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STAGE WATCH

Will 'Island' Cycle Float Into the Taper?

March 06, 1994|DON SHIRLEY

First there was "The Kentucky Cycle," then "Angels in America." But now a whole year has gone by without a two-part epic at the Mark Taper Forum.

Never fear--Taper programmers are trying to bring Eduardo Machado's Cuba cycle, "The Floating Island Plays," to the Taper next season.

The first three of the "Island Plays" ("The Modern Ladies of Guanabacoa," "Fabiola," "In the Eye of the Hurricane") follow several Cuban families from 1928 through Castro's revolution. The last, "Broken Eggs," is set at a Cuban American wedding reception in Woodland Hills in 1979. Machado's own family emigrated from Cuba to the San Fernando Valley when he was 8, and he lived in the area until he moved to New York at the age of 27. He's now 40.

The plays have been staged separately--including a production of "Fabiola" at L.A.'s Ensemble Studio Theatre in 1985--but they haven't been presented as a package. They were published in a single volume in 1991 by Theatre Communications Group, but Machado has been rewriting them in recent months. The published text still could be used for individual productions, he said last week, but when they are presented as a group, he prefers the rewrites, which trim some of the exposition.

Oskar Eustis, the Taper's associate artistic director until June, has been working with Machado on the rewrites and plans to direct the Taper production, despite his brand-new job as artistic director of Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, R.I. Eustis said the "Island Plays" mean so much to him that he stipulated in his Trinity contract that he would be able to return to Los Angeles to direct them. He performed similar dramaturge/directing duties on "Angels in America."

The biggest roadblock is money. Eustis declined to specify a budget estimate. But he cautioned that the production could cost more than any other production in Taper history--although the budget for the upcoming "Bandido!" might provide some competition for that title. The "Island Plays" call for a cast of 13, "radically different locations" and lavish costumes, Eustis said--"These people knew how to dress."

The "Island Plays" have whipped up the kind of enthusiasm around the Taper that usually means something will be produced, Eustis said. Talk has centered on the possibility of presenting the plays next fall. But Taper artistic director Gordon Davidson has yet to give the final go-ahead. ("No decisions get made without Gordon," said Eustis. "We pretend but we're all really children.")

Machado's work on the "Island Plays" and on several other Taper projects is being supported by a $100,000 grant from the National Theatre Artist Residency Program, financed by Pew Charitable Trusts and administered by Theatre Communications Group.

In addition to the "Island Plays," he's writing "From His P.O.V.," a play about AIDS in the Latino community, for P.L.A.Y., the Taper's youth theater. He's also consulting on season planning and helping run the theater's Mentor Playwright Program, where he has already taught for three years.

One project he's not doing at the Taper was, nonetheless, commissioned by the Taper: "Across a Crowded Room," a play about "the meaning of talent," focusing on the daughter of a famous Broadway composer in 1939. Although the Taper passed on it, Machado now hopes to take it to Broadway.

Meanwhile, Machado said that he had no time to accept an invitation to collaborate with Tony Kushner on the La Jolla Playhouse adaptation of "The Good Person of Setzuan" this summer. Poetic justice, perhaps? The Taper had to postpone Kushner's "The Heavenly Theatre," which had been scheduled for this summer, because of Kushner's commitments to a variety of other projects, including "Setzuan."

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"WAITING" WINS: The show that replaced "The Heavenly Theatre" on the Taper schedule, Lisa Loomer's "The Waiting Room," won one of two second place awards in the annual Susan Smith Blackburn program, while the Taper's show from last June, "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992," won an honorable mention. Loomer's prize of $1,000 was the highest award to an American in this year's competition, which is open to women who write plays for the English-speaking theater. First place went to Jane Coles, a London writer, for her "Backstroke in a Crowded Pool."

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MONEY FOR MUSICALS?: The new San Diego Music Theatre is trying to drum up money for its first season. If enough can be raised, the group plans to present a revival of the 1954 Harold Rome/Joshua Logan/S.N. Behrman musical "Fanny," at San Diego Civic Theatre in October--the first in a three-show season. Founder and general director is Gregory Allen Hirsch, a lighting designer and former director of production for San Diego Opera. Artistic director is Albert Marre, director of the original "Kismet" and "Man of La Mancha."

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