Residents of a California suburb get ready to welcome a predicted spacecraft landing in Mark McNease's "Over Jordan," a new play that just opened at Friends and Artists Theatre in the Hollywood district. "It's our first original production--after 2 1/2 years of working out different styles and pulling a company together," said Friends and Artists artistic director Sal Romeo. The piece, written for the 40-member group by company member McNease, features 12 actors: nine from the company and three from outside. "We always try to cast at least one-quarter from the outside, to keep us from getting stale and incestuous," Romeo explained.
He describes the play as "a story of salvation: what it means to the characters in the play--and, by extension, to all of us.
"It centers on a man who's dying and realizes in the eleventh hour that he's been escaping life. He reads in an Enquirer-type magazine about this woman in Jordan who's going to be channeling aliens from outer space and decides to go there. It's really a look at our modern culture, and who our saviors are now: Jesus? Stock portfolios? It asks, 'Can we ever be saved from the outside?' The answer is no. Redemption must come from within. It's got to come from you."
Robert Delegall directs.
THEATER FILE: Black fraternity life is the subject of Gerard Brown's "Jonin,' " opening Friday at the Harman Ave. Theatre. Stanley Bennett Clay directs Kristoff St. John, Craig Thomas, Dawn Comer, Donald Willis, Eugene Williams, Greg Travis, Ron Lawrence, Dwight Donaldson and Rugg Williams. . . . Rita Valencia's "Confessions in Total Darkness"--described as "part reading, part happening, part environmental theater"--opens Sept. 9 at downtown's Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions. Tony Abatemarco directs.
Casting has been set for Timberlake Wertenbaker's "Our Country's Good," opening Sept. 14 at the Mark Taper Forum. The players include Tony Amendola, Caitlin Clarke, Deborah Fallender, Gail Grate, Harris Laskawy, Valerie Mahaffey, John Cameron Mitchell, Michael Morgan, Mark Moses and James Walch. . . . Also Sept. 14, Weba and the Wailing Turbans open at Cafe Largo in the new musical "Come to My Heaven," written by Weba Garretson and Steve Stewart.
The world premiere of Ayn Rand's "Ideal" (set during the author's '30s experiences as a costumer in Hollywood) will be Oct. 13 at the Melrose Theatre; producing is Keller Enterprises. . . . Also premiering Oct. 13 is "Frankenstein"--opening at Long Beach's International City Theatre--adapted from the Mary Shelley novel by Elaine Gerdine, conceived and directed by John Julian, with a contemporary score by Denise Wilson and Susan Wickam.
CRITICAL CROSSFIRE: Larry Shue's Czechoslovakia-set "Wenceslas Square" is playing at the Matrix Theatre. Lee Shallat directs Adam Arkin, Nancy Lenahan, Richard Murphy and James Sloyan.
Said The Times' Dan Sullivan: "What does it feel like to live in such a country? The thing that makes 'Wenceslas' so effective--besides Shallat's superb cast--is that it doesn't pretend to have any insider knowledge. It is content to convey the things a visitor might notice over a week's stay."
In the Herald Examiner, Charles Marowitz faulted Shue for venturing into serious territory: " 'Wenceslas Square' feels a little like one of those Woody Allen pictures where you wish the artist would drop his pose of studied solemnity and begin to do what he does best."
Noted Lawrence Enscoe in the Daily News: "This play, about the quenching of the artistic spirit . . . is as contemporary as the tanks rumbling through Tian An Men Square. There is also a veiled but powerful condemnation of theater in America--a somnambulistic creature that seems to awaken only when there's money to be made."
Said Joel Martin Levy in the Reader: "Not a great deal actually happens in 'Wenceslas,' nor is much new revealed about Eastern-Bloc repression. But we do develop an affection for these characters living in a society very different from our own, and we experience their profound frustrations."
And from Kathleen O'Steen in Daily Variety: "The stories of jailed dissidents that pepper the news today are inherently heart-wrenching, yet Shue's attempt to capture it from an insider's view only amounts to one overwhelming emotion--futility. Perhaps that is how it should be."
Footnote: In the Aug. 13 Critical Crossfire, a quote from a review of "Boys' Life" was inadvertently misattributed to Drama Logue's Tom McCulloh. The author of the review was Susan Armine who writes for the Reader.