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A Perfect Place to Do 'Bus Stop'

April 19, 1998|Don Shirley | Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

Theatre/Theater, one of the mainstays of the small theater scene in Hollywood since 1984, will close its doors at the end of June.

Pacific Theatres, the movie theater chain that owns the building, plans to tear down the structure in order to accommodate a new Greyhound bus station, said the theater's artistic director Jeff Murray.

But Murray and his partner and wife, producing director Nicolette Chaffey, vow to continue their work elsewhere. They'll work temporarily out of a rented office in the Pacific Theatres building around the corner from Theatre/Theater.

With a front space of 70 seats and a back space of 24 seats, located on the west side of Cahuenga Boulevard just north of Hollywood Boulevard, the little Theatre/Theater building has a colorful history. In the '50s, it was the home of the theatrical endeavors of Ed Wood, the late bad movie-meister who was immortalized in the recent movie named after him, parts of which were shot on location at Theatre/Theater.

Later it housed Seis Actores and Hollywood Actors Theatre. When the Canadian-born Murray and the English-born Chaffey moved into it in 1984, they had already operated Theatre/Theater for two years at a small Melrose location, where their production of "Creeps" attracted attention.

Once on Cahuenga, Theatre/Theater opened with a successful comedy, "Goddess of Mystery," and quickly became one of the busiest venues in town. At its peak, the theater hosted as many as seven productions at once, using both of its spaces and staggered curtain times. Throughout its 14-year history, 293 productions played Theatre/Theater.

Its biggest hit was the premiere of Del Shores' "Daddy's Dyin', Who's Got the Will?," which later became a Hollywood movie and led to an association with Shores that resulted in the long-running premiere of his "Sordid Lives" and the current "Melody Jones" (which Shores produced but didn't write).

Among the theater's other well-remembered shows were "Red Devils," "Confessions of a Boy Stewardess," "The Nonsense," "The Steven Weed Show," Jonathan Tolins' first play "The Climate," "Buffalo Soldier," "Madame Mao's Memories," "American Splendor" and performances by Sandra Tsing Loh and Barry Yourgrau. L.A. Theatresports was a resident company for years.

Murray "burned out a little" during the busiest years and delegated the management of the theater during the last two years. "It had turned into more of a rental house than we intended it to be," he said.

With a possible Hollywood renaissance in the works due to the upcoming opening of the Red Line subway and redevelopment projects, Murray said he now feels as if "we've gone through the belly of the beast only to be bounced just as the turnaround is coming."

Nonetheless, he also feels a new burst of interest in producing since he got the news of his upcoming eviction, he added. "Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. Maybe it's time to become hands-on again." He spoke of trying to create a more ensemble-based organization. Wherever Theatre/Theater ends up, "we won't just slide into doing classes. We've been knocked to the ground but not out of the game."

WEEKLY SCENE: Invoking theater gods who ranged from "Dionysus" to "Charles Nelson Reilly," a cast of around 40--wearing an enormous range of exotic outfits--opened the L.A. Weekly awards ceremony Monday. The annual event, this year at the Tom Bradley Theatre of Los Angeles Theatre Center, salutes achievements in 99-seat theater.

The phantasmagoric opening production number was organized, written and choreographed by the Fabulous Monsters, led by Robert Prior, who officiated throughout the evening in an aboriginal outfit and make-up unlike anything Billy Crystal ever wears to the Oscars. Linda Purl was the more conventionally dressed emcee.

Top winners included production of the year "The Arabian Nights," revival of the year (of a 20th century work) "The House of Blue Leaves" at West Coast Ensemble, and musical of the year "Bat Boy." Alec Mapa received the solo performance award for "I Remember Mapa," and Rachel Rosenthal received a lifetime achievement award.

Six shows won two awards each: Lookingglass Theatre's "The Arabian Nights," Farthest Steppe Productions' "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Stages' "The Lesson," The Fabulous Monsters' "The Importance of Being Earnest," Theatre of NOTE's "The Dictator" and Eclectic Company's "Morphic Resonance."

A PULITZER QUESTION: South Coast Repertory commissioned and produced the two runners-up for the Pulitzer drama prize this year--Richard Greenberg's "Three Days of Rain" and Amy Freed's "Freedomland," on the heels of last year's South Coast production of Pulitzer finalist "Collected Stories." Freed's play was produced only at South Coast, while the prize-winning "How I Learned to Drive" and "Rain" were both produced in New York, where the Pulitzer board meets and can easily see plays (as opposed to just reading them). Unfair advantage? Just asking . . .

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