Since the Actors Forum Theatre went into previews for their staging of Michael Norman Mann's "Box 27," they've had only one hate call.
It just so happens that the play deals with the touchy subject of gays in the military.
One day, Audrey Marlyn Singer, Actors Forum artistic director and producer of this show, and some other company members were listening to messages on the theater's answering machine. A hateful anti-gay message blasted out at them.
Singer and director Larry Lederman and the cast were stunned. Though the theater usually travels the middle of the road when it comes to choosing material, they did feel this play made too strong a statement to ignore. And it was just the sort of prejudice displayed by the caller that the play attempts to examine with logic and empathy.
The call also gave new insights to the actors portraying the Marines in the story. Brad Bartram, who plays the young lieutenant having an affair with an older career Marine, said that performing in front of preview audiences gave him an eerie feeling. For the first time in his life, he was being looked at as a homosexual, and he was beginning to understand the fears and anger that prejudice can bring about.
"I was being judged on a whole different level. It spurred a lot of thinking," he said. "I have gay friends. I've known gay people my whole life, but I've never had to put myself into that mind-set until I did it in front of strangers."
The experience has been enlightening for the whole cast.
Gary Miller, who plays the 20-year career Marine, said: "For me, it's more than the issue of homosexuality in the military. It's more than the issue of homosexuality per se. It addresses the whole sexual immaturity of this country. There is so much unacceptance of variances. And the fact of the apparent need to deceive, to conceal one's sexual habits, is just such a mess."
Director Lederman explains that the play is only partially about the controversy over gays in the military. It's about attitudes, he said. The young lieutenant wants to declare himself. The veteran wants to protect his career and his pension. There is also the lieutenant's father, a high-ranking Marine officer, who will be shaken by his son's admission.
"We have a three-generation look at this issue," Lederman said.
"We have the father, a real hard-liner about this. We have a slightly younger generation with the veteran stuck in a place where to come out would be totally unacceptable. And then we have the young, more idealistic man who sees the hypocrisy and is ready to stand up. The Marines talk about the uniform, about honor. To this young man, honor is also honesty. It's a complex story that looks at every side of the issue."
Lederman thinks it's a very important topic to focus on. "Who do we think we're kidding," he said. "Everybody has sex, and who's to say what's the right way and the wrong way?"
To Bartram, the play has resonance because the gay issue, he said, is a human issue.
He repeats a quote, attributed to late gay activist Leonard Matlovich, from the book "Conduct Unbecoming," by Randy Shilts. "When I was in the military," Matlovich said, "they gave me a medal for killing two men, and a discharge for loving one."
* "Box 27," Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 10. $15. (818) 506-0600.
Sentimental Journey: When Donna Getzinger was growing up, she absorbed the movies of Doris Day. Watching those films was how she learned how to sing. In fact, it took her a while to learn how not to sound like her idol, she said.
Until last year, she toured with a folk group called Tiny Carnival. But after three years, the act split up and she decided to strike out on her own. She's taken a sentimental journey back to Doris Day.
In her new show, "Donna's Day," opening Friday at North Hollywood's Jewel Box Theatre, Getzinger said she pays homage to Day with some broad splashes of biography and a lot of songs, opening with "Sentimental Journey," Day's first big hit with the Les Brown band.
"It's a tribute to the fun times in her movies," said Getzinger, who is also involved in children's theater locally. "I wanted to capture the light spirit, the nothing-is-too-serious manner of her shows. There might be a lot of tears, but you know it's never going to stay bad.
"Little by little, I advanced it from being a cabaret show to being a full-out kind of documentary / good-time show."
* "Donna's Day," Jewel Box Theatre, 10426 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 3. $12. (818) 760-4585.
Uncovering Jewels: Beginning Monday night, Valley theatergoers will have an opportunity to see how plays begin life, thanks to the new Audrey Skirball-Kenis (ASK) Fall Reading Series at the Skirball Cultural Center in the Sepulveda Pass.