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Coming of Age at 40 : American Renegade Theatre's 'Artichoke' is a relationship comedy about a woman who grows up during a summer romance.

March 12, 1993|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov writes regularly about theater for Valley Life.

It's love, marriage, infidelity and a happy ending in Joanna M. Glass' relationship comedy "Artichoke"--opening tonight at the American Renegade Theatre in North Holly wood--and what director David A. Cox describes as "the female equality play of the '80s."

In the seven-character piece, set on a Canadian farm in the 1970s, Elizabeth Meads, the theater's associate artistic director, plays middle-aged Margaret, who's dealing with her husband, Walter, his illegitimate daughter Lilly Agnes (the product of Walter's long-ago affair with "the Water Witch"), and Gibson, a childhood friend who is back in town for the first time in 20 years.

"Walter and Margaret are not man and wife in the biblical sense," Meads explains. "Basically, it's a dysfunctional family." Her character, whom the actress describes as "the strong, sturdy one who holds everything up," falls into a summer romance with Gibson. (The play's title refers to his character, comparing him to an unusual vegetable--"an artichoke surrounded by turnips"). At the end, says Meads, "Margaret is able to take what's hers, grow up, learn what she wants. Can there be a coming of age when you're 40?"

American Renegade artistic director Cox originally created the company from the cast of a play, "Up Cat Creek," which played at the Alliance Theatre in 1990.

"Critics didn't like the play, but they loved the acting and directing," Cox said wryly. "So we formed American Renegade."

After one season at the Alliance, the group moved to its current two-space home on Magnolia Boulevard. "In the front theater, we've done a couple of originals, but it's mostly stuff that's been done," he said, referring to such popular fare as "Picnic" and "Talking With . . . " In the smaller, back space, adds Cox, "we're more experimental."

Making its world premiere April 2 in the second space will be Tom Bellin's "Suzanne--A Matter of Sunlight," the story of a young artist who kidnaps a prominent architect whose proposed building project threatens to block the sunlight from her loft. Cliff Fenneman will direct the three-person comedy-drama.

The 65-member, dues-paying Renegade company is augmented by 20 less experienced actors who serve as theatrical interns.

"They don't pay dues; they learn to build sets, do lighting; they get free classes and can understudy, do small parts," says Cox, who plans a monthly Foundry series of new works in May. Born in Long Island, the artistic director, who has taught acting the past 10 years, studied with famed acting teacher Sanford Meisner.

As for running a theater, Cox says, "there's no magic in being artistic director; I do it 'cause I started it. Ultimately, yes, I have final say about what plays go up. But Elizabeth and I confab about everything."

The intent of the American Renegade ("we had such a time picking our name," Cox says with a sigh) was to present original North American plays. "But as we got into it, we realized we couldn't support ourselves on that," he says. "So the front theater subsidizes us--with more conventional, traditional work--and plays we think perhaps didn't get justice. The back is more Renegade. We have that space to promote plays: get them up, out, and into the world."

WHERE AND WHEN

* What: "Artichoke."

* Location: American Renegade Theatre, 11305 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.

* Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 7 p.m. Sundays. Indefinitely.

* Price: $12 to $15.

* Call: (818) 763-4430.

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