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Priestly Play That's Not Preachy : Richard Herd portrays a cleric in Douglas Scott Delaney's comedy-drama.

October 28, 1994|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov writes regularly about theater for The Times

VAN NUYS — Richard Herd is definitely in a priestly mode these days. Beginning Nov. 8, he will play the fictional Cardinal O'Brien to Nicholas Turturro's young priest in the HBO production of "The First Commandment," directed by Warrington Hudlin. And beginning Wednesday, he will play Father Seamus Dunne to Javi Muiero's young priest in the world premiere of Douglas Scott Delaney's 12-character comedy-drama ". . . My Last Confession" at the Road Theatre.

"Dunne is a regular guy, a humanist, who happens to be a priest," explains Herd, who also plays Secretary Gen. Noyce on NBC's "seaQuest DSV." He's been a member of the Road company since he and his wife, actress Patricia Herd, appeared there in 1993's "The Walkers."

Although fictionalized as St. Martin's, Delaney has set his drama at a real-life Catholic church, St. Brigid's, in New York's seedy Alphabet City district. Ironically, Herd lived across the street as a young actor; his son was baptized in that church.

Not coincidentally, Herd is also responsible for bringing Delaney's drama to the Road--a favor not lost on the playwright, who has been communicating with the company and director Taylor Gilbert by phone from his home near Lawrence, Kan. "Originally, the piece was written as a one-act when I was a technical director at Southwestern College in Kansas," notes Delaney, who will travel here for the premiere. "It was a mini-hit, so I expanded it to full-length. The version you'll see is probably the fourth or fifth major rewrite."

The play's genesis, says the writer, was his own childhood in New York. "They used to bus us to this church every Wednesday," he recalls, "and Father Lynch would try to teach us (religious) lessons using a ventriloquist's dummy. He was really, really bad." The church itself, Delaney adds, "was built for the people who lived there at the time, but then the neighborhoods all changed. Certain dinosaurs remain--like this church. I think conventions like that need to change, need to adapt. When they don't, they die."

Delaney notes that his plays usually take their form from the characters' dialogue. "The way I write is kind of like Ping-Pong," says the writer, whose "American Airborne" played at the Attic Theatre in Hollywood and the Globe Playhouse in West Hollywood. "I put a few people out there and just let them start talking. . . . In this case, confessional is a wonderful (theatrical) device, because it gives you the excuse to keep bringing new people in."

At age 17, Delaney was recruited to play football at Southwestern; after graduate school in Louisiana, he returned to New York and toiled at the Working Stage for six years. "It was time," he says of his 1990 departure. "I promised myself as soon as I got myself a New York literary agent I would leave. New York is just too expensive."

Now, he says happily, "I've got some land, some dogs"--plus a 30-member company, the Renegade Theatre, in Lawrence. "I do miss the city greatly. But I always knew I had to get out of New York. I'll go back on my own terms: When I get a big play up or publish one of my novels."

Delaney is equally relaxed about public perception of this play. "There is no message," he stresses. "I believe in painting a picture. People will get from it what they want. Nobody wants to be preached to."

Where and When

What: ". . . My Last Confession."

Location: The Road Theatre, 14141 Covello St., No. 9-D, Van Nuys.

Hours: Previews 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Nov. 4. Opens Nov. 5 and plays at 8 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. Closes Dec. 11.

Price: $8 for previews, $12.50 general admission; student and senior discounts available. Nov. 13 is "pay-what-you-can night" for San Fernando Valley residents only.

Call: (818) 785-6175.

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