Remember when all we had on PBS television and FM radio were British-made productions? "Lord Peter Whimsey," "Masterpiece Theatre," "Yes, Prime Minister" and on and on? Well, listen up. Flooded as we've been on the public airwaves with the Queen's English, it may become the language of our past.
BBC Radio Three in association with KCRW and the L.A. Classic Theatre Works (which recently produced a once-in-a-lifetime "Once in a Lifetime" and the mammoth 29-episode adaptation of "Babbitt" over KCRW), will be creating twin radio versions of Eric Bentley's "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been" and Arthur Miller's "The Crucible." They'll explore witch hunts at different stages of our American civilization--if that's the word for it.
This reversal, or rather melding, of British/American roles owes something to the UK/LA '88 Festival, that has England probing our resources with an eye (ear?) to merchandising American shows for the British market.
The roster of artists lined up to participate in both productions sounds like a who's who in Los Angeles theater. So far, alphabetically, it includes Ed Asner, Rene Auberjonois, Ed Begley Jr., Georgia Brown, Jack Coleman, Bud Cort, William Devane, Richard Dreyfuss, Hector Elizondo, Fionnula Flanagan, Robert Foxworth, Harry Hamlin, Helen Hunt, Stacy Keach, Nan Martin, Joanna Miles, Judd Nelson, Holly Palance, Judge Reinhold, Franklyn Seales, David Selby, Madolyn Smith, Joe Spano, Jo Beth Williams, Michael York and Harris Yulin. A surprise and equally distinguished guest star for the company will be James Earl Jones, who comes aboard to play Paul Robeson in "Are You Now."
Martin Jenkins, senior director of recording for BBC radio, will stage both shows. Jerry Jones, the BBC man in charge of editing and technical production, will use the KCRW facilities to complete most of the finishing work locally. KCRW's production staff will assist, with John McNally acting as liaison among L.A. Classic Theatre Works, KCRW and the BBC.
"The Crucible" will be rehearsed and recorded without an audience the week of March 28 at Culver Studios (which has donated studio space). It will air over KCRW April 10 at 6 p.m. (in London April 18).
"Are You Now" will be recorded April 6, same place, before a live audience invited to participate as courtroom visitors. It will air April 17 at 6 p.m. (April 16 in London).
Not only is English radio theater discovering American plays and splendid American actors to feature in them, but it's also discovering the rich new blood in California playwrights. Next fall and winter, Ned Chaillet, editor of Radio Three Plays for the BBC in London, is planning to do Jon Robin Baitz's "Mizlansky/Zilinsky," (which premiered locally in 1985) and John Steppling's "Pledging My Love" (which opens Wednesday at San Francisco's Magic Theatre).
"The whole California lineup of talent is interesting," Chaillet said from London. "At the moment, new writing in America is livelier than in England."
Chaillet has been riding a virtual crest of American plays. He produced Arthur Miller's "The Golden Years," an early play about Montezuma (it aired in London last November) and Richard Nelson's "Languages Spoken Here" (which aired in December). He's just recorded James Baldwin's "Blues for Mr. Charlie" for the BBC in Toronto, has plans this spring to do an unperformed Tennessee Williams--"Secret Places of the Heart," the last screenplay Williams wrote--and hopes down the line to do David Henry Hwang's "Family Devotions" in America with an American cast.
Meanwhile, the L.A. Classic Theatre Works, which has shot to prominence as one of the finest companies of serious American actors anywhere, is extending its activities to the legitimate stage. Artistic co-directors Judith Auberjonois and Susan Albert Loewenberg won't confirm it, pleading prematurity, but watch for this group to do something major locally in the coming summer. . . .
PIECES AND BITS: "Jule Styne: A Musical Celebration" is the theme for the fourth annual S.T.A.G.E (Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event) benefit for the AIDS Project Los Angeles to be held at the Variety Arts Center March 10 and 11, 8 p.m. David Galligan directs Jane Carr, Carole Cook, Don Correia, Sandy Duncan, Penny Fuller, Bill Hutton, Pamela Myers, Linda Purl, Madolyn Smith, Robert Yacko, among others. Tickets are $30; (213) 480-3232 . . .
Carol Potter Eastman will play Alma Winemiller at all Thursday matinees in the Ahmanson Theatre's "Summer and Smoke." She replaces mother-to-be Christine Lahti, who plays opposite Christopher Reeve at all other times (including weekend matinees), but whose pregnancy requires that she limit her performances to seven a week. . . .
The Los Angeles Theatre Center and the Stock Exchange Restaurant and Nightclub have pooled ingenuity and resources to come up with T.G.I. Wednesday--a $28 value for just $10 that combines an 8 p.m. ticket to an LATC show with pre-performance hors d'oeuvre, music, dancing, no-host bar and the chance to avoid rush-hour freeways at the restaurant, 618 S. Spring Street. Want to know more? Call (213) 627-5599. . . .
El Teatro Ensemble, UC San Diego's on-campus Hispanic theater company, has been invited to perform at the international conference on "The Hispanic Cultures of America," to be held in Barcelona in June. Director Jorge Huerta plans to take along Luis Valdez's classic agitprop piece, "Los Vendidos," and Carlos Morton's "Johnny Tennorio." The tour goes on to Madrid, Bordeaux, Paris, Poitiers, Gemersheim (West Germany), Heidelberg, Erlangen and Mainz where heaven only knows what they'll make of it all. . . .