Nothing like a bit of frontal nudity to enliven the conversation during a play's intermission. Such was the case Thursday when Howard Hesseman bared considerably more than his soul as the Geffen Playhouse launched its inaugural season with the provocative "Quills."
As the Marquis de Sade, Hesseman showed the opening-night crowd a side of himself they'd never seen on "Head of the Class." Merv Griffin called it "startling."
Playwright Doug Wright said he hoped the audience would be "appropriately amused, shocked and moved" by his work's theme of censorship and pornography. He said he wanted theatergoers to have more to say to each other than "Honey, where did we park the car?" when they exited. "If we accomplish that, then we've accomplished something," he added.
Any play set in an insane asylum is going to have a certain resonance for a Hollywood crowd and "Quills" was no exception. The gala opening had as honorary co-chairmen Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise and David Geffen, who were not on hand, and Paula Wagner and Sharon Stone who were. It benefited the Artists Rights Foundation.
Stone, certainly no stranger to theatrical nudity herself, immediately shot out of the theater at the play's completion as though she had word of an impending nerve gas attack. Among the 500 guests who stayed for the buffet dinner hosted by United Airlines were Lew and Edie Wasserman, Martin Short, Rick Nicita, Allan Carr, David Permut, Peter Boyle, Carl Gottlieb, Nancy Sinatra, Shelley Long, Bruce Ramer and UCLA Chancellor Charles Young.
It was an impressive launch for the Geffen's season, which is having a highly successful first year. The theater, the former Westwood Playhouse, now has 8,000 subscribers and a billionaire's name over the door. Producing Director Gilbert Cates said he'd like the playhouse to offer "ideas, energy and substance" that can't be found in films. "People have to come to theater to get a reality check, an idea check," he said.
The evening's star, now fully dressed, arrived to great praise from the guests and stood in the lobby eating from a plate of pasta. "Part of the reason for theater is to provoke," said Hesseman between bites. "Why get everything you already know? Repetition is for politicians."