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This Glass Slipper Fits Three

'Medea / Macbeth / Cinderella' brings together two troupes and three plays for a veritable mother of all collaborations.

March 29, 1998|Don Shirley | Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

Cinderella didn't have it so bad.

Granted, her stepmother was mean, but at least she was no murderer. Cinderella should be grateful that her stepmother wasn't Medea. Or that Macbeth wasn't a friend of her father's.

Thoughts like these are likely to skitter through the brains of theatergoers who see "Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella," a collaboration between the Actors' Gang and Cornerstone Theater, at the Gang's theater in Hollywood.

The production offers three plays for the price of one. The catch is, you'll see them at the same performance, in the same room.

During part of the evening, scenes from Euripides' "Medea," Shakespeare's "Macbeth" and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" will be performed separately, so everyone's attention can focus on one play. At other moments, lines from one play are intercut with lines from one or two others. Then there are simultaneous scenes, when action in more than one play goes on at the same time--"a three-ring circus," said the project's co-director and Cornerstone artistic director Bill Rauch.

Finally, at nine points in the master script, "an event in one play is significant enough that casts of the other two drop what they're doing and join in," Rauch said. "We call them production numbers, though they don't all have songs."

For example, when Cinderella and her stepfamily hear the announcement of the Prince's ball, so do the Macbeths and the three witches and Medea, and they take some of the Rodgers and Hammerstein lines. The famous banquet scene from "Macbeth" is another opportunity for the characters to mingle. During the feminist choral odes in "Medea," the women from all three plays join in.

Not that women actors appear in all three. "Medea" has an all-female cast, including the men's roles, while "Macbeth" has an all-male cast, including the women's roles. "Medea" is "an extraordinary feminist play," said Rauch, while "Macbeth" is "so much about male energy. Even Lady Macbeth says 'Unsex me.' " However, "Cinderella" follows traditional gender assignments.

The idea for this theatrical collage began 14 years ago, when Rauch was a senior at Harvard University. He and a group of friends, including some who are doing the L.A. production, "played with the idea in a workshop format," Rauch said, using the same texts that will be used here.

"There were three times in Western theater history when theater reached large audiences, in what were populist movements," Rauch said. "Greek theater, Elizabethan drama, and the American musical. What would we learn by setting them next to each other?"

"Medea" and "Macbeth" might appear to be more obvious candidates for this experiment than "Cinderella." But Rauch said that the musical was the first of the three to be selected. He had seen reruns of the 1965 TV version of "Cinderella," and a friend's cast album had recently "transported" him, he said.

All three are "title character plays," Rauch said. "In different ways, they all involve ambition, class and love." The musical is considerably more upbeat than the two earlier works, but Rauch wanted to juxtapose a romantic musical comedy against the tragedy of the other two, "as opposed to doing the tale of three monsters."

Cut to Los Angeles, 1997. Cornerstone Theater had just finished the final performance of its updated "Candide," called "Candude," at spaces within the downtown Los Angeles library, directed by Tracy Young of the Actors' Gang. While striking the set, Cornerstone actor (and Rauch mate) Christopher Liam Moore described to Young the "Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella" workshop that he and Rauch did in college.

Young was intrigued. She got together with Rauch, and the two of them spent six weeks "taking the three texts apart, going over them with a fine-toothed comb, digging for connective tissues, mutual resonance," Young said. "The texts really do have this mutual rhythmic structure."

The Gang and Cornerstone had been looking for a joint project, and for this one, each group obtained $15,000 grants from the Flintridge Foundation. Young and Rauch are co-directing. Rauch got the crucial permission to use "Cinderella" from the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization.

This was not easy. After Rauch's first proposal, in which he implored the Rodgers and Hammerstein's representatives not to make a snap decision, a response indicated the organization was dubious about the idea.

Charlie Scatamacchia, director of professional licensing for Rodgers and Hammerstein, acknowledged that the idea sounded "odd." But someone in his office was aware of Cornerstone, and after Scatamacchia and Rauch met over a meal, permission was given, including the right to omit one number, "Your Majesties."

Rauch "was articulate and passionate," Scatamacchia said, "and he had a great respect for Rodgers and Hammerstein. He wasn't interested in improving 'Cinderella.' He thought it was interesting to juxtapose it with these others. He's putting us in excellent company. Euripides and Shakespeare--it's hard to argue with that."

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