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Judging by the Gestalt : Peter Lefcourt's 'The Audit' is a new morality play that examines how a man's life is evaluated.

March 04, 1994|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov writes about theater for The Times

VAN NUYS — "No one is just good or bad," Peter Lefcourt says. "In all of us, there's the capacity for goodness and evil. People are complex."

Consider the case of Leonard Mills, the anti-hero protagonist of Lefcourt's "The Audit," making its world premiere tonight in Actors Alley's temporary home at Valley College's Horseshoe Theater.

"I based the character on my Uncle Leroy," the New York native noted. "He was quite a character. He made a million in real estate and lost it in the stock market--or vice versa. He had several ex-wives. He was charming, warm, loving, flamboyant, a womanizer. . . . He led an up-and-down life. I've always been interested in people like that."

Lefcourt--who's shown a sly and whimsical touch in his previous Actors Alley outings: "Only the Dead Know Burbank" (1989), "Sweet Talk" (1991) and "La Ronde de Lunch" (1992)--admits that this wasn't his smoothest effort; after penning the first act in 1991, he felt that he'd written himself into a corner and promptly shelved the script--until Actors Alley artistic director Jeremiah Morris asked to read it and promptly put it on the schedule to launch the theater's season.

(The opening of that season--and the company's long-in-the-works renovation of Actors Alley's new home, the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, was dealt a devastating blow by the Jan. 17 earthquake, canceling the planned Feb. 4 twin openings of "The Audit" and "The Male Animal." "Animal" will now open at Valley College's Little Theatre on April 8.)

"I've never worked so well or so happily with anyone," said director Morris, who also staged "La Ronde de Lunch." "It's the whole concept: 'What is a man's worth? What do you judge it by? What moment?' Of course, you don't do it by moments. You judge by the gestalt , the whole thing. Sure, doing this makes you think about your mortality. But I've been dealing with that for a long time--since I had a heart attack at 40."

The play's central character is less fortunate: He doesn't recover. In Act 1, set in an intensive care unit, we meet the principal figures from Leonard Mills' life: his two ex-wives, father, son and daughter. Act 2 takes place in an unusual "auditor's" office, where the departed Mills undergoes "a Sartre-esque trial by computer," Lefcourt said. "The computer picks out random dates and times, and we go back and see what happened--the actors play out the scenes."

Lefcourt, whose TV writing credits include "Eight Is Enough" and a 1984 Emmy for work in "Cagney & Lacey," is also the author of two highly praised novels, "The Deal" and "The Dreyfus Affair: A Love Story"; he hopes that the latter will soon go the movie route. Also upcoming: this summer's opening of "Sweet Talk" at Vermont's Oldcastle Theatre, and a spy movie with Roger Moore, written for CBS.

"The Audit," Lefcourt acknowledges, is a major switch of gears.

"Although there's a lot of comedy, it is my most serious play," he said. "It's a morality play, hopefully illuminating. I chose the metaphor of the audit because it's something that deals with profits and losses. Yet what we all want is a sense of judgment, of meaning--not just a list of assets and liabilities. The irony of the title is, it doesn't do justice to evaluating a life. We tend to judge things by extremes. But people are so various, so gray."


What: "The Audit."

Location: Horseshoe Theater, Valley College, 5800 Fulton Ave., Van Nuys.

Hours: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Closes March 26.

Price: $14 to $18.

Call: (818) 508-4200.

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