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'Manager' Gets an Early Call at D.C. Theater Fest : Stage: The prize-winner, written by Cal State Fullerton grad Darrin Shaughnessy, will play at 9:30 a.m.

April 19, 1993|JAN HERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Sitting in a hotel lobby the other night a few blocks from the Kennedy Center, where his prize-winning play was about to be staged, Darrin Shaughnessy had a perplexed look on his face.

The recent Cal State Fullerton graduate was mystified--not to say miffed--about the peculiar scheduling of his one-act comedy, "The Manager," at a morning hour when most actors he knows are barely awake, let alone ready to perform.

If that were not bothersome enough, he said, playgoers probably will be rubbing sleep from their eyes and operating crankily at best on the day's first cup of coffee.

"This isn't a play you want to see with breakfast," the slim, 32-year-old writer noted. "It's a lot more seedy than that. Besides, it takes place at night."

For logistical reasons, however, the administrators of the 25th annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival couldn't help scheduling the Cal State Fullerton production of "The Manager" for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday , in the center's 420-seat Terrace Theatre. The cast has an eye-opening stage call for 6:30 a.m., which may be the earliest in theater annals.

Even so, as the previously announced winner of the festival's 1993 National Short Play Award, Shaughnessy's comedy about short-circuited relationships is bound to be one of the premiere attractions at the nine-day event that runs through April 27 to celebrate this year's top college productions.

"I was pretty happy to win," Shaughnessy said between drags on a cigarette. "It's not the first play I've written, but it's the first one I'm satisfied with."

His prize comes with a cash award of $1,000, an offer of representation by the William Morris Agency and publication by Samuel French Inc., a major licenser of theatrical properties.

Typically, though, Shaughnessy doesn't let his excitement show. His tone of voice is matter-of-fact and his manner so casual it seems almost shaggy. He is wearing a black shirt with a patterned vest, jeans and engineer boots and he looks like he could just as easily be back in the humdrum of life on the CSUF campus.

But you know he is thrilled when he reveals that his father, a criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis, is taking the time from his practice to fly to the nation's capital to attend the production.

"What's kind of funny," Shaughnessy said, "is that the very first semester I was at Cal State someone told me the theater department was looking for new scripts because they're always looking for something to take the festival.

"Well, I handed them 'The Manager' and they handed it back almost as fast with some comments on it like: 'You could write for "Golden Girls" tomorrow.' I wasn't sure if that was a compliment. So I rewrote the thing, and they handed it back again just as fast."

Now that the play will be seen at the Kennedy Center, Shaughnessy hopes some producer willing to brave the morning hour will be sufficiently enthused to give it a professional staging. If so, he adds, that might provide a reprieve from his various part-time jobs painting houses, soliciting telephone customers for sales companies and waiting tables.

Shaugnessy, who received a master of fine arts in acting last June from Cal State Fullerton, was born in St. Paul, Minn., and grew up in Minneapolis. Currently living in Fullerton, he also has a bachelor's degree in theater from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, where the noted playwright and screenwriter Mark Medoff was his faculty mentor.

Medoff, best known for writing the play and the movie "Children of a Lesser God," oversaw the initial development of "The Manager" and directed its first college workshop version several years ago in Las Cruces.

Since then Shaughnessy has had the play produced three times: at CSUF in May and December, 1992, and in February at the festival's regional competition in Las Vegas, where it was chosen as one of the six best college productions nationwide (in addition to winning the writing award).

In "The Manager," the neglected wife of an apartment superintendent shows up drunk at the door of a college student and tries to seduce him. The student, meanwhile, is so caught up in his writing that his own relationship with his girlfriend is at stake.

"I did kind of look around the apartment I was living in in Las Cruces and use it as a setting," the playwright recalled. "But I don't think the play is autobiographical."

Unlike the student, who is "trying to find out whether he has what it takes to be a writer," Shaughnessy said he believes he can not only do the writing but the acting and directing as well. "I want to do it all. The thing about acting is you have to wait for somebody to start a project. As a writer or director you can start your own."

Accordingly, he already is preparing a workshop production of another play, "The Ballad of Burt Smith and the Snakebite Kid," which he is co-writing with James Mangus. It is to be staged this summer at the Fullerton Actors Laboratory, an off-campus venture headed by CSUF faculty members.

"I think it has more to say than this play," Shaughnessy noted. "It has a lot more weight."

Whatever the case, Shaughnessy guarantees that "Snakebite" will have a customary evening curtain.

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