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STAGE WEEK

Jealousy Among the Artists in 'Dinosaurs'

February 21, 1988|JANICE ARKATOV

Gina Wendkos, who made a big splash last year with "Boys and Girls/Men and Women" and "Personality" (the latter's still going strong at the Odyssey), is back with a new play, "Dinosaurs." It opens Tuesday at the Cast Theatre.

"It's about six 30-year-olds," the playwright explained. "Five of them have MFAs (Master of Fine Arts degrees) and one doesn't. Four of the MFAs are really smug, caught up in their MFA illusions and delusions. One of them, Thomas, has escaped that and ended up with a Brooklyn manicurist, Rose. So it's a kind of war between Rose and Cindy, the leader of the MFAs, who's blond and beautiful--and is also in love with Thomas. Meanwhile, he's got a big show at the Whitney (Museum) and all the others are incredibly jealous."

Wendkos (who "took a vacation" from directing her own work last December, staging Clifton Campbell's "The Figure and Other Short Works" at the Cast-at-the-Circle) is once again treading on highly personal turf; she, too, holds an MFA from a tony art school.

"We could never enjoy a moment," she recalls of those graduate school/waitressing days. "We were always angst -ing about everything. It was career, career, career. You go to this prestigious art school and you have these inflated ideas of your place in the world. You're not groomed to be an artist, you're groomed to be a star. It's a new societal illness." Ironically, most members of her cast also have MFAs: "They've all suffered incredibly, the collapsed dreams about what the world was supposed to do for us."

Yet Wendkos, a recent New York transplant (who'll bow another work, "Ginger Ale Afternoon," at the Cast in April), admits that MFA letdown may also have its regional roots. "In New York, everyone is overly educated without purpose," she said. "Here, the intellect is not valued so much."

AIDS and the human connection--with the emphasis on the latter--is the theme of Michael Scott Reed's two-character, New York-set "Seven Sundays," which opened this weekend at the Carpet Company Stage.

"It's about two men who form an improbable friendship," said director Lisa Mount, who previously directed Reed's "Tramps" and "Tease" in Portland, Ore. "Andrew, who was a party boy, a dancer, real hard-edged, is in the hospital with AIDS--and Francis, who's naive, hopeful, crochets for excitement, has been assigned as his buddy.

"It's based on a true story," she added. "A man was in a coma and no one visited, so they assigned a buddy, someone to talk to--and he ended up living a year longer than anyone expected. Michael (whom she met when they were students at Lewis and Clark College) wrote this in 1985, and in that sense it is dated. He told me if he'd written it now it would be a much angrier play. This is really about the power of love, the ability of people to go on. And that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with AIDS."

CRITICAL CROSS FIRE: Norman Lock's spooky "House of Correction" opened recently at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, directed by Bradford O'Neil and starring Ron Campbell, Katie King and Christopher McDonald.

Said Sylvie Drake in The Times: " 'House' is first, last and always a superior mystery-comedy-thriller for the stage. The loftier subtexts are for dessert. . . . The methods employed by Lock, O'Neil, designer Douglas D. Smith and the commendable cast are fast, funny, clever, abrasive, surreal."

Drama-Logue's Lee Melville was also a fan: "O'Neil displays a rare directing talent of knowing what to do with each line of a play. His perception is outdistanced only by his ability to create a brisk pace and clever staging. He has cast three actors who fit perfectly in these characters' suits."

Tom Jacobs, in the Daily News, found that the piece, "like so many good dramas, forces us to face things we'd rather not think about. 'House' is not a preachy play. On the contrary, it's very funny and very scary--like a nightmare that wakes you up shaking, forcing you to reassess your life."

The Herald-Examiner's Jan Breslauer was unamused: "O'Neil, obviously convinced that a play about violence must do violence to its audience, forces his cast into a breakneck pace and a volume suitable for the hearing-impaired."

Said the L.A. Weekly's Steve Mikulan: "Lock's unpleasant play stems from an important idea, but neither author nor director are able to carry it anywhere except to the sandbox of Grand Guignol comedy. . . . While personal responsibility is a very serious concept, Lock's characters are cartoons."

Last, from Kathleen O'Steen in Daily Variety: "It's offbeat and loony with a sitcom flair, but O'Neil successfully manages to coax the dark monster out here, painting this comedy black from the start. That, along with a very fine cast and clever sets, makes for an unsuspecting good time."

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