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VALLEY WEEKEND | THEATER NOTES

Evil--and a Flicker of Virture--Lurk in Hearts of Men in 'Root'

The play at the Interact Theatre examines the 'candle of humanity' that causes four characters to want something better.

September 05, 1996|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Money is the root of all evil. We've known that for a long time. What bothers people like Anita Khanzadian is the lack of remorse once the root has sprouted.

That's the very reason the director was attracted to Gary Richards' morality play "The Root," which has its West Coast premiere Saturday at North Hollywood's Interact Theatre.

"Root" takes place in a chop shop in a garage in Brooklyn. The four characters are no angels: a porno filmmaker, a drug pusher, a crooked mechanic and a crooked cop.

"What I found appealing," says Khanzadian, "is that flicker, that candle of humanity in them that wants something better. They want to be better, but they don't know how to get out of where they are. We all wish that we could live more fulfilling lives that are beneficial to others. There is a little of that candle burning in each of these characters."

Khanzadian, who co-directed with John Rubinstein Interact's immensely successful production of "Counsellor-at-Law" a couple of seasons ago, was unsure at first reading whether she should direct "The Root." It's a "guy" play, she says, real Mamet country. But the societal undertones and the natural poetry of the playwright's language won her over.

"It's as though the playwright went out and taped them from off the streets, with their own language styles and their own poetry," she says. "That appealed to me because I love poetry in theater, and this is like modern poetry to me."

Interact is a company of successful working actors, and the group's productions give them a chance to explore characters the electronic media won't give them a whack at. One of the actors, Eddie Jones, plays Superman's father on "Lois and Clark." He's the porno-maker in the play.

"He's making a lot of money," Jones explains, "but my feeling about him is that he feels totally inadequate. With a little bit of money, he has some power, so at least he feels as though he's gained something, but he's totally insecure."

Jones, too, sees that flickering candle in his character and in the others. "When you're talking about the kind of money these guys make, I'm tempted myself," he says. The candle still flickers.

Khanzadian responds: "A couple of the characters here come from absolutely nothing and have just enough to get by. But then you don't know what 'just enough' is. It becomes an end in itself, a pursuit in itself. I've never been faced with a suitcase full of money. I don't know what my reaction would be. One of the characters says anyone can be bought."

In the script for a French version of the play, the playwright included a quotation that seems to Khanzadian the core of the situation: "Make money. If you can, make it honestly. If not, by whatever means you can, make money."

With a smile, Khanzadian reveals that the quotation is from Horace, the 1st century BC lyric poet and satirist. Nothing has changed.

* "The Root," Interact Theatre, 11855 Hart St., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 13. $15. (213) 466-1767.

*

Roping a Role: John Davidson, who stars in "The Will Rogers Follies" opening next week in Glendale, has been absent from television for a few years, but that doesn't mean he's been idle. Upon turning 50 in 1991, he made a big decision: He wanted out of show business. He stopped dying his hair and began looking for the real things in life. He spent nine months cruising a powerboat through the Caribbean, coming to terms with himself.

He eventually settled in Branson, Mo., and founded the John Davidson Theatre there, which gave him the chance, as he says, "to go back to live theater, and the best performing I've done in my life."

He was back in show business.

"This was a chance," he says, "to get back to my roots. I went back with gray hair, so I really got back to my roots in more ways than one."

Davidson sincerely believes he was fated to play Rogers, and offers evidence.

In 1995 he got a call from New York offering him the role of the father in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "State Fair," first to tour, then for a run on Broadway. It was the role that Will Rogers played in the 1933 nonmusical film version.

Then, his van broke down during a move from Missouri to California and he was stranded in Claremore, Okla., while it was repaired. To pass the time, Davidson wandered through the pride of Claremore, which happens to be the Will Rogers Memorial Museum. As he walked into the museum, he heard Rogers' voice, on video, speaking Davidson's lines from "State Fair."

Now, Davidson is speaking Rogers' lines. He's in Phoenix starring in Theatre League's production of "The Will Rogers Follies," which comes to the Alex Theatre in Glendale Tuesday. After a one-week run, it'll move to the Probst Center of the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.

"The rope spinning is the biggest challenge," Davidson says of the role, "but Rogers has always been a hero of mine. He speaks to 1996 as well as he did to the early '30s."

* "The Will Rogers Follies," at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale, Tuesday-Sept. 15; and the Probst Center of the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Sept. 17-22. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets $32.50-$37.50. Call (800) 233-3123 for Alex shows; (805) 583-8700 or (213) 480-3232 for Thousand Oaks.

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