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Plays for All Ages : Four of the 'Stories for Children' by Isaac Bashevis Singer have been adapted for performance on stage by nine actors, playing adult and child roles, at the West End Playhouse.

March 26, 1993|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov writes regularly about theater for Valley Life.

Warning: "Stories for Children" isn't just for children.

"Children have an enormous capacity to embrace the complex-- and adults have an enormous ca pacity to want to embrace the child: the possibilities, the stories, the mysticism," says Joseph Megel, who has adapted four stories from Isaac Bashevis Singer's anthology by the same name. According to Megel, the production--which opens tonight at the West End Playhouse in Van Nuys--is geared for "ages 9 to 90."

The quartet of stories includes "Menashe and Rachel," "Joseph & Koza," "The Day I Got Lost" and "Tashlik."

" 'Menashe' is a tender story that takes place in an orphanage; it's about two kids, too young to be in love, but they're in love," says Megel, who's directing "Day" and "Tashlik." Both children are blind, "and the little boy tells stories. It's about the magic of storytelling, the spirit that rises above our ability to literally see. Blindness is a metaphor for what children are able to see."

"Joseph" takes a completely different tone: a masked, medieval folk tale that recounts the struggle between the village witch Zla and Joseph, who comes to the city to save the maiden who's thrown into the river as an annual sacrifice. Next, "The Day I Got Lost" is a comic visit with Professor Schlemiel. "A schlemiel is a blunderer," Megel explains. "A schlemazel is the one he blunders upon."

The last piece, the mystically infused memory play "Tashlik," tells of a rabbi's young son and his crush on the watchmaker's daughter. Says Megel: "It's as close a story about Singer's childhood as anything he ever wrote."

Nine adult actors play all the parts in the show, adult and child characters. The non-traditional casting includes a black actor playing a young Jewish boy, women playing male characters--and vice versa.


Born in Princeton NJ., Megel majored in TV/film and interpretation (now called performance studies) at Northwestern; after moving to Los Angeles 12 years ago, he received a master of fine arts in motion picture production at USC. Disenchanted with production, he has turned his attentions to adaptations--including works by Brautigan and Ionesco--and directing.

"I just love theater," Megel says. "This is my playground, where I get to have my fun."

The director supports his theater habit as co-owner of Video Newsletters, which mainly produces industrial fare. Formerly artistic director of Theatre of N.O.T.E. in Hollywood, he helms A Renegade Theatre Ensemble. Megel is most proud of that company's multiethnic "Words Across Cultures" program, which presents staged readings of prose, poetry and drama from different cultures; its next appearances will be May 16 and 18 at Barnsdall Park.


Philip Sokoloff is producing "Stories for Children" and is also a cast member.

"I don't think of this as kiddie theater; it has none of the patronizing and condescension that usually implies," says Sokoloff, who also produced two shows--"Judgment Days" and the holiday offering "Legends and Traditions"--at the West End last year.

"The last 25 years of his life, Singer started writing fiction for young people: readers who wanted a beginning, middle and end, structure and logic. Singer is complex--he doesn't write down to children. So the language will be completely palatable to adults."

WHERE AND WHENWhat: "Stories for Children."

Location: West End Playhouse, 7446 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys.

Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 12 and 3 p.m. Sundays. Closes April 25.

Price: $7 to $12.

Call: (818) 904-0444.

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