YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Haze From the Past : Mel Bloom's play 'Final Reunion' deals with the feelings of four men who participate in a fatal fraternity prank.

April 09, 1993|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov writes about theater for Valley Life

Was it accidental death or murder?

That's the question buried deep inside Mel Bloom's "Final Reunion," a drama about the aftereffects of a college hazing death. Under the direction of James Luisi, it opens tonight at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks.

The impetus for the story, says the Chicago-born playwright, came from his own college days at Northwestern, circa 1950. "A pledge was severely harmed in a fraternity hazing," Bloom recalls. "In this version, though, the kid gets killed--and we don't know if it was an accident or murder . . . until the very end."

The play takes place in a hotel room, 25 years after the event. Three of the four men involved in the hazing--now a newspaper editor, a congressman running for the Senate and the president of the American Medical Assn.--are on hand, as is their host, the fourth member of their group, a ne'er-do-well who owes child support and alimony in three states.

"He's called them all together," says the writer, "but each thinks they're the only one who's going to be there. Each one has his own feelings and memories about the event--and they're not necessarily accurate, because they were pretty tanked. Some of them were shaken up by it at the time, but the next day they went about their business. So what comes out is the truth of that night."

The play originally had a three-night workshop staging four years ago at Group Repertory Theatre, and it is that production that has been reassembled here.

"No one else was gonna do this, so I got a loan from the bank and put it together," says Steve Dougherty, who's producing and co-starring. Dougherty, who worked as a plumber in his native New York, began acting in 1979, and is the owner of Steve's Original New York Dogs in Studio City. "I've never produced before, but I'm having a ball," he says. "When I go into rehearsal, I drop that hat and I'm the actor--and I have fun."

Playwright Bloom, who says he flunked out of basic reporting in college (graduating instead in arts and sciences), turned to writing in 1982 after spending 28 years as a local literary agent. "People like Rod Serling--I'm not in that class," he says, referring to a former client. "But with all due modesty, I thought, 'I'm as good as most of the people I represent.' So I decided to try to do it."

He already had a wealth of material.

"Over the years, I'd always made lists of ideas, things I wanted to write about," Bloom muses. "So I'm always making notes. Sometimes I use them, sometimes I don't." He admits that "Reunion," which was completed in 1989, "is a little hard-edged. There's some foul language in there. It's not like a David Mamet play. But there are a couple of words I wouldn't want my grandchildren to hear me use."

Bloom adds that the horror of the event is what stuck with him so many years later. "The story always had a kernel of something universal, applicable 100 years ago to today," he says. "The shenanigans of young men trying to prove themselves, being macho and getting drunk, losing control of events--that's what really happens. And an event like that is indelibly etched in your brain."

Now resettled in Ojai, Bloom and his wife own a gift shop and restaurant, Tottenham Court (statewide, there are four Tottenhams in all); he also writes a features column for the Ojai Valley News and contributes to Los Angeles Magazine and Reader's Digest.

"I have no regrets about leaving the agency business," he says. "It was rewarding financially and emotionally. But there were other things I wanted to explore--and I was able to do it."

Where and When What: "Final Reunion." Location: Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Hours: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays. Closes May 16. Price: $13 to $15. Call: (213) 660-TKTS.

Los Angeles Times Articles