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Rewritten 'Jake's Women' Back on Broadway Track

San Diego Spotlight: STAGE / NANCY CHURNIN

September 05, 1991|NANCY CHURNIN

"Jake's Women," the Neil Simon play which premiered at the Old Globe Theatre in March of 1990, is finally going to Broadway--in March of 1992.

When "Jake's Women" closed at the Old Globe on April 15, the reviews were highly critical. Simon scrapped the Broadway booking that was supposed to follow the Globe production, making it the first play out of 24 that the playwright ever closed out of town.

There will be major changes.

For one, the play is "70% rewritten," Simon has said.

For another, it will star Alan Alda, instead of Peter Coyote, who starred here. And the director will be longtime Simon director Gene Saks instead of Jack O'Brien, artistic director of the Old Globe Theatre, who substituted for director Ron Link a week before the show opened.

About $1 million had been invested in the show in 1990, Simon estimated at the time that $600,000 would be lost--most of it his. The Globe did not invest in either the first or this newest New York production, but it will see returns if the show is successful because of its initial investment in the world premiere. A spokesperson at the Globe also said the theater will have no artistic involvement in the new production, but will get billing in the program as the play's first presenter. One critical difference in the new "Jake's Women" is the character of Jake, a writer who is constantly having real and imaginary conversations with the women in his life: his dead first wife, his current wife, his daughter, his therapist, his sister. Simon has said "Jake used to just react to the other people . . . now he's the centerpiece."

Part of the problem, too, was the direction. At the time Simon tapped O'Brien to fill in for Link, O'Brien was already committed to a KCET-TV production of "An Enemy of the People" in Los Angeles and the re-mounting of "The Cocktail Hour" at the Doolittle Theatre in Los Angeles. Those commitments left him only weekends to work on "Jake's Women."

Simon said he didn't blame O'Brien. He said the only other directors he trusted, Saks and Mike Nichols, were working on other projects far from California.

"But a play needs to be directed every day," he said.

After "Jake's Women" closed, Simon moved on to "Lost in Yonkers"--which is still running on Broadway-- and walked away with this year's Tony award for best play and the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Then he went back to "Jake's Women"--the one that almost got away.

Producer Emanuel Azenberg, the producer all of Simon's plays since 1972, said "Jake's Women" will be presented at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem before going to New York.

The minute Ron Campbell heard about the San Diego Repertory Theatre's plans to stage the West Coast premiere of Everett Quinton's one-man version of "A Tale of Two Cities," he knew he wanted the part(s).

And after what he describes as "a long, exhaustive audition process," he was cast by director Sam Woodhouse, the producing director of the Rep. Campbell makes his San Diego debut in the show Nov. 13-Dec. 7 at the Lyceum Space.

"When I saw the breakdown of the play, I said that's me, that's me all over, I'm going to get that," Campbell said.

The show calls for Campbell, a Santa Monica born and bred actor, to play 22 roles, including the narrator--an aspiring drag queen named Jerry who is trying to quiet a crying baby left on his doorstep by acting out the story of "A Tale of Two Cities."

While he acts out the story, which includes a fight-to-the-death scene, he also must get ready for his professional debut--taking a bath on stage and getting dressed in full drag regalia. Campbell said he relishes the challenge, even though the challenge is not completely new to him. Ten years ago, he made $90 a day as a solo street performer in Paris acting out multiple parts--including playing an entire family out for a Sunday drive.

"This is a guy in a room performing his guts out," Campbell said of the drag queen, Jerry. "The only place where this can still happen is in the theater where people will go and let themselves be swept up in the drama. Only in the theater can one person leave holes for the audience to fill in the different characters."

Campbell, who has extensive credits at the Mark Taper Forum and the Los Angeles Theatre Center, is currently featured in the Grove Shakespeare Festival's acclaimed "The Taming of the Shrew" as Grumio, Petruchio's personal servant through Sept. 21. He will get one week between the end of that show and the first rehearsal for "A Tale of Two Cities."

Campbell, who describes himself as being "between 25 and 35," doesn't mind having an entire show resting on his shoulders.

"I don't have to wait for cues," he said and laughed. "I guess it's probably an exercise in self-reliance."

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