988 exists primarily as an actors' showcase. . . ."
Daily Variety's Amy Dawes: "This is more a multilevel portrait of prison conditions than a tale well told."