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VALLEY WEEKEND | THEATER NOTES

'You and Me' Explores Friendship of a Lifetime

The musical opening Sunday looks at the effect on two men of a lasting bond that is forged at age 5.

February 01, 1996|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lifelong friendships, it seems, are not as common as they once were. In this highly mobile, highly technical and highly charged society, people move frequently and spend their spare time, if they have any, in front of various screens--big, small and computer. You just don't seem to come across that many friendships of long standing, between folks who grew up in the same neighborhood and never left town.

Playwright Lloyd J. Schwartz has just that sort of enduring friendship, this one between males, on his mind in his new musical, "You and Me," opening Sunday at the Ventura Court Theatre. Schwartz was, at age 24, the youngest producer in network television, and he hasn't stopped going since. As a writer and director, he has worked both for the stage and the small screen.

For this musical he wrote the book and lyrics, with the score provided by Ben Lanzarone, who won the Most Performed Composer Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers for hundreds of compositions for such shows as "The Tracy Ullman Show" and "Dynasty."

The script for the musical, said Schwartz, explores issues very important to his own life.

"I've always been fascinated about how your life is absolutely affected by your friends," he said. "So I chose to talk about these two guys, and follow their lives and see how their basic friendship affects that. They start at age 5, and go to the end of their lives. Their friendship grows exponentially, and touches other people."

Many of us believe that we are the product of our environment, said Schwartz, who takes the concept a step further. "We are who the people we associate with create," he said.

Schwartz said he has had close friends such as the ones described in the musical, including one good friend who died.

"In some ways this play is a projection of the idea that, if he had lived, we would have had this kind of relationship at the end of our lives," he said.

For those working with Schwartz, they see a profound connection between the characters in the play and the writer of the play. Actor Gary Imhoff plays Hughie, the more aggressive of the friends in the play. Throughout the rehearsal process, he said, he kept asking himself "Am I Lloyd, or is he Lloyd?"

Actors Kirston Benton and Ilene Graff (most widely known as the mother on the long-running "Mr. Belvedere" series) play all of the women in the friends' life. According to Graff, "Lloyd has finally figured out that the play he wrote is about the different sides of his own personality."

Friends, they all agree, can often be so alike as to be two sides of the same personality.

But Schwartz made clear that the play, while very much about himself and his relationships, also makes a more universal statement.

"The title, 'You and Me,' is fully intended to mean you and me," he said. "The play is about everybody. It's very nonspecific. We've all lived through these periods."

"It makes two statements," Imhoff said while Schwartz nodded in agreement. "One is that friendship is more important than anything in life." The other, he said, is that each person needs to find his own identity. "There's an importance in that in terms of friendship, because if one [person] follows the other too much he becomes a nonentity. It's very important to follow your own individuality."

* "You and Me," Ventura Court Theatre, 12417 Ventura Court, Studio City. 8 p.m. Fridays; 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 24. $15-$20. (213) 466-1767.

*

Actors Alley, the Valley theater that is rising valiantly at the El Portal from the debris of the '94 quake, has announced its second season in the first theater completed in the complex. Opening April 12 will be George Tricker and Neal Rosen's Hollywood comedy "Marvin and Me," followed in July by an evening of one-acts by Tennessee Williams, called "Three by Tenn," including "The Long Goodbye," "Portrait of a Madonna" and "A Perfect Analysis as Given by a Parrot." "Three by Tenn" will be directed by "Star Trek's" Walter Koenig. September will see the full production of a play, which began as a workshop at Actors Alley, Peter Lefcourt's whimsical film-oriented comedy, "Only the Dead Know Burbank."

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

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