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VALLEY WEEKEND | THEATER NOTES

Writer Fills Evening With Short Plays

Kristen Lazarian's 'Roadside Attractions' series is an exploration of the mini-form of theater.

August 15, 1996|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Minuscule plays have become very popular recently. Though the phenomenon may appear to stem from America's ever-shortening attention span, it doesn't. The trend, in fact, began at the renowned Actors Theatre of Louisville, which for some years has conducted an annual 10-minute play competition.

Locally, at the bygone Back Alley Theatre in Van Nuys, the late playwright Oliver Hailey would assign students in his workshop the task of writing a 10- or 15-minute play based on a particular hour of the day. The result was "24 Hours," 24 plays performed over two evenings, 12 each night.

Accomplishing a play's purpose in so short a time-span is no easy chore. Like the old writer's saw: a novel is easier to write than an effective short story.

Playwright Kristen Lazarian attempted the short form for several reasons. A writer with 10 produced plays to her credit, she was engaged on a full-length script that wasn't working. Her frustration led her into this exploration of the mini-form.

"I was just at a place in my life where I needed lightness," Lazarian says. "And I wanted to explore things quickly and concisely. I started these plays, and they slowly took on their own stylistic force. At that point in time, it just seemed as though this was what I needed to write, and I needed to sort of bang them out. Of course, after that, there were plenty of revisions."

The result, "Joy Ride and Other Short Plays," an evening of short works, inaugurates the Road Theatre Company's "Roadside Attractions," a midweek performance series that begins next Wednesday.

Lazarian's stylistic role models include Tom Stoppard and Alan Ayckbourn. The language in her plays, she says, is streamlined, playful banter, without a lot of room for subtext. Her issues are out front.

She recalls visiting an art exhibition where all the paintings were huge, colorful and vibrant. The artist's statement indicated that the paintings were done during a very depressed period. Like those paintings, Lazarian's seven plays "came out of a really dark place" in her life, but she wanted the view to remain light.

Exploring the battleground of the gender wars here and in her full-length plays has been a way to work out many issues for herself, Lazarian says. "It's a fine line, because a lot of theater today is an excuse for using the audience for that kind of therapy. It sort of misses the point of what theater is supposed to be about," she says. "Ultimately I hope that there's enough of a distance between what's out there on the stage, and me."

Stephanie Lesh, who is producing the evening of Lazarian's plays, and directing one of them, says the playwright's unusual take on today's men and women is one of the reasons the Road decided to do the plays.

"As a woman, one can certainly relate to being in a room with men, or in a meeting, and not really being yourself, not being able to just say, 'This is me, and this is how I feel,' " Lesh explains. "That's in these characters a lot--women putting themselves out there and not letting anyone know how sensitive they are, trying to play the games men play."

* "Joy Ride and Other Short Plays," The Road Theatre Company, Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Ends Sept. 26. $9 (Thursdays, couples $15 for two tickets). Call (818) 761-8838.

*

Hurry Up and Wait: It looks like the Antaeus Company, which had hoped to open a new theater in the Valley by year's end, might be delayed in that goal.

As Antaeus producer Dakin Matthews explains, "It seems these things always take 10 times longer, and cost 10 times more than people tell you when they initially start. They give you very optimistic projections, and then they balloon. We want to make sure we feel very comfortable before we do anything."

Meantime, the critically acclaimed Antaeus Company, late of the Mark Taper Forum, will be ending their run of Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" at the Ventura Court Theatre on Aug. 25, but not without some alterations. Particularly noteworthy is the addition of Nike Doukas as Curly's wife on alternate nights. Doukas just finished a stint at South Coast Repertory in Shaw's "Arms and the Man."

Antaeus also is continuing its workshop activity. Among the projects are "The Merchant of Venice," and they're looking at works by classic French playwright Marivaux, whose "Changes of Heart" is currently at the Taper.

* "Of Mice and Men," Ventura Court Theatre, 12417 Ventura Court, Studio City. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Ends Aug. 25. $16. (818) 953-9993.

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