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THEATER / JAN HERMAN : A Little Heart-to-Heart : Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers Turn a New Page on Old TV Romance in 'Love Letters'

June 04, 1993|JAN HERMAN

For Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers--the glitzy television stars of the old NBC series "Hart to Hart"--A.R. Gurney's "Love Letters" ought to provide the chance to have a real heart-to-heart with a live audience.

Wagner seems to think so. He and Powers open in the two-character play Tuesday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on the second leg of a four-city tour that began this week in Washington.

"It's a kind of gift that's been given to us," he said in a recent telephone interview from his wife Jill St. John's home in Aspen, Colo. "There's nothing like being on stage. It's the ultimate. And the play is so romantic."

This is not to say that Powers feels particularly sentimental about the occasion. The pair has done the piece before, many times, she notes--first for a week in Boston three years ago, then in London for six weeks and after that in 10 other cities on two separate American tours.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 5, 1993 Orange County Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
Orton Play--The Laguna Playhouse will stage a production of Joe Orton's "What the Butler Saw" next season. The wrong play was reported on Friday.

Indeed, when asked why she liked doing Gurney's play, Powers was nonplussed by the question.

"I act--that's my job," she replied from her Washington hotel room. And just in case we didn't get it, she added: "I act for a living."

Hoping Powers might elaborate on her thoughts about a stage work that consists of two uptight WASPs reading excerpts from their 50-year correspondence, we rephrased the question: What is it about "Love Letters" that appeals to her?

"I suppose it's the same thing that has attracted about 200 other actors," she said, referring to the many celebrities who took turns doing the show for almost two years from 1990 to '92 at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills. "It's a wonderful play."

Or, as somebody might once have said on "Hart to Hart," case closed.

*

MAGICAL ACTS: Jules Aaron apparently entered the twilight zone before taking on the job of trying to save the beleaguered GroveShakespeare from imminent collapse in Garden Grove.

A couple of months ago, Aaron, who is the Grove's acting artistic director, signed a letter of intent to direct "Zoners, Four Tales From the Twilight Zone" for independent producer Dave Carleen next January at the Grove's Gem Theatre.

Carleen, a Santa Ana illusionist who used to be known professionally as The Amazing Carleen, has secured the stage rights to a quartet of early "Twilight Zone" television episodes by George Clayton Johnson. Carleen hopes to produce them as an evening of one-acts.

"We would run the show for five weeks at the Gem," he said, "and then we would transfer it to the Westwood Playhouse in Los Angeles."

To do this, the 45-year-old former magician says he has devised a detailed budget of $500,000. All the money must still be raised, however. Meanwhile, he and Aaron and Johnson are in the process of adapting the TV scripts to the stage.

"I think Dave wants to astound people as a sort of small-scale P.T. Barnum," said Johnson, who also co-wrote the novels "Oceans 11" and "Logan's Run" and penned the first episode of TV's "Star Trek." (The episode was called "The Man Trap.")

"These plays," Johnson added, "will involve stage effects based on Dave's abilities as an illusionist to get us into the twilight zone."

*

BOTTOMS UP: When the cast of a show outnumbers the audience, as has been known to happen at some of the county's smaller theaters, it's not very encouraging for the performers.

But while Al Valletta's one-man show at the Backstage Theatre in Costa Mesa has been drawing less than a crowd, he gets drunk on stage for another reason.

"I play a former alcoholic," Valletta said of his role in "Call Me Back," a black comedy. "He's sober at the beginning of the show, and he begins drinking as the result of certain phone calls. It's a downward spiral."

The calls are not coming from people canceling their reservations, though they might just as well be. At a recent performance, for example, Valletta had only seven people in the audience. Naturally, it made him wonder if he should go on. So he put it to a vote.

"They said they wanted me to do the show, and I did," he recalled. "At the end they gave me a standing ovation. Even though it's been very difficult getting audiences, those who do come love what they see."

Thus encouraged in spite of the weak attendance, Valletta has not only extended the show through the end of June but claims he's going to take it to Los Angeles.

*

STAGE TURNS: The sound of hammering will be music to his ears. Laguna Playhouse executive director Richard Stein says an automated turntable is to be installed permanently this summer for the stage of the Playhouse's Moulton Theatre.

The troupe will need a turntable for scenic requirements of next season's big Christmas musical, "Oliver!" But the Playhouse schedule is so tight in the fall, Stein notes, that technicians would have no time to build and install the turntable then.

He says the work will be completed, probably by Labor Day, before the premiere of the season opener, Joe Orton's "Loot."

An automated turntable stage should give the theater company in Laguna Beach, which is known for its high production values, considerably greater scenic flexibility than it already has.

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