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Sadistic Play, Kindly Warranty

November 10, 1996|Don Shirley | Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

'If you feel deeply offended by 'Quills' and you want your money back when intermission arrives . . . see the Theater Concierge in the lobby for a refund," declared Gilbert Cates, producing director of the Geffen Playhouse, in his program note for "Quills," which closed last Sunday.

So how many of the 14,501 people who saw "Quills" (out of a potential capacity of 19,920) asked for a refund? Sixty-six, requiring a total refund of approximately $2,000, theater officials reported last week.

"I thought there would be more," Cates said. Doug Wright's "Quills" is about the legendary Marquis de Sade. Not only did the star, Howard Hesseman, stride the stage in the nude during much of the play, but the plot involved the reciting of pornographic tales and violent scenes that culminated in the severing of several of De Sade's most important body parts.

Cates said he spoke personally to only two of the playgoing couples who wanted their money back. One was an elderly couple "who had no idea in advance what the play was about," and the other was a pair offended by Hesseman's nudity.

The Geffen's next show, "Love! Valour! Compassion!," will feature still more male nudity when it opens next month. But Cates said he won't repeat the money-back offer for that show.

"Male nudity wasn't the issue I was worried about with 'Quills,' " Cates said. It was the violence. Playgoers "had to feel comfortable with people talking about chopping off body parts."

The season's third show, still-unannounced, and its concluding "Shlemiel the First" are not expected to feature either male nudity or graphic violence, Cates said: "If 'Shlemiel' had nudity, I would truly be a shlemiel."

When Cates co-produced Robert Anderson's quartet of one-acts, "You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running," on Broadway in 1967, one of the plays, "The Shock of Recognition," was about the subject of male nudity in the theater. In it, actor Martin Balsam stripped almost naked as he played an eager actor who tried to get a role that called for frontal nudity. But the fictional playwright within the play, who boldly defended the nudity in his conversation with the producer, became embarrassed over the prospect of the actor's nudity in an audition.

Cates recalled that the audience didn't get an explicit view of Balsam's anatomy. Nonetheless, more refunds were requested for that show than for the very explicit "Quills."


DROPPING DEFICIT: The people who run nonprofit theaters are often loath to discuss their deficits down to the dollar, but not La Jolla Playhouse--probably because the news is so good. La Jolla's deficit fell another $278,765 last year, bringing the red ink down to $716,199 from $1,849,301 just three years ago.

Theater officials announced other indications of sound financial health as well. The number of individual donors increased from 325 in 1993 to 2,032 last year. Total contributions grew from $90,292 in 1994 to $192,823 in 1995. In-kind contributions from local businesses more than doubled from 1994 to 1995.

The glad tidings herald La Jolla's "15/50" season next year--the 15th anniversary of the theater's revival and the 50th anniversary of its original founding by Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and Mel Ferrer.


DOUBLE DIRECTORS: "Sisterella," the hit musical at Pasadena Playhouse, received 12 nominations for this year's NAACP theater awards--more than any other show. One of the nominations went to David Simmons for directing "Sisterella." Yet in a Times interview earlier this year, "Sisterella" creator Larry Hart (who received a playwright nomination from the NAACP) acknowledged that his friend Simmons had not worked on "Sisterella" for two years prior to its opening and that Hart himself directed the Pasadena production.

Simmons had become ill, but Hart wanted to acknowledge his early contributions by giving him the director credit. If Simmons wins the award Monday, Hart or someone else from the production will accept it, Hart said, for Simmons is not well enough to attend the ceremony.


ZENTIS MEMORIAL: A memorial service for designer Robert Zentis, who died of AIDS-related complications on Oct. 26, will be held at 11 a.m. next Sunday, at the Fountain Theatre in east Hollywood, where his final and Ovation Award-nominated set design--for "Orpheus Descending"--is on stage. The Ovations will be presented the following night at the Shubert Theatre. If Zentis wins, the Fountain's artistic director, Stephen Sachs, will accept the posthumous award.

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