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San Diego Spotlight: STAGE / NANCY CHURNIN

The Unusual is the Norm for Director Bartlett Sher

August 05, 1988|NANCY CHURNIN

Bartlett Sher was directing a 19th-Century melodrama at the University of Leeds in England when he got a call from New York saying that he was one of three young directors chosen by the New York Theatre Workshop to direct an Off-Broadway play in February, 1989. Sher, 29, has not yet chosen the play for his New York debut.

In the interim, Sher is continuing with his plans to direct "madmen and specialists" at San Diego State University, where he is a part-time instructor.

This will mark Sher's second effort at interpreting the work of Nigerian Nobel-prize winning laureate Wole Soyinka. As the artistic director of the newly formed Plus Fire, he directed Soyinka's "The Strong Breed" at the Installation Gallery in May, featuring Sher's wife, actress Carla Kirkwood.

Sher has slated Plus Fire's next project for 1990--that is if he can get funding from COMBO before the end of September, when it hands over its 3-year job of allocating National Endowment of the Arts money to the discretion of Mayor Maureen O'Connor's new Cultural Arts Task Force.

Sher said he is worried that the new task force may overlook the funds that have been specifically allocated to independent and often avant-garde projects done by small groups such as his.

Like his mentor, the iconoclastic Robert Woodruff whom Sher assisted on "A Man's A Man" and "Figaro Gets a Divorce" at the La Jolla Playhouse and "Lie of the Mind" at the Mark Taper Forum, Sher has more than a few unusual ideas.

His next project for Plus Fire involves using the artist Kandinsky's first abstract painting in 1910 as a way of charting the rise of technology and modernism after Word War I.

"The only way it's possible for Plus Fire to keep going is if they decide to fund individual projects as well as (giving) big theater grants," said Sher. "I'm afraid it's possible that we'll get burned."

Paul Downey, spokesman for the mayor, disagreed.

"I don't think there's any need to fear," said Downey. "It's just best to put together the best possible program. The group that the mayor is appointing are all people who have a lot of experience in the arts. They'll be looking at the quality of the project more than the quality of the presentation."

Leon Singer took off early from El Tecolote restaurants Tuesday evening to watch himself on the new Luis Valdez pilot "Fort Figueroa," which was scheduled to air on Channel 8 at 8 p.m.

Things started out well enough. Singer saw his work as the grandfather in a Mexican family on an "Entertainment Tonight" segment that preceded the broadcast. Then, when, instead of "Fort Figueroa," he saw a National Geographic special, "The Haunted West," Singer was as hot as the salsa he serves in his restaurants.

"I'm mad as hell," said Singer. "It showed nationwide except in San Diego."

According to Jules Moreland, program director of Channel 8, the decision was simply an economic one.

"These pilot programs have been getting very low readings nationally--a half to a third of normal programming. The National Geographic specials get about twice that much."

Fortunately for Singer, who never got to see the show, the program director in Phoenix didn't feel the same way. His brother-in-law, who lives there, taped a copy of the show for him.

The stage went black at the San Diego Repertory Theatre's Tuesday night showing of "The Colored Museum," and all the tickets at the full-house were exchanged. A blown transformer was the culprit. As of Wednesday, the Rep installed a temporary gas generator that put the phones and lights back in working order. That should keep them going for at least a week, until they get a new transformer--unless they run out of gas.

Playwright Lee Blessing will have a play produced in San Diego for the third year in a row when the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre presents the West Coast premiere of "Eleemosynary" Feb. 15. Blessing's latest play, "Two Rooms," closed at the La Jolla Playhouse July 31. Blessing's smash hit "A Walk in the Woods" will open in October at the Comedy Theatre in London's West End, the same venue where his friend and fellow Minnesotan August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" opens next spring. While Blessing puts the finishing touches on "Cobb," a play about baseball Hall-of-Famer Ty Cobb ("Cobb" will have its world premiere at the Yale Repertory Theatre in March), Wilson is working on "Two Trains Running," a play about the black experience in the '60s. Wilson is also at work on a screenplay version of his Pulitzer-Prize winning "Fences" for comedian Eddie Murphy.

It's All In The Family: The Bowery hired actress Allison Brennan as a development officer to help raise money for its upcoming move to the Gaslamp Quarter. Brennan, who drew raves in the San Diego Rep's "Hard Times" last season, also happens to be the wife of the Bowery's artistic director, Ralph Elias. Elias just wrapped a small speaking part as a policeman in the new Jim Belushi film "K-9," a comedy about a cop and his cocaine-sniffing dog that was shooting in San Diego.

The Marquis Public Theatre is presenting "Rashomon" Oct. 14 and the San Diego premiere of Christopher Durang's dark and difficult "The Marriage of Bette and Boo" for Nov. 11. Scripteasers will be having an open reading of "The Dark Horse" by Ruth Angell Purkey and "Kiss of Life, Kiss of Death by Philip Smallen tonight at the home of Jonathan Dunn-Rankin at 3404 Hawk St. The 45-year-old organization sponsors free cold readings and critiques of original scripts that are open to the public.

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