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3 Became 1 to Make 2: Or the Story of How 'Little Foxes' Got to the Hahn

April 06, 1988|NANCY CHURNIN

SAN DIEGO — Kit Goldman still remembers the anxiety she felt when she first approached Will Simpson and Robert Earl about directing and designing a production in which she and two friends wanted to act.

It was 11 years ago. Goldman had all of $60 to offer the pair as a budget for two one-act plays called "Calm Down Mother" and "Breakfast Past Noon."

Sitting in a comfortable office at the Hahn Cosmopolitan Theatre with Simpson and Earl, a relaxed Goldman, dressed smartly in black, seemed far away from the apprehension she described.

"Our big question was whether they would throw us out of the living room . . . ."

"Or laugh," Simpson interjected.

"But they did it," Goldman said, with a smile, as if to say, "The rest is history." And, indeed, much of it is.

The three have become the nucleus of the two-venue Gaslamp Quarter Theatre Company, with Goldman as managing producer, Simpson as artistic director and Earl as resident set designer.

There has been a price paid for the growth, particularly by Goldman, who shelved her own acting ambitions for the past three years to raise the $1.25 million needed for the Gaslamp's second, larger space, the Hahn Cosmopolitan.

Since the new theater got on its feet, however, Goldman confesses that she has been so eager to play on it, "I would play the maid at this point."

Of course, with Simpson looking out for her, that hasn't been necessary.

It came to him "in a flash," he said, that she would be perfect in the part of Regina in Lillian Hellman's "The Little Foxes." When offered the part, Goldman threw her producing hat up in the air and responded like any other actress starving for a juicy role.

"I was delighted," she said with a big grin. "I jumped at the chance."

The prospect of the play (which opens tonight at the Hahn), with Simpson, Earl and Goldman reprising their earliest dynamic as director, set designer and producer-star, offered the trio a chance to reflect on where they have come since that fateful meeting at Simpson and Earl's apartment in north Mission Beach.

The most dramatic change is in their life style, evidenced by the budget for "The Little Foxes." At $40,000 to 50,000, "Foxes" will cost about 1,000 times as much as the production for those first two plays at the now-defunct Community Arts Gallery.

But the other changes seem to be those inherent in any "marriage," the word the group uses to describe its three-way bond.

Their initial production was a modest success that earned a few hundred dollars. It encouraged them to produce more shows together, in a honeymoon atmosphere in which the plays may have been short on money but long on imagination and love.

In 1979, for example, Earl managed to build a set for "The Killing of Sister George" at the now-closed Second Avenue Theatre for $38 by constructing it out of corrugated cardboard and spray paint. Also helping to keep down costs were the family recruits. Goldman's 10-year-old son sold concessions, and her mother handled the box office.

Earl's Volkswagen camper was the office of the scene shop. Similarly, Goldman, who then supported herself by selling classified ads for the San Diego Union, made her office in her car.

After three years of "living together" as a creative team, they decided they were ready for a legitimate home of their own and raised the $25,000 for the first Gaslamp Quarter Theatre Company space at 444 4th Ave. The trio agree that their first production was a bomb, but they considered it less a crisis than a "trial by fire."

The first crisis didn't occur until 1982.

Goldman was four months pregnant with her second son and was starring with her friend Rosina Widdowson Reynolds in what she described as the "appropriately" titled "Fallen Angels."

"Rosina and I were living together and driving everyone crazy. The two characters were bitchy and we were taking on the roles. At one rehearsal, Willie was furious at us and ended up giving us a verbal spanking. Rosie threw a chair."

Simpson, who at first said he couldn't remember any major crisis, nodded in recognition.

"Well, Rosie was very grand because she'd just gotten into Equity," he said. "So when she threw the chair, I said it was going to come out of her salary."

Goldman's response was to walk off in what she described as the manner of Henry Kissinger. But Simpson's parting shot to her was, "Don't flounce," which so infuriated her that she called Simpson afterward to tell him she was coming over as his producer.

At this point, Goldman turned her attention to Simpson.

"You said, 'I don't want to see you,' " she reminded him. "But I insisted I was coming over. Then you said, 'If this keeps up, I'm going to quit.' And then I saw red. All my betrayal trauma came out. I said, 'You said you'd never leave me.' And you said, 'All right, I won't.'

"At that point, I realized that whatever we were going to go through, we were going to go through together. It was a turning point."

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