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Straight Shots of Reality : Paul A. Hapenny examines life in a Boston bar that doubles as a 'book joint' in the world premiere of 'Vig.'

June 11, 1993|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov writes about theater for The Times.

Brad Hills figures he had the correct regional roots to direct "Vig."

"I'm from Massachusetts," says the director, whose staging of Paul A. Hapenny's Boston-set drama has its world premiere tonight at the Road Theatre in Van Nuys. "The play has that whole New England feel--very enclavish," Hills adds. "We're very protective of our heritage and our history. The way we feel about sports and politics doesn't necessarily translate well to the rest of the country. We have the belief that we do things the right way, that people who come from here are right."

Set in an Irish bar that doubles as a "book joint," the play centers on the bar's owner, Vinnie Glynn, who's peacefully coexisted with the Italians running the gambling operation for the past 30 years. Now, however, circumstances have changed. A young man from the mob, coke addict Tony, has taken it upon himself to tighten up the historically relaxed debt collection. And he has few qualms about who gets hurt in the process.

"Bookies and leg-breakers--they're not very good people," allows Pennsylvania-based playwright Hapenny, who's written half a dozen plays in the past two years. "But they can be honorable. People like Vinnie have a code; it's very specific. There are things you do, things you don't do. It's very black-and-white. But Tony has no sense of honor. He has a sense of expedience."

Hapenny, 39, who was in town last week to look in on rehearsals and check on a handful of film projects in progress ("Vig" is in development with Barbra Streisand's Barwood Co.), says the play's setting is familiar to him. His half-American Indian father owned a bar in Waltham, Mass.

"Vinnie is a combination of my father and a dead bookie," notes the author, who describes his ideology as "very much to the left" and concedes that "politics always invade my work." A former political consultant and commentator for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Hapenny got into playwriting in 1982 "as a form of therapy" after he was diagnosed with cancer. He's now cancer-free.

Hapenny's first work was produced in San Francisco, where he worked at the Institute for Political Research. This fall in Canada, he'll direct his play "Sacrament," a story about the Catholic Church's involvement in Vietnam. "Vig's" opening night is dedicated to Hapenny's friend, L.A. Reader critic Clifford Gallo, who committed suicide earlier this year. Proceeds from that performance will benefit the Suicide Prevention Hotline.

"Vig" marks the Road's inaugural presentation in its new home, a former warehouse. In January, the 39-member group, previously based in Sun Valley, was the first beneficiary of the Cultural Affairs Department's One Percent Arts Fee Program, in which landowners are required to donate commercial or industrial space to an arts group for a specific period (in this case, 27 months). The Road has also recently been awarded a grant to stage "Aesop's Fables" for local schoolchildren.

"It's been great," says director Hills, a member of the theater's four-member board and formerly co-artistic director of the late Circle Rep West. "We've had an enormous amount of stuff donated--like a $3,000 air conditioner. We're not a dues-paying company anymore, and we can look for casting outside the company. But the best thing is, we no longer have the constraints of having to come up with rent every month. The only money we have to raise is the funding for production."

WHERE AND WHEN

* What: "Vig."

* Location: The Road Theatre, 14141 Covello Blvd., No. 9D, Van Nuys.

* Hours: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Closes July 18.

* Price: $12.50.

* Call: (818) 785-6175.

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