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THEATER NOTES : Hold That Gavel--It's Showtime

March 12, 1995|Don Shirley | Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

Call them the O.J. Jury Players.

In the near future, Compa ny of Angels is hoping to perform its production of "Yard Sale" for the O.J. Simpson jury, just as Malek-Yonan Productions performed its version of Moliere's "The Imaginary Invalid" two weeks ago.

The performances for L.A.'s most exclusive theater club began with an idea by producer Monica Malek-Yonan, who had staged her non-Equity "Invalid" for one performance at Barnsdall Park on Jan. 22 and plans to revive it in May. Malek-Yonan is an attorney as well as a producer, so she knew that sequestered jurors might appreciate some live entertainment, and she knew who to contact to make it happen.

The courtroom staff liked the idea and initially wanted to do the show at the Mark Taper Forum, near the courtroom, Malek-Yonan said. But costs there were prohibitive because of union requirements. So she suggested doing it in a courtroom (not the Simpson courtroom). The performance drew a standing ovation.

The producers of "Yard Sale," currently running at Company of Angels in Silver Lake, heard about the "Invalid" performance and offered their own services. Tish Smiley's "Yard Sale" is a contemporary play about parent-child strife--but with no physical abuse or violence or interracial themes, subjects that probably would make a play off-limits to this particular audience.

Producer Nancy Reed said all but one member of the cast agreed to do a courthouse performance, and the one actress who declined will be replaced at that performance by the playwright herself. Critics have noted the detailed set for "Yard Sale," but Reed said "it's not mandatory. We really only need two lawn chairs and some boxes." The performance could happen as early as next weekend.

RED INK: The Feb. 13 letter to Theatre LA board members from the organization's executive director, William Freimuth, and associate director Michelle McDonald began with ominous warnings: "This is probably the most important mailing you have ever gotten from us. . . . Theatre LA is currently besieged on two fronts: cash flow crisis and annual budget plight." The letter, which The Times obtained independently of Theatre LA, ended by setting March 15 as "a fail-safe day," after which "drastic" cutbacks in Theatre LA activities might have to take place.

But last week, with that "fail-safe" day coming up soon, Freimuth said the letter included "hyperbole" in order to get the board's attention and that it "had the desired effect"--board members are coming up with additional ways to raise money for Theatre LA, the organization that represents most of the county's theater producers. He said the likelihood of drastic cutbacks going into effect on Wednesday "is slim to nil."

Among the more "intractable" problems, according to the letter, was the end of a $120,000, two-year marketing partnership with American Express, part of which included American Express payment of Theatre LA dues for member companies that accepted American Express cards at the box office. Freimuth and an American Express spokeswoman both agreed that this arrangement was never intended to last more than two years.

Then there were "gross revenue miscalculations" in the numbers of groups or people who wanted to be associate members of Theatre LA or official sponsors of Theatre LA's Ovation Awards last fall, according to the letter. But now that the new competitive Ovations have a track record, Freimuth expects more groups to sign on as sponsors for next year.

A film industry executive has pledged to make the rounds at 10 studios requesting donations to Theatre LA, said the letter, and applications for assistance are pending at 11 foundations.

THAT PLACE ON LAS PALMAS: One of L.A.'s less prominent mid-sized theaters has undergone yet another change in name.

When Comedy Store owner Mitzi Shore bought the 230-seat Hollywood Playhouse on Las Palmas Avenue, just south of Sunset Boulevard, in 1988, she renamed it the Comedy Store Playhouse. But after a few years, she decided that was too easily confused with the Comedy Store itself, so she changed the name back to Hollywood Playhouse.

Then she renamed it the Richard Pryor Playhouse in early 1993. At the time, Pryor's name was attached to a limited partnership that Shore hoped to develop, focusing on black-oriented productions at the theater named after Pryor.

The limited partnership never got off the ground, however. So, while retaining the Pryor name for the actual auditorium inside the playhouse ("the Richard Pryor Theater"), Shore late last year returned to the Hollywood Playhouse as the name for the entire structure. With the Pryor name, said a spokesman for Shore, "we got a lot of calls from people who weren't sure if it was a nightclub, a stand-up house or a theater."*

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