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Painful Facts of Life : The young characters in 'Careless Love' face grown-up issues when they grapple with an unplanned pregnancy.

October 21, 1994|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; T.H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for The Times. and

SHERMAN OAKS — It's one of the oldest stories in the world, but young people keep playing it out as though it's brand-new. A good time is had by all, and then the bad time begins. She makes a phone call to announce that she's pregnant. He says he'll pay for the abortion.

Playwright John Olive calls it "Careless Love." Even though he wrote the play in 1984, his take on the problem is still pertinent today.

For director Richard Scelfo, whose production opens tonight at the Whitefire Theatre, the play recalls a similar experience. "There is a parallel in my life to this story," he said.

"I always think, what would it have been like? How old would he or she be now. . . .

"We were actually both too young. The woman was not ready to be a mother, or a wife, for that matter. So we went ahead and had one of those terrible, in those days, back-alley abortions before the whole issue was addressed politically."

Now abortion is legal, which takes the characters in the play--an actor named Jack, played by Patrick Tanzillo, and a dancer named Martha, played by the director's daughter, Leonora Scelfo--in a different direction.

Tanzillo's character is immature, not ready to deal with the responsibilities of parenthood, but less marriage.

Tanzillo said: "Jack makes the decision in the beginning that Martha should have the abortion. He hasn't had the time to grow up and realize what he's doing. And when he does grow up, it's too late. He's going to have to live with that."

But Martha feels that it is her body and her baby. She decides to have the baby and put it up for adoption, creating another problem for Jack.

"I'm looking at it from the male's point of view," Tanzillo explained. "There are lines that just really hit home. I've had a couple of very close friends this happened to. They decided to have the baby and get married. They have two or three kids now. There are others who had the abortion and now are thinking twice about it, having self-recrimination about it."

In an out-of-wedlock affair, director Scelfo said, men often feel like a second banana in terms of having a say in the decision-making. "There's a certain unfairness about that," he said.

Leonora Scelfo said her character takes full responsibility for the situation. "Ultimately, that's what women have to do. I don't care how far we've progressed. When it comes down to it, it's the woman's choice, whether it's a good thing or a bad thing. She takes the bull by the horn and makes a decision she can live with. And that's why I feel good about this character. She's strong; she's able to keep everything in perspective."

*

Martha's decision might make Olive's drama sound like a pro-life play. That isn't the way Tanzillo sees it.

"It's pro-everything," he said. "It's pro-life, it's pro-choice. The only thing it's not pro is father helping with the decision. In the play, Jack says: 'It's my baby too. I have the right to decide what happens.' It's whatever she wants. And that's a tough thing for anybody to go through."

If anyone changes during the play, as someone must in any good drama, it's Jack, the selfish, career-oriented actor. Tanzillo thinks the character grows into the possibility of a better future at the end, but his director doesn't totally agree.

"You can't really achieve transformations in life from one level to the next without these experiences, these experiences where we're really right up against it, where we've got to stand for something or not," director Scelfo said. "We come up to these tests. We learn from the degree of pain we experience."

His daughter added: "You don't really learn from experience. You learn from reflection on it."

Tanzillo wants others to learn the lesson in the play. He hopes teen-age girls and those "young men who still don't want to use condoms" will view the play. "This is a great wake-up call before something like this can actually happen--if they continue being stupid."

Where and When

What: "Careless Love."

Location: Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Hours: 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 27.

Price: $12.

Call: (818) 992-6040.

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