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Stimulating Discourse : Audiences will be able to participate in 'The Living Newspaper,' which will change weekly according to events.

April 23, 1993|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov writes regularly about theater for Valley Life. and

Price Marshall figures her version of "The Living Newspaper" is in pretty good company.

In the 1930s, dramatist Elmer Rice and the Federal Theatre Project created "The Living Newspaper," a satirizing of social events. Rice was in turn inspired by the work of Soviet activist Vsevolod Meyerhold, who was later shot for his politics.

"I hope that doesn't happen to us," Marshall said with a chuckle.

Under her direction, the Actors' Company production of "The Living Newspaper" launches its free weekly performances tonight at the Burbank Little Theatre.

"My point of view is that theater is supposed to be in the Aristotelian tradition," said Marshall, who's also a member of the 16-person cast. "It should evoke in the people watching something that will change their lives--however big or small--but that makes them reflect on themselves and their position in society. We've become so passive in this country, so polite in not responding to what we're observing, that a lot of things fall by the wayside."

What the company hopes to do with this piece, she said, is stimulate public discourse. Audiences will be able to directly participate in the show, which will change weekly according to topical events. Like a newspaper, the hourlong program will be divided into particular areas of news interest: a front page, lifestyle and entertainment sections, a recap of weekly events and a science report. Subjects will range from health care to abortion, gays in the military, Haitian refugees and the Woody/Mia mess.

"We want to be a catalyst," stressed the producer-director, who loves the no-editing feature of the improvisational format. "We want to draw people in. And what better way to do that than with humor."

In one sketch, actress Marcia Shapiro spoofs psychologist Laura Schlesinger, playing radio shrink Mona Messinger in "A Minute with Mona" (actually, it's only 50 seconds).

"We're bombarded every day with impending doom, inundated with negativity, fear and drama," Shapiro said. "We want to find the humor in things. In one sketch, Clinton has an eating disorder, an obsession with McDonald's--so we do a family intervention."

The show, she added, is in no way set. "We're open to experimentation, letting things happen. If it's not funny, we won't do it again.

Marshall, who received her degree in film production at New York University, has worked in film behind-the-scenes, and spent 26 of her 38 years as an actress. She's also spent much of the past decade working with AIDS groups--first as a volunteer with the Gay Men's Health Crisis, and later as an executive coordinator with the American Foundation for AIDS Research and as the director of board affairs with AIDS Project Los Angeles.

"AIDS is like a grand litmus test," said the Spokane-born actress-director, who relocated to Los Angeles in 1987. "When you pull out the paper, you discover racism, insurance scams, inequities in health care. AIDS exposed all the challenges in front of us in this country."

She pauses for a moment. "I have held the dying in my arms. To watch parents lose their child--it changes your life."

In addition to the ideological and social platform "The Living Newspaper" is providing, Marshall is also grateful for the opportunity to flex some artistic muscles. "I have found in the Actors' Company a loving, safe environment to experiment with my craft," she said earnestly. "For an actor, this town can be very degrading. After a while here, you forget you have any talent, because you have no chance to exercise it."

Where and When What: "The Living Newspaper." Location: Burbank Little Theatre in George Izay Park, 1100 Clark Ave., Burbank. Hours: 7 p.m. Sundays. Indefinitely. Price: Free. Call: (818) 954-9858.

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