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THEATER NOTES : Comedian Splits Laughs Among Several Roles : Former Laugh-In star Alan Sues performs in an original one-man play at the third Festival of the Arts.

July 01, 1993|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"LAUGH-IN" STAR TO DEBUT PLAY IN SIMI VALLEY: To most people, Alan Sues will always be best known as an original cast member of the long-running television comedy-variety series, "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In," in many ways the daffiest--and certainly the silliest--of the show's regular players.

Though generally unknown when he joined "Laugh-In" in 1968, Sues was already a veteran stage and film actor, whose resume included training at the Pasadena Playhouse (where his classmates included George Nader and Charles Pierce), and a list of theatrical credits working with directors including Elia Kazan ("Tea and Sympathy"), and Joshua Logan (a road company of Anita Loos' "Happy Birthday").

For three performances on July 9-11, Sues' original one-man play, "No Flies on Me," will make its world debut as part of the Simi Valley Cultural Assn.'s third annual Festival of the Arts. The play is a mystery, with Sues playing several roles. Directed by David Ralphe and aimed for an adult audience, it is, the actor-playwright said in a recent interview, a comedy. It almost has to be.

"When I first started out," Sues said, "I did a lot of straight dramatic roles, but after 'Laugh-In,' audiences wouldn't accept me in anything but a comedy." Though Sues has done well performing comedic roles in dinner theater, summer stock and so on, there was one notable exception: he appeared with great success as evil Professor Moriarty in the Royal Shakespeare Company revival of William Gillette's "Sherlock Holmes," produced on Broadway in 1974, followed by a well-received national tour.

Sues' first film appearance was in 1957's "The Helen Morgan Story," directed by crusty veteran Michael Curtiz. Sues was, he was quick to admit, naive.

"I was reading my lines at a high volume, and Michael was upset--he told me that it wasn't the (legitimate) theater, and I didn't have to yell," Sues said. "When I came back from lunch, somebody was standing in my place. Certain that I'd been fired, I called my agent, who made me stay in my dressing room until he was able to get to the set. When he got there, he came back to the dressing room and told me, 'Listen, you (dope), that's your stand-in out there!' "

Sues said he remembers working on "The Americanization of Emily," a 1964 war drama starring James Garner, near Oxnard. "We were re-enacting the landing at Omaha Beach, only it was January and the water was very cold," he said. "My teeth were chattering so hard I could hardly say my lines. I asked Garner how he kept from freezing, and he replied that his wet suit kept him warm. I didn't know what he was talking about-- 'What's a wet suit?' Garner marched back up the beach and back to his dressing trailer, refusing to work until they got a wet suit for me, too."

"No Flies on Me" runs July 9 and 10 at 8 p.m., and on July 11 at 2 p.m. Tickets for all performances are $12; $9 for students and seniors. For reservations or further information, call the festival hot line at 522-5501.

TWO IS MORE REPETITIVE THAN ONE: It is both remarkable and dismaying that, with all the plays that have been written since the days of the ancient Greeks, local theatrical companies tend to duplicate one another with such frequency.

For example, as 1993 continues, we find both the Santa Paula Theater Center and Camarillo's Faye Renee Dinner Theater mounting productions of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit" within weeks of one another this month. Faye Renee's (opening July 31) was booked first, though they never got around to announcing it until after the Santa Paulans put their own version (previews begin July 10) on the schedule.

Ojai's Illusions Theatre and the Simi Festival of the Arts are presenting versions of "Alice in Wonderland" (opening July 17 and Aug. 7, respectively), and--as previously noted here--on Aug. 12, audiences can choose between opening nights of the Camarillo Community Theater's production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" and the Moorpark Melodrama's parody "The Truth About Cinderella."

Both the California Shakespeare Company and the Ojai Shakespeare Festival had penciled in productions of "Measure for Measure" for this year (the Ojai folks backed off, replacing it with "Romeo and Juliet"), and until recently the Conejo Players' production of "The Man Who Came to Dinner" was set to be echoed by the Santa Paula Theater Center's own production in October. This is the third year in a row that someone (in this case, Shakespeare in the Park) is putting on "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and there has been a similar three-year cycle of "Cabaret."

A couple of years ago, Ventura College produced Neil Simon's autobiographical trilogy--a year at a time--each production only a few months after the Conejo Players had put on their own versions. And let's not forget spring, 1992, when three concurrent productions of "The Foreigner" played within easy driving distance of one another, with a fourth only three months later.

As Simon's alter ego in the trilogy, Eugene Jerome, might say: "Enough, already!"

All of this could be solved by a little communication and cooperation among companies, but several attempts to form pan-Ventura County theater associations have failed. The actors, it should be noted, drift from one company to another, wherever the work is. It's the producers who hold responsibility for this shortsighted attitude.

TOGA! TOGA! TOGA!: On a lighter note, anyone wearing a toga (or reasonable facsimile) to the Camarillo Community Theatre's production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" at the Camarillo Airport Theater tonight or tomorrow only will be admitted free.

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