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One More Time Around at the Dance : Actors David Doyle and Orson Bean are returning to 'I Was Dancing,' the play they appeared in 29 years ago on Broadway.

September 17, 1993|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov writes regularly about theater for The Times

WOODLAND HILLS — David Doyle is going home again.

Twenty-nine years ago, he played the youngest of a group of old cronies in the Broadway premiere of Edwin O'Connor's "I Was Dancing." Now he's back with the play, directing the West Coast premiere, opening Saturday at the Richard Basehart Playhouse in Woodland Hills.

"It's beautifully written, funny, poignant--and yet it has a lot of starch," Doyle said.

Set outside Boston, circa 1963, the six-character piece revolves around a garrulous vaudevillian, Dan Considine, who's been on the road for 23 years and has now decided to retire and make a home for himself with his son and daughter-in-law. Unfortunately, the director said, "That's not the way they see it.

"It's a story happening a lot today--the middle generation getting caught with children on one end, parents on the other," said Doyle, who last appeared on stage at the Basehart in A. R. Gurney's "The Perfect Party" in 1988. "The thread of the story is that crux everyone finds themselves in. It's handled with humor, and yet it's not a jokey play. The comedy comes out of the characters."

Actor Orson Bean was also in that original 1964 production, playing the small role of Considine's son. Now he's playing the lead role of the father, a part originally performed by Burgess Meredith.

"It flopped on Broadway--even with me in it," Bean recalls genially. "I never thought, in a million years, I'd be doing it again." He affectionately refers to his character as "an Irish-American B. S. artist."

Bean's time in the play coincides with a filming break from the TV series "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman"--and ironically, his actress wife, Alley Mills, is guest-starring in his absence.

"I'd rather do theater for nothing," he confesses, "than get paid to do my TV show."

Bean, who starred in "The Accidental Death of an Anarchist" at the Odyssey in 1989, adds, "This isn't the greatest play in the world, but it's got wonderful dialogue, a glorious part. I love doing it."

Born in Lincoln, Neb., Doyle--the father of a grown daughter and grandfather of 4-month-old Hannah--began acting at age 10 in a community theater production of "Life With Father." After prep school in Wisconsin, he attended the University of Nebraska, then hooked up with New York's Neighborhood Playhouse in 1950. After a four-year stint in the Navy, he returned to New York, moving to Los Angeles in 1972. "It became obvious," he said dryly, "I had to come West in order to work."

Like Bean, Doyle holds a special place in his heart for theater. "It's where I began," said the actor, most recognizable to television audiences for his long-running stint as Bosley on "Charlie's Angels." "And theater is a whole other experience. It's the immediacy an actor appreciates: You don't have to wait a year for the response. You get it instantly, either in silence or laughs. And you get to show the entire spectrum of a character, do the whole story. It's a full, complete quilt--much more fulfilling than piecework."

Where and When What: "I Was Dancing." Location: Richard Basehart Playhouse, 21028-B Victory Blvd., Woodland Hills. Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Closes Oct. 31. Price: $16 to $18; discounts for students, seniors and groups. Call: (818) 704-1845.

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