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STAGE WATCH

You'll Have to Wait a Spell to See 'Kentucky Cycle' on TV

April 25, 1993|DON SHIRLEY

The announcement that Home Box Office has optioned "The Kentucky Cycle" for a miniseries may confirm the opinions of those few critics who referred pejoratively to the two-part epic as a miniseries-in-waiting when it played the Mark Taper Forum last year.

But "I can't lose too much sleep over that," said playwright Robert Schenkkan. "Every writer hopes for a subsidiary rights sale. I'd love to have a six-hour feature film (instead of a TV miniseries), but if you think getting a six-hour play produced is difficult, try getting a six-hour film produced."

Schenkkan said he liked the HBO deal because "I won't have to worry about network censorship" and because he'll retain "as much creative control as any writer would ever get" in his capacity as co-executive producer.

HBO won't be allowed to schedule the miniseries until a year after the play's Broadway opening, now slated for Nov. 13. Still, with the top Broadway ticket price expected to hit "the vicinity of $100" (according to its Broadway producer, David Richenthal), couldn't knowledge of the HBO project deter some theatergoers?

Not so, say Richenthal and Schenkkan. The TV miniseries is "far in the future," said Richenthal, and "the fact that HBO wants to do it may tell theatergoers that it's not artsy, inaccessible material." Another two-part epic, "Nicholas Nickleby," was a hit both on stage and on public TV, he noted.

"They'll be two very different experiences," said Schenkkan. The film will offer an opened-up visual panorama, at the expense of some of the language "that just wouldn't translate" and minus "the ritual-like experience of watching the same 12 actors transform in front of our eyes." Chances are that in a film, unlike the play, most of the actors will play only one part.

The TV deal was negotiated before Richenthal became producer, on the basis of HBO officials seeing the show at the Taper. But Schenkkan gave up some of his own revenue from the TV sale in order to attract investors for the Broadway production. "That's how you get a show up in New York now," said Schenkkan. Subsidiary rights sale is "a critical component. It's money well spent if it takes us closer to New York."

DELAYED "LAUGHTER": When last we checked the progress of Neil Simon's next play, "Laughter on the 23rd Floor," Simon said it was headed for a fall date at the Doolittle Theatre. But now the itinerary has changed; Los Angeles probably won't see it until next summer, after its Broadway opening. The pre-Broadway tryout will be held at Duke University in Durham, N.C., opening Oct. 21.

The switch was attributed to the three-month running time required for Doolittle productions--and to the six-month maximum that many young actors place on their stage commitments, explained Leonard Soloway, general manager for the producers of the play. If the actors give only six months to the play and three of them are at the Doolittle, that would leave only three for Broadway, said Soloway--not enough for the fiscal demands of Broadway.

The play is about a group of young writers for a TV comedy series in the '50s, and Soloway said the well-known actors who can play these parts "are looking to continue their own television careers"--hence the six-month maximum. Does that mean a cast full of TV stars? Soloway wouldn't name names. But no, don't look for Luke Perry.

Another production from the same company, the road tour of Wendy Wasserstein's "The Sisters Rosensweig," is another contender for a Doolittle slot next season.

CLASSICAL FUND-RAISER: The new Latino Classical Repertory company will hold an inaugural fund-raiser on May 3 at Los Angeles Theatre Center. Founded by Julie Arenal, Robert Beltran, Tony Plana and Ruben Sierra, the company plans to produce classical plays--not necessarily from the Spanish canon--with Latino casts. It's currently in residence at Cal State Los Angeles and may present Equity-contract productions there later this year as part of the school's Theatre for the 21st Century festival. The company is also a member of the Artists' Collective at LATC. Information: (213) 466-1767.

STRATTON'S STUDIO: There will be an opening at the Westwood Playhouse on Friday, but it's not in the usual 499-seat space that hosts most Westwood productions. It's in a new 50-seat space, formerly occupied by Stratton's restaurant, at the front of the building. House manager Bill Szymanski and his wife, Rose Bianco, are producing "Enthusiastic People" there--and personally converting the space, known as the Westwood Playhouse Studio, for that purpose. As of last week, they were still looking for seats.

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