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THEATER | NOTES

NoHo Place Like Home : Troupe ends its wandering and settles into a local site. First up is a farce.

July 17, 1997|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's a newcomer in the NoHo Arts District called Theatre Unlimited, and it looks as though the group might be around for a while. Its home was once called the Wild Side, a sketch comedy and improv venue next door to the Iguana Cafe on Camarillo Street.

The Iguana is long gone, and its former home has been combined with the theater space. Elizabeth Wells, Theatre Unlimited's executive director, says the company is settling in. The troupe has done one co-production since the move, but its first in-company staging, opening Saturday, is Ray Cooney's farce, "Move Over, Mrs. Markham."

Theatre Unlimited has been in existence since 1993. Renting spaces such as Hollywood's Complex and Nosotros in the last four years, they've staged such plays as George M. Cohan's "Seven Keys to Baldpate" and Mark McQuown's "The Keys to the Kingdom." Since rent, according to Wells, is the biggest part of a small theater producer's budget, the company finally decided to find its own space, without a middle man involved. The burgeoning NoHo district was an obvious choice of locale.

Choosing a comedy to inaugurate their season is a harbinger. The Wild Side comedy theater is gone, but the laughter is still there. Wells says the group plans to concentrate on comedies and farces for at least its first two years on Camarillo.

"We love farces," Wells says. "The only thing is, they're difficult to do. It's a fine line we're walking here. Ideally, we'd like to find one original comedy per year, maybe one classical comedy and maybe two mainstream comedies. We all want to laugh and have fun with it. Maybe after that we'll get more serious."

Directing "Move Over, Mrs. Markham" is Pamela Hall, who as an actress appeared on Broadway in such hits as "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" with Phil Silvers, and with Angela Lansbury in "Dear World." She's no stranger to directing or to "Mrs. Markham," either. Her productions have won Ovation and ADA awards, and last summer she guided the summer Equity production of "Mrs. Markham" at Orange County's Muckenthaler Dinner Theatre on the Green.

Hall thinks "Markham" is a dandy opening show for the group, and she likes the idea of doing the play again with new people.

"Ray Cooney has a great feel for where the joke is," she explains, "where the rhythm is, where the laughter is. It's written in. That's where the mistakes seem to get made by people who don't get to do plays like this often enough. They play them like they're doing them for a film-acting class, rather than remembering that it's theater."

Effective theater is usually bigger than life.

Hall laughs. "That's why theater is so much fun. That's what you look forward to when you get on a stage."

Waiting for Odets: Martin Barter, artistic director of the Sanford Meisner Center for the Arts, says he's looking for another Clifford Odets.

Playwright Clifford Odets was a moving force within the legendary Group Theatre in the 1930s. And so was acting guru Sanford Meisner. Barter isn't looking for someone who writes like Odets, per se, but someone who can write material specifically for his Meisner company, just as Odets did for the Group.

"The idea of it," Barter says, "was that we wanted to find a way to get a more pure Meisner voice, that would represent Meisner's work better. We're looking for the thing that will make us unique as an acting company in Los Angeles. What's unique about us? We're all trained in the same way, and trying to support a philosophy. The writers are writing with that in mind. Hopefully it will create something special."

The Meisner's current program, "The Next Stage," reflects a move in that direction. The four one-act plays emerged from the center's writers workshop. The show is comprised of "Niagara Falls" by Kelly Edward Nelson, "Blackout" by William Etheridge, "Till Death Do Us Part" by Alexander Sohn, and "Litany" by John Desiderio.

BE THERE

"Move Over, Mrs. Markham." Theatre Unlimited, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood. Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends Aug. 24. $15. (818) 788-9038.

"The Next Stage." Sanford Meisner Center for the Arts, 5124 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Ends Aug. 21. $8. (818) 509-9651.

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