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Comic Relief : * Trinity Theatre Company had to start over after quake. Duo's show will seek to elevate spirits.

March 18, 1994|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — Few Valley theater companies made it through the Jan. 17 quake without disastrous fallout. Some made cosmetic repairs and went on. Others had to move imminent productions to new venues.

Trinity Theatre Company, whose comedy show Tonna & Vincent--"Just Add Water" is opening tonight at the Limelight Playhouse, has had to start all over.

According to producer Adam Gordon, the company's production of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" was to open the week after the quake. They had spent thousands on the staging. But the disaster ended the effort, partly because of damage to the homes of people connected with the show. Two of the actors were so shaken they left town. Three actors' homes were red-tagged, forcing them into tents. The costume designer lost not only his home, but the "Rosencrantz" costumes as well.

"We needed to laugh," Gordon says. And the answer was the self-contained act of company member Arthur Tonna and his longtime partner Diane Vincent. The duo had done their show at a couple of fund-raisers for Trinity, particularly for "Rosencrantz," and getting it into a theater would not only provide Valley audiences with comic relief during the quake's aftermath, but also would raise the company's spirit.

Tonna and Vincent met in 1986 during a production of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." They began dating but eventually realized that they had more going as a comedy team than as a relationship.

Since then, while building and honing their material, they've played the Comedy Store, the Improv, all the standard clubs, and they've played Las Vegas and Reno. That's along with following their separate courses in parallel.

Tonna and Vincent are both actors. "But," Tonna says, "Diane is more successful at that than I am."

"Wanna bet?" Vincent snaps back with a grin.

*

Tonna goes on to explain that as an actor who had done a lot of 99-seat theater, he really wasn't happy. "I wasn't satisfied," he says. "I would bring home a script, usually a comedy, and I should have been excited. People were going to see me, and blah-blah-blah. But I wasn't happy. I said, 'I think I can write better than this, something more entertaining.' So I said, 'All right, big shot, then do it.' So I started writing my own stuff. And I have more control now. If you're in a play and you don't like the second act, there's nothing you can do about it. With our show, if we don't like the second act, we can change it. If something doesn't work, get rid of it. It's always evolving, always changing. Out of necessity I became a writer."

Vincent's first love is musical comedy. She started as a tap-dancer and singer. "And I love comedy," she says. "So musical comedy offers me all three of those." And she frequently gets to show that love, most recently in the Long Beach production of "From the Top" with Carol Burnett.

Some of the pieces in their show they've been doing for a couple of years, but a lot of the material is new for this production. This is also the first time they've put themselves into the hands of a director, Trinity's Ken McFarlane.

"What we're doing at the Limelight with Ken," Vincent says, "is something we've been trying to do for a long, long time, a theatrical presentation of our stuff. It's not your basic comedy for clubs, because it requires props and lights, and that sort of thing."

Tonna laughs as he says, "You go into a place like the Comedy Store with props and hats and whatnot, you're lucky to get two microphones that work. When they see us coming they go, 'Oh, oh, here come the actors.' "

Vincent agrees. "That's why this particular act we're doing right now really belongs in a theater. There's too much froufrou involved. It's not just jokes and microphones."

Director McFarlane remembers when Tonna and Vincent did sketches for the company's fund-raisers. "That's what gave us the idea to make it a full show. It's something they've always wanted, and we said, 'Let's go with it.' "

McFarlane's influence is mostly as a third eye, he says, for the overall view, the look and feel of the show, providing a consistent pace.

Tonna & Vincent--"Just Add Water" runs for four weeks, but Arthur Tonna is also appearing in William Inge's "The Call," one of three one-acts that will play during the fifth Trinity week at the Limelight, also directed by McFarlane. The others are Frederick Stroppel's "Do Over," and "The Great Nebula in Orion" by Lanford Wilson.

WHERE AND WHEN

What: Tonna & Vincent--"Just Add Water" and "An Evening of One-Acts."

Location: Limelight Playhouse, 10634 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.

Hours: Both shows: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 7 p.m. Sundays. "Just Add Water" ends April 10. "One-Acts" April 15-17 only.

Price: Both shows: $8-$12.

Call: (213) 650-5272.

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