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VALLEY WEEKEND | THEATER NOTES

Theatricum to Kick Off a Summer of Favorites

The Topanga theater will stage well-received classics including 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' First up is 'The Tempest.'

June 13, 1996|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As summer begins to heat up, the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga comes alive. This weekend marks the beginning of the Theatricum's Summer Repertory of Classics.

That doesn't mean the Theatricum, its artistic director Ellen Geer or its staff have been idle. Along with the group's several outreach programs and workshops, there has been a concerted effort to raise the funds necessary to replace the outdoor theater's legendary railroad-tie seating with more comfortable seats. Construction should begin this fall, according to Ellen Geer.

Amid all this activity, Geer has put together another varied program of classics for the venerable theater. Usually, Theatricum's summer repertory follows a theme that ties the productions together. But this season things will be different.

"This year," Geer said, "the whole country is scaling back. Everybody's being careful, because we don't know what the next turn will be. So instead of doing four plays this year, we're only doing three. And we had to be very cautious about what it was we selected."

She is bringing back last year's highly successful staging of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" because, she said, "it didn't finish it's run." She was referring to the fact that "Dream" played to sold-out houses last year, so they decided to revive it this summer. "It didn't use up its customers," Geer said with a grin, adding "the production is popular family fare. It's not threatening, and it's a wonderful way to learn Shakespeare, and become a fan of Shakespeare."

Another choice for the season is Kurt Weill's "The Threepenny Opera," directed by Heidi Davis, who guided both "The Glass Menagerie" and "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Theatricum. The show's proven record as an audience pleaser, said Geer, was part of the reason for choosing it.

"I'm being commercial," she said, adding that "the musical is good for these times, because of the poverty that's rampant. What happens in the play is what happens when people are hungry and everything gets distorted. It's so frightening now, the amount of gangs." The fact that the show's best-known number, "Mack the Knife," is also a big draw has not gone unnoticed.

Shakespeare's "The Tempest" opens the repertory season Sunday and was picked, Geer explained, because of its theme of forgiveness.

"Having that deep bitterness, and anger and rage within yourself," Geer said, referring to the play's protagonist, Prospero, "that will kill you. . . . It's a dysfunctional family, almost as bad as King Lear's, and it's very pertinent today. Prospero gets rid of his bitterness, and learns how to forgive and receive love again. That's something we all need to do now."

* "The Tempest," 3 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 15. "The Threepenny Opera," 8 p.m. Saturdays, July 6-Sept. 14; 7:30 p.m. Sundays, July 7-Aug. 4. "A Midsummer Night's Dream," 4 p.m. Saturdays, Aug. 3-Sept. 14; 7:30 p.m. Sundays, Aug. 11-Sept. 15. $15. (310) 455-3723.

Coastal Premiere: Burbank's award-winning Alliance Repertory Company continues its perusal of modern society with a West Coast premiere of playwright Michael T. Folie's "The Adjustment," opening Friday.

Folie's work has garnered a number of awards itself, partly due to the fact that he knows how to entertain an audience, even when he is sending them a message.

The "Adjustment" is about an aggressive modern woman--a city lobbyist--who visits a chiropractor for an adjustment to the career-based pain in her neck. The fact that he is a Hasidic Jew, and belongs to a sect that believes in a set of absolute moral values, intrigues her. Her attempts to win him from his wife, or at least to have a baby by him, are the dramatic fulcrum that bring about the changes in her character. These give a double meaning to "The Adjustment."

Folie, during a phone conversation from his New York home, discussed, among other things, the message inherent in his play.

"The play's about balance in the modern world, about trying to achieve a sense of balance between pragmatism and professional life, and your spiritual needs," he said. "Because human beings do have spiritual needs, and they need to work for something bigger than themselves and their own petty little wants. You can't deny it, this is a very human thing."

Folie's dramatic influences are diverse. He claims that his favorite plays are from the era of George Kaufman, the so-called Golden Age of the '30s and '40s. Though he believes the pre-'60s plays tended to make "everything look nice-nice," he nonetheless feels we are reeling from the "couple of decades of ugly stuff" that followed.

The 44-year-old playwright said his problem with plays from those later decades is that something was lost in the transition. "I still believe in stories," he said. "Stories are what people go to the theater for. Just don't bore the audience. To me, the best way not to do that is to tell a story."

* "The Adjustment," Alliance Repertory Company, 3204 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. Ends July 27. $15. (213) 660-8587.

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