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THEATER : L.A. Stars in a Sizzling 'Palm Fever'


Los Angeles' morale may not be at historic highs lately, with riots, floods, earthquakes and other problems. But playwright Jean Colonomos is one who doesn't mind living here.

"Certainly in the last couple of years we've been hit hard," said the writer, whose paean to the city, "Palm Fever," begins previews Tuesday at Playwrights' Arena in the Fairfax District. "But what's important is even though we're living in this urban environment that can be very singular, we're all inter-galactically connected and integrated. Basically, I love living here. And in this piece, I try to deal with the dark and the light, the beauty of L.A."

Colonomos described the show as a collage. "Its conceit is that it has every form of writing," she said. "Narrative, monologue, poems, limericks." A multicultural cast of six weaves its way through the piece; the characters include a crazy homeless woman, a man obsessed with the Dodgers, a woman who has sex fantasies all over the city (including at Gelson's), a gun-toting couple named Dick and Jane, and a narrator who tells the story of a Latina housekeeper who falls in love with her widowed boss, a Holocaust survivor.

The piece includes at least passing references to topical subjects such as the Rodney G. King, Menendez brothers and O.J. Simpson cases. "But it's not about them," the playwright stressed. "Los Angeles is the main character."

Director Jon Lawrence Rivera notes that issues of gun control and homelessness are dealt with against the backdrop of sunny imitation-David Hockney paintings, "which makes everything so appealing and pleasant and alive--and yet the city below we know is deteriorating."

The New York-born Colonomos originally trained as a dancer and was a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company. "I had a tough time in my 20s," she said. "I left the company and a marriage. I couldn't cope--and I had an injury. I decided to try something else, and went into theater." Her piece, "Treasure Hunt," played at the Callboard in 1991.

She has also worked as a free-lance dance critic for the Village Voice and SoHo News in New York, resettling six years ago in Santa Monica. In 1990, as a member of the now-defunct Los Angeles Theatre Center's Playwrights Unit, she began writing "Palm Fever."

"Our first suggested project was to write something about Los Angeles," she recalled. "It took me a while to find my voice, and even then I had a couple of false starts." The slow start was, possibly, a portent of the rocky road the show was to have: After successful readings at the Theatre Center and later at Women in Film, "Palm Fever" was scheduled to premiere at the Burbage Theatre during the summer of 1992, but fell apart in rehearsal when cast members defected for other jobs.

Then in February of this year, the piece was slated to open at Playwrights' Arena, directed by Deborah LaVine, who had been affiliated with the piece since early on. When LaVine fell ill, the production was jettisoned.

Playwrights' Arena artistic director Rivera has since stepped into the director's shoes. "He said, 'Don't worry, we're going to get it done,' " said Colonomos. "And now we are. But it is getting harder and harder to do theater out here."

Helping keep her spirits up is the fact that "Palm Fever" won first prize in a competition this year sponsored by Playwrights in Exile and Playwrights' Arena theater groups. It was one of 87 entries, Rivera said. "I like it because it reflects what's going on in the city," Rivera said. "I think it may offend some people. Some may find it true, some may find it not true."

"Palm Fever" previews Tuesday and Wednesday, opening Friday at Playwrights' Arena, 5262 W. Pico Blvd., and playing Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Sept. 3. Admission is $12. For reservations, call Theatix: (213) 466-1767.

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