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THEATER | 'THEATER NOTES

'Triangle' Losing One of Its Legs

June 30, 1996|Don Shirley | Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

Beatrice Arthur is leaving the cast of "Bermuda Avenue Triangle" after July 28. The show is expected to continue with another, still-unannounced actress in Arthur's role. But given Arthur's star quality, the news of her departure alone will probably sell out the Canon Theatre at every performance next month.

That would not be a big deal by "Bermuda" standards, however. The show has "basically sold out every evening" since it opened at the 382-seat Canon in early February, said producer Arnold Mittelman.

Before that, it sold out for three months at the 99-seat Tiffany Theater, where it opened in late October. "Bermuda Avenue Triangle" made it look easy to cross from the 99-seat arena to a larger theater--a journey that has discouraged or wrecked many other productions. The comedy recouped its $200,000 capitalization costs at the Canon within two months, and grosses are closing in on $2 million, Mittelman said.

"People say L.A. is not a theater town, but you can't tell that by me," said Mittelman, a Miami producer making his first venture into L.A. theater. This upward mobility of his show is "exciting," he said, because it demonstrates that actors can earn a living for an extended period in a non-subsidized, mid-sized L.A. theater. Without such proof, "L.A. theater looks as if it's subsidized by the actors, and producers will constantly lose actors to film and TV."

Of course "Bermuda" had certain built-in advantages. "I can't diminish the fact that we have three popular personalities"--Arthur plus the play's writers/co-stars, Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna--"and a play with broad-based commercial appeal," he added. Most of the shows that seek to rise above the 99-seat scene lack that instantly recognizable commercial clout.

But using actors who have TV recognition has drawbacks as well. In the case of "Bermuda Avenue Triangle," there normally aren't performances on Friday evenings--one of the most popular going-out nights--because Taylor is often tied up with shooting the TV series "The Nanny" on those nights. (There will be an exception this week--the show will play on Friday instead of Thursday, the Fourth of July.)

There also is a suspicion among some observers and potential theatergoers that a show with so much TV star power is just a TV show with expensive tickets. Mittelman disputes this. He said "Bermuda" is "really much more in the tradition of French boulevard farce or English comic farce" than in the tradition of TV sitcom.

"I don't remember 'The Golden Girls' [of which Arthur was one] having an Italian lover move in with them [as happens in "Bermuda Avenue"]. They couldn't get away with that on a network. And no TV comedy sustains the characters and plot and delivers this range of humor over two hours."

"Bermuda" opened at Mittelman's Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida and also played a large Detroit theater for three weeks before moving to L.A. But the play grew in L.A.: Two characters--the daughters of two women who share a Las Vegas condo--were added for the Tiffany run, and Taylor and Bologna have continued developing those characters, as well as the one that Bologna plays, since the show moved to the Canon, Mittelman said.

Caroline Aaron, who played one of the daughters, left recently to have a baby (and was replaced by Rhonda Hayter), but otherwise the Tiffany cast remains intact. It remains to be seen how it will fare without Arthur, although Mittelman said Mitzi McCall successfully stepped in when Arthur flew to New York for the Tony awards.

Mittelman hopes to reunite the L.A. cast in a New York production next April, but after New York, the play will be open to a variety of permutations. A well-known black actress has asked if it could be revised to accommodate a black cast, Mittelman said. Other inquiries have come in from London, Argentina, Australia and South Africa, as well as domestic sites.

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COLONIZING BURBANK?: The Burbank City Council voted unanimously earlier this month to provide $15,000 for preliminary architectural plans for the conversion of the former branch of the Museum of Natural History in Burbank into a mid-sized theater. The theater would be shared by the Colony, now based in Silver Lake, and a variety of community groups united under the aegis of Burbank's Park and Recreation Department.

Although this is only a tentative step, a Colony spokesman said it was "gratifying" to see the degree of community support for the Colony's potential move.

*

GLAD "SEED": Theater 911's revival of Maxwell Anderson's "The Bad Seed" at St. Genesius Theatre is strictly for laughs--for example, a man plays the evil little girl. So the cast may have been a little nervous when the late playwright's daughter and two of his grandsons showed up for a recent performance.

Never fear. "We loved it," reported Hesper Anderson, herself a screenwriter. She said that her father would have agreed: "He didn't take it very seriously. It was a potboiler. He did it because he needed money. It's pretty dated. And they found every inventive way of making it funny."

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