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Praise and Play Rights : Publishing Offers Follow Honors for Cal State Fullerton's 'Manager' and 'All That He Was'


WASHINGTON — When Darrin Shaughnessy is listed in the next Samuel French Inc. catalogue for the publication of his prize-winning comedy, "The Manager," his name will appear between William Shakespeare's and George Bernard Shaw's.

"We welcome him to the ranks of his peers," Bill Talbot, representing the nation's preeminent drama publisher, said in a ceremony following the performance of Shaughnessy's play Tuesday at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

To be included in such august company is a tad heady, even for an author with a fine sense of humor and a flair for snappy dialogue. The former Cal State Fullerton graduate student never would have thought to enter their ranks, let alone with his first produced work.

The same holds true for writer-lyricist Larry Johnson and composer Cindy O'Connor, both of whom got Talbot's royal treatment Monday following the first of two performances of their prize-winning musical, "All That He Was."

Johnson's name would be listed in the catalogue of the 163-year-old publishing company right before Franz Kafka's, Talbot said. O'Connor's would come right after Sean O'Casey's.


The gracious conflation of alphabetical order with literary value was delivered with a clubman's quiet sense of exaggeration that didn't fool anyone, of course. But it did have the effect of a lovely conceit: Everyone, authors and audiences alike, more or less swooned with pleasure.

As two of the theater festival's top prize-winners--"The Manager" won the National Short Play Award, and "All That He Was" won the National Playwriting Award--both works came to Kennedy Center heaped with honors. But the offer of a publisher's contract was the sort of professional validation that seemed to be the raison d'etre of the entire festival.

The scores of performers who have come here to be seen by assorted casting directors, talent scouts, drama coaches, producers and other industry types yearn almost beyond measure for the attention of the powers-that-be.

It is unlikely, however, that any cast under the watchful eye of a Shakespeare or a Shaw ever had to perform for an audience at 9:30 in the morning, as the cast of "The Manager" had to do in this festival. (Center officials couldn't find a better time slot during the nine-day event, which ends Monday.)

Contrary to Shaughnessy's fears, though, the ungodly theatrical hour didn't appear to hurt attendance, and it definitely didn't harm the performance of the CSUF players. A crowd of about 375 people not only turned up at the center's rooftop Terrace Theater to see the show, but they also laughed easily and often.

"It's funny ," said William Kilroy, a member of the drama faculty at the University of Southern Maine. From the pleased look on his face, Kilroy appeared a little amazed and entirely grateful to start the day watching a 55-minute comedy about short-circuited relationships set in a run-down New Mexico apartment house.

Thanks to four buoyant actors--led by Jim Gray as a young writer nimbly trying to avoid the blowzy advances of Samantha Hadfield, playing the apartment manager's neglected housewife--the production did justice to a very breezy script and kept it honest.


While it must be said that "The Manager" treats its characters once over lightly, much like a television sitcom, it doesn't condescend to them. The cast can take partial credit for that, too, as can CSUF professor Joe Arnold, who directed.

Gray invested his role with unaffected charm, to say nothing of adroit timing that you either have or you don't. He does.

Hadfield, prowling for a party late on a Saturday night, is supposed to be so drunk she spends a lot of time offstage throwing up in a bathroom. Wisely, Hadfield avoided reeling and underplayed the character without seeming at all sketchy.

Meanwhile, Lisa Wilson lent her considerable beauty and sincerity to the role of the writer's girlfriend, who also feels neglected. And Jeff Swarthout added color and depth to the performance when he came on midway through the play as the macho apartment manager who turns out to be nursing secret feelings of low self-esteem.

Physically, Todd Muffatti's production design looked like a million garage-sale bucks. A ramshackle apartment, scattered with newspapers, is set against the red-brick facade of an apartment house. The apartment itself is framed one side by a thick tree trunk with a sawed-off limb and on the other by a white-curtained window.

Although lacking huge ambition, "The Manager" has the large virtue of being playable throughout. It ought to provide the grist for many small theatrical mills. It might even become the source of a television pilot, if Shaughnessy were to exploit his aptitude for the common touch.


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