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STAGE WATCH

In the Matter of the Death of 'Tamara': A Post-Mortem

July 18, 1993|DON SHIRLEY

The collapse of "Tamara" after nine years in Hollywood was "like somebody dying in your arms," said producer Barrie Wexler.

From the outside, it looked like an extremely sudden death. True, Wexler had long been saying that business had dropped because of the recession and the effect of last year's riots on Hollywood tourism. Still, no one realized that June 27--the same day that a "Tamara" ad warned "Final Six Weeks!"--would in fact be the date of the final performance. Not even Wexler realized it, he said. So he didn't go to the show that night and thereby missed what would have been its final curtain (if it only had a curtain).

Three days later, on June 30, "Tamara" failed to meet a deadline from Actors' Equity for a payment to replenish the show's bond, which had been drawn on after a previous "Tamara" check to the union bounced. An Equity official later said she was told on June 30 that the show was folding. But that next weekend was a previously designated hiatus for the company because of expected slow business over the July 4 holiday, and Wexler said that the final decision to pull the plug wasn't made until over that holiday weekend. Ticket orders continued to be taken, though not processed, while the final decision was being made. Finally, on July 6, ticket orders were no longer taken.

The missed Equity deadline "had nothing to do" with the show's closing, claimed Wexler. Instead, he cited an alarming drop in box-office revenue during the show's final week. Though he refused to cite dollar figures, Wexler said business was down 70% from normal June levels, which were roughly equivalent to his break-even point. "It was as if there had been a new L.A. riot," he said.

Making the picture even gloomier was the lack of box office response to that June 27 "Final Six Weeks" edict--just as the publicity for a ninth-birthday celebration earlier in June had failed to drum up any new business.

Wexler said he "hasn't given any consideration" to filing for bankruptcy. "We're still working through the liabilities, going through the accounts." Asked why no official announcement was made that the show had closed, Wexler mentioned his "state of exhaustion" and said "it never occurred to me," then acknowledged: "I don't have a good answer for that."

"Tamara" played 3,682 performances, according to Wexler's records. This appears to set the record for a professional Los Angeles theatrical production. "Bleacher Bums" ran more years at the Century City Playhouse, but it didn't perform as often, and its producers didn't keep count of its performances.

EAST WEST WATCH: For the first time in its 28 years, the artistic director of East West Players is no longer a first-generation Japanese-American.

Tim Dang, the new artistic director, is a fourth-generation Chinese-American "in his 30s," he said. He does not speak Chinese. He replaces Nobu McCarthy, who said she's "approaching 60" years of age and is leaving after five years as artistic director to pursue her acting career. McCarthy and her predecessor, the founding artistic director Mako, are Japanese emigres.

Dang discounted the idea that his Chinese heritage would make a difference at East West, but he did say the generational difference might lead him to select "a little more contemporary and abstract plays." For the most part, however, McCarthy had been training him as a possible successor because "we share the same vision" for the group, said Dang.

Next season will largely reflect McCarthy's choices and will focus on plays written by women, or at least featuring women in the lead roles. The season begins Sept. 23 with "29 1/2 Dreams," a musical collaboration by six women, to be directed by Amy Hill. Dang's own "first major task," he said, will be the transition into soon-to-be-selected larger quarters and the development of a "second season" of work that is "more cutting-edge, multicultural or Los Angeles-bound." In addition, Dang's staging of "Into the Woods" from last fall may tour China next spring, if enough money can be raised.

MORE GNUS: Although Jeff Seymour has left what used to be his Gnu Theatre in North Hollywood and now plans to make a movie about his experiences there (Stage Watch, July 4), the owner of the building says he wants to keep the Magnolia Boulevard property in use as a theater.

Responding to Seymour's comments that his lease required him to return the building to the condition it was in before a theater was constructed, landlord Armen Gregorian said he asked Seymour to leave the theater intact as much as possible, because several other groups have inquired about renting it. But Seymour went ahead and gutted it, even removing the interior wall that separated the lobby from the seating area.

Gregorian speculated that Seymour did this out of "jealousy" that other groups might use the space Seymour designed.

"He never requested any such thing," responded Seymour. "I'm astounded that you're telling me he wants to run it as a theater." Instead, he said he returned the space to a configuration that would be suitable for commercial use.

Seymour acknowledged that "I was a little uptight that it might become a whored-out rental space. It was my easel. But I could have been negotiated out of (such feelings)."

Seymour hasn't paid rent on the space since October, he conceded, because of a dispute over how much his rent should be. Gregorian successfully had him evicted, and he finally left a couple of weeks ago.

Gregorian said he now plans to sue Seymour for the condition in which the theater was left, in addition to his ongoing pursuit of back rent. But he also said that he could convert the space back into a theater quickly and plans to do so, assuming he can strike a deal with a tenant who wants to present plays there.

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