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Lost World Finds Home in Whittier

June 07, 1998|Don Shirley

Another small L.A. company has begun a journey to mid-sized status: The Lost World.

No, this group isn't devoted to stage dramatizations of dinosaur movies.

Its primary devotion so far has been to the intimate Texas plays of Horton Foote. Since 1995, the Lost World has presented three of them in 99-seat venues.

Now the company has formed an alliance with Whittier College, where artistic director Crystal Brian teaches. The plan is to stage professional summertime productions in the college's Shannon Center, which includes a 403-seat theater and a black-box studio that seats up to 94.

The move to the larger theater will have to wait until at least next summer. But on Friday the company is opening its first Whittier production, Naomi Wallace's "One Flea Spare," in the smaller space. And the surprise is that the group is already using an Actors' Equity contract--even though it would have been eligible for Equity's 99-Seat Theatre Plan, which it used for its four previous productions.

Under Equity's Special Appearances contract, the four Equity members in the five-actor cast will each receive $250 per week for both rehearsals and performances, and the company also will make required payments to the union's pension and health fund. By contrast, the 99-Seat Theater Plan requires payments of only $5-$14 per show--and no compensation for rehearsals nor any contribution to the benefits plan.

Brian calculates that the Equity contract will cost around $1,000 per week more than payments under the 99-Seat Plan, but she feels "it's important to make it an Equity company from the start. Actors deserve to be paid." Fortunately, in addition to the use of its facilities and administrative support, Whittier College has thrown in $15,000 (part of it as a professional development grant to Brian).

Whittier has no professional theater company--the closest such activity is in La Mirada, six miles south. "We want audiences from all over," Brian said, "but we primarily want them from this community."

This doesn't mean, however, that Brian plans to produce only familiar chestnuts, as sometimes happens when a theater is alone in serving a community. Her primary interest is new American plays--she'd like Foote to allow her to premiere one of his. "I want the work to be substantive," she said. "I want people to get together and talk about it."

"One Flea Spare" hardly sounds like light summer fare. It's about a poor sailor and a waif who are quarantined inside an upper-class couple's London house during the plague of 1665. Wallace's play won one of off-Broadway's Obies last year and was named one of the year's best by Time magazine.

Of course, one shouldn't expect to see a revival of "Hello, Dolly!" from a company called the Lost World. Brian noted that the group used the name before the movie did, taking it from a book of poetry by Randall Jarrell, one of Foote's favorite poets.

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DISCOUNTS: Theatre LA has begun examining the idea of opening a second half-price ticket booth, probably in Studio City, in addition to its booth at the Beverly Center. Meanwhile, the Valley Theatre League has been planning to open its own half-price booth, for two hours a day, at the corner of Lankershim and Magnolia boulevards, not too far from Studio City. Will these groups join forces in this effort? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, at next weekend's NoHo Theatre and Arts Festival, near the site of the proposed Valley Theatre League booth, the league will sell $40 books of 10 passes that may be used at 24 San Fernando Valley theaters June 18-Sept. 27. Information: (818) 766-9381.

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TV NOTES: Today being Tony Day, more TV viewers will watch something about the American theater than on any other day of the year. But a few who were watching recently (locally, on KCBS-TV Channel 2 on May 30) may have seen another show, "Live Broadway, USA," which has been touted as a pilot for a potential "weekly Broadway news program."

If it should move forward, perhaps the "news" will be taken more seriously. Generally, the show was devoid of news, serving more as an hourlong infomercial for commercial theater. It opened with a backstage tour by actors from "The Sound of Music"--a production that was one of the show's sponsors. The only hint that anyone wouldn't be swept away by every show on Broadway came in a sneering reference to nay-saying critics from a fervent fan of "Jekyll and Hyde."

The show included a segment shot in Sacramento, about the appearance of "Chicago" there, but otherwise focused on New York, giving the impression that there is no professional theater independent of the Broadway machinery. Not that one would expect a Broadway-financed show to promote other arenas, but let's hope this narrow viewpoint isn't misinterpreted as reflecting the national theater scene.

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