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THEATER : Sizing Up the Season's Offerings : Productions range from tiny--one man playing 12 parts--to huge--a WWII drama employing 42 actors.

June 23, 1995|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; T.H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for The Times.

The San Fernando Valley's summer theater season is stacking up along the lines oT. Barnum, who succeeded by giving his audiences the most Gargantuan and tiniest exhibits. With casts that range from one to 42, theaters will put on fare that could be considered unusual during any season.

The busiest summer stage is, as usual, at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga Canyon. Always eclectic, the outdoor theater's repertory summer already is featuring Shakespeare's "King Richard III" and a family-oriented production of the Bard's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." July 1 marks the opening of Henrik Ibsen's "Little Eyolf," a rarely staged drama about a family's loss and guilt.

Theatricum artistic director Ellen Geer's own personal drama, ". . . and the Dark Cloud Came," concerning the McCarthy-era witch hunts seen through the eyes of a child, joins the repertory Aug. 12. Geer, who is encouraged by the many young people who flock to the theater as students and return later as adults, says that theaters have an obligation to build their audiences.

"Theater," Geer says, "gives families a place to go together, a forum other than just film and video. You go together, you look for seats together, at intermission you have time to chat about the play. It's a good family experience."

Theaters all over the Valley are providing that experience. Although many theaters lay low during the summer, a number are putting their best foot forward, including two groups who seem to feel that the more, really, the merrier.

Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, (310) 455-3723. David Cox, whose American Renegade Theatre will be moving to new quarters across the street from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences at Lankershim and Magnolia boulevards shortly after the first of the year, is planning a project that involves every member of his large company. The current, and critically praised, productions of "Belladonnas of the Court" (which closes July 16) and "Justice" (closing July 9) will be followed by Cox's relatively Gargantuan production of Brendan Dillon's "Neutrality," a World War II Irish drama based on the playwright's experiences, which opens Aug. 4.

The staging will employ 42 actors. Cox says, "It may be the last play that we do at this theater, and I wanted to get the whole company involved." Cox also has seen families, including first-time theatergoers, expand his summertime ticket sales.

American Renegade Theatre, 11305 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 763-4430 There are even more characters in an upcoming play at the Road Theatre in its new home just south of Magnolia on Lankershim at the Lankershim Arts Center. Following the current run of Ron McLarty's "Akela," which closes July 23, the Road company will open the immense "Merlin," an English translation of Tankred Dorst's epic German saga of King Arthur's reign. Its six-hour length will be staged in two parts, by 28 actors playing 108 roles.

Road Theatre, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 761-8838.

Farther north on Lankershim, just above Magnolia, Actors Alley at El Portal has moved into the first of its three theater spaces to rise above earthquake dust, the Storefront Theatre, with the post-Holocaust fable "The Puppetmaster of Lodz." Although "Puppetmaster" closes July 2, the group will bounce back Aug. 10 with the opening of Frank Marcus' "The Killing of Sister George," a play less shocking today than at its 1966 premiere. It concerns a British soap star about to be "killed" in the script, a lesbian actress who makes no bones about tackling the BBC.

Storefront Theatre, Actors Alley at the El Portal, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 508-4200.

Farther along Magnolia, at the edge of the new NoHo theater district, one of the area's newer additions, the venerable Actors Forum, will be opening what artistic director Audrey Marlyn Singer calls "a romantic mystery thriller," Douglas Post's "Earth and Sky." It opens July 23 and will run for eight weeks.

Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 506-0600.

The smallest performance might well be Joey Camen's "In the Hood With Mrs. Aronivitz." It does have 12 characters, tenants in a New York brownstone, but they are all played by Camen, all by himself. It will take place on Sundays, beginning July 25, at Burbank's Victory Theatre. The Victory's highly successful "Catch a Falling Star" will be playing at least through July, with "Staying Married," by Moira Keef and Charlie Oates, moving in next door at the Little Victory on Aug. 6. Keef and Oates, both from Denver Center Theatre, will perform their two-person comedy.

Victory Theatre, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank, (818) 841-5421.

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