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Stage Watch

Padua Hills--Grounding at the Blue Whale; A Pipeline Opening to the Odyssey

February 04, 1988|DON SHIRLEY

The Blue Whale will spout theater this summer.

The Pacific Design Center, known as the Blue Whale for the way in which its giant blue walls dominate its neighborhood of West Hollywood, will be the new performance headquarters for the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival. Four plays will be produced on the grounds of the Design Center between July 14 and 31.

The festival, which has championed avant-garde writers for the past decade, also has found a year-round home for its administrative operations and workshops--the Actors Center, on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City.

The moves "ground us," said the festival's new artistic director, Roxanne Rogers. "We'll finally be accessible to people, so they won't have to search us out."

She was referring to a succession of mostly outlying locations for the festival, which moved from the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains to CalArts to Barnsdall Park to the Paramount Ranch (in the Santa Monica Mountains) to Loyola University and finally, last year, to a basement in downtown Los Angeles, the Boyd Street Theater.

The festival is known for presenting plays in unusual spaces, and the move to the Design Center will continue this tradition. "We'll have access to whatever we want on the exterior, including a 250-seat amphitheater," said Rogers. She seemed especially excited by the prospect of using the center's "wonderful parking structure"--for plays, as well as for parking.

West Hollywood and Studio City are a long way from the festival's rural roots, but Rogers believes "it will be interesting to play off the duplicity of an urban space, maybe make it rural. There's no telling what we'll do--our imaginations will cut loose."

The festival began as a communal living experiment as well as a writers workshop. But plans to use Chapman College for last year's festival collapsed because of the cost of housing, and the communal aspect disappeared. This year, Padua Hills won't provide housing. "That's what was breaking our backs," said Rogers. "The housing also kept us locked into academic environments, and academic settings were a strain for us."

This year's writing workshops will be held at the Actors Center July 5-16, but Rogers hopes to raise some money with earlier "master workshops" with more famous writers. Stay tuned.

MORE MOVES: Another cutting-edge outpost, Pipeline, may also move west. Pipeline director Scott Kelman and Ron Sossi, director of the Odyssey, are talking about presenting a show at the Odyssey next fall called "Some of the Best of Pipeline" and possibly moving the entire Pipeline to the Odyssey in 1989.

Pipeline must move somewhere, for Kelman decided not to stay downtown after the group's lease at its current quarters, the Wallenboyd and Boyd Street theaters, expires at the end of October. Kelman acknowledged that he isn't talking to anyone other than Sossi, but he added that he has also received invitations to do "workshops outside the country," and no decisions have yet been made.

UK/LA DROPOUT: The Odyssey has yanked its scheduled production of "Acapulco," Steven Berkoff's play, from the UK/LA Festival. Berkoff is busy working on another project in Paris, said Sossi.

YOU ARE MY 'SUNSHINE': In my recent review of "Little Mary Sunshine," at the Richard Basehart Theatre, I noted a problem with director Cynthia Baer Winant's claim, in the program, to have begun her "producing/directing career" with the original New York production. Though Winant (then known as Cynthia Baer) is listed in all printed sources as one of the original's three "presenters," Ray Harrison got the credit for the original's "staging and choreography" and "Sunshine" author Rick Besoyan for "book direction."

Winant responded in a letter: "The factual truth is that I did direct the original New York production alongside the beautiful staging of the musical numbers by Ray Harrison. Rick Besoyan was tied up with . . . the other production responsibilities . . . and with his approval, the actual direction ended up in my hands a few days into rehearsal.

"Little did I think at that time, being very young and naive and delighted at the chance to direct a New York musical, that almost 30 years later someone would now question what has always been a known fact."

Gordon Munford, musical director of the original "Sunshine," wrote of a slightly different sequence of events in a letter to Calendar: "Besoyan was the first director, replaced during rehearsals by Ray Harrison, who was then relieved (during the last week of rehearsal) by Cynthia Baer . . . who brought the whole production to its perfection!"

Eileen Brennan, star of the New York production, initially supported Winant's version in a telephone interview. But upon hearing Munford's, she concluded that "I don't remember the progression of who did what and when." Harrison "was very instrumental," she recalled, but "Cynthia did do a lot of work on the book with us."

John Aniston, another member of the original cast, wrote to back up Winant as "the person responsible for the 'book direction.' "

Besoyan and Harrison, whose corroboration would matter the most, are dead.

FOR CRYING OUT LOUD: A different celebrity will play the Town Crier each night in the California Music Theatre production of "Drood!" at Pasadena Civic Auditorium, opening Feb. 18.

The Town Crier makes an appearance in Act I, with dialogue tailored by "Drood!" creator Rupert Holmes to each celebrity, then counts votes in Act II, when the audience is asked to decide the identity of the murderer. Among the celebrities signed up so far are Dr. George Fischbeck, Fritz Coleman, Lynn Redgrave, Robert Morse, state Sen. Ed Davis, Mr. Blackwell and Monty Hall.

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