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THEATER | THEATER NOTES

Thousand Oaks Gets New Troupe

April 26, 1998|Don Shirley | Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

This weekend marks the inauguration of Gold Coast Plays, a new mid-sized professional theater company in Thousand Oaks.

The group is opening with "A Little Night Music," starring former "Phantom of the Opera" star Dale Kristien, Amanda McBroom, George Ball and Fay DeWitt, in a 349-seat thrust stage configuration of the Forum Theater at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. Starting in September, Gold Coast plans to present seasons in a 400-seat proscenium configuration of the Forum.

The new organization is a member of Gold Coast Performing Arts Assn., an umbrella group of locally based organizations that perform at the Civic Arts Plaza. It took the place of the Santa Susana Repertory Company, which staged the first professional production at the Forum in 1994.

Santa Susana hasn't disappeared from the Forum--it will still perform its annual "A Christmas Carol" and a possible Halloween fund-raiser there. But most of its productions will now be at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, a partnership that was launched last summer with an alfresco Santa Susana production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on the campus.

Both Santa Susana artistic director Lane Davies and Gold Coast Assn. founder and chief funder Larry Janss agreed that their groups' divorce, described by both as amicable, stemmed from differences about what kind of shows to produce.

"Lane didn't read the tea leaves right," Janss said. "He was anxious to move on to serious plays and to Shakespeare."

"Larry underestimates the caliber of the audience," Davies said. "There is too much light entertainment out here, and not enough serious theater."

After "A Little Night Music" and before continuing with its own productions, Gold Coast will present in the Forum--"on a one-time-only basis," Janss said--two productions from Theater League, the Kansas City-based company that also presents big musicals in the plaza's larger Probst Center.

"Personals," slated for Sept. 11-Oct. 4, is a musical revue, first staged off-Broadway in 1985 and best-known for the subsequent credits of two of its writers, Marta Kauffman and David Crane--co-creators of TV's "Dream On," "Friends" and "Veronica's Closet." A rerun of Theater League's Allan Sherman musical "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh," which already played the Forum in 1996, is scheduled for Feb. 5-28. Gold Coast will then produce its own "Forever Plaid," April 30-May 23, 1999. These three shows will make up the first season, though the group is also planning a workshop production of an adult "Pinocchio" next fall. Stephanie Angelini is the artistic director.

Meanwhile, Santa Susana is planning to reprise its "Midsummer" at Cal Lutheran this summer, as well as a new staging of "The Two Gentlemen of Verona." Then Davies is definitely looking at darker fare. "The Grapes of Wrath" is in the works, and the company--which recently presented a play about the battle of Shiloh--is examining dramatizations of other challenging historical material, including the struggles of miners in Harlan County, Ky., and the civil rights movement in Birmingham.

CULVER CITY PLANS: The Mark Taper Forum's proposed second space at the Culver Theater in Culver City has moved forward with the city's redevelopment board's endorsement of a business plan for the facility, prepared by Taper staff.

The plan describes an "intimate flex theater" with 300-400 seats, a capacity that's down from the figure cited in earlier documents (350-450 in one, 420 in another). Project coordinator Chris Lore said that 300-400 seems "a comfortable fit" but added that the capacity would be flexible.

This space would host "new plays," "family plays" and productions of the Taper's youth wing, Performing for Los Angeles Youth (P.L.A.Y.). In the business plan's description of "new plays," a list of seven possible playwrights is included--the examples being of no particular significance, Lore said, except that six are writers whose new work has, on at least one occasion, gone to other theaters because of the Taper's lack of a suitable space. (The seventh is Tom Stoppard, whose work "might be better in an intimate space," Lore said, citing the opinions of Taper higher-ups, but he said there are no plans to introduce a Stoppard play via the Taper.)

"Family plays" are described as "adaptations of literary classics and highly visible contemporary works, new and revived musicals, as well as popular performers such as Bill Irwin."

The smaller "laboratory theater" (99-120 seats) would host the New Work Festival and other developmental work.

The Taper is now studying funding; meanwhile, the Taper and the redevelopment board will now negotiate terms of an agreement.

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