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THEATER | Theater Notes

Doolittle Sale Nears Completion

December 19, 1999|DON SHIRLEY | Don Shirley is The Times' theater writer

The James A. Doolittle Theatre in Hollywood is one step closer to becoming the Ricardo Montalban Theatre, after the approval of a redevelopment plan by the Los Angeles City Council on Dec. 10.

The council's OK, delayed for months by details of other aspects of the redevelopment plan, paves the way for the city to buy the 1,021-seat theater from UCLA and lease it to Regent Properties--the private developer of the area. Regent will in turn sublease the theater to the Ricardo Montalban-Nosotros Foundation for $1 a year. And the foundation plans to convert the theater into a Latino-oriented entertainment center.

Not that touring shows along the lines of "Art," which was at the Doolittle earlier this year, won't be able to continue to rent the theater from the foundation, said the foundation's acting executive director, Al Pin~a. The foundation intends to raise "well over $5 million" to pay for renovations and programming, Pin~a said, and rental income will come in handy.

"Ricardo's really going to have to do another 'Fantasy Island' to make up the shortfall," joked Pin~a. Seriously, he added, he hopes Montalban's wide following will attract substantial funds. The theater can't actually be renamed until escrow closes, which Pin~a hopes will happen within 60 days, at which point the foundation will launch its capital campaign. A grand opening is penciled in for late March.

Assuming the sale proceeds as planned and the foundation meets performance and community service requirements that are being formulated by the CRA, the foundation could have the option to take ownership of the theater outright in 6 1/2 years, without any extra costs, Pin~a said.

Pin~a, who helped develop the plan for the theater as an official of the Washington-based National Council of La Raza, now lives in Los Angeles and is working full time for the foundation.

NOISES OFFSTAGE: Today, A Noise Within completes its first round of programming in its new home at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex on the campus of Cal State L.A., with two final performances of "A Christmas Carol." It's an apt time to examine how the A Noise Within theatergoing experience has changed, from the audience member's point of view.

No, we're not talking about the programming. We're talking about the creature comforts: seats, bathrooms, parking and other such details.

The first two amenities stand out as vast improvements over the company's previous quarters at a former Masonic Temple in Glendale. The Luckman has comfortable seats and enormous bathrooms; the former temple did not. Pews provided the seating in the old space, and the lack of a distinct border between your seat and your neighbor's sometimes led to cramped conditions.

Most theatergoers aren't getting as much physical exercise as they did at the company's old space, which was on the third floor. If you didn't want to negotiate the steps, you could take an antique, manually operated elevator, but it usually went down to the basement before making its ascent. The Luckman, by contrast, is completely disabled-accessible for the '90s, as required by federal law.

One of the biggest adjustments required for A Noise Within's audience is the $5 required for parking. True, the parking is secure and directly adjacent to the theater. But most patrons parked at the Glendale facility for free, using the nearby streets, usually with no security problems.

When the season began, a number of theatergoers didn't realize that they had to keep driving beyond the Luckman itself to find the parking entrance--or else they didn't appreciate the importance of placing a stub from the parking receipt on their windshield. Parking elsewhere on the campus or failing to display the stub resulted in parking tickets, but A Noise Within officials announced in curtain speeches that such tickets should be turned in to the company, which forwarded them to the university, which handled the payment. As patrons have learned the parking rules, the number of tickets has diminished.

The company was informed one hour before the opening of "A Christmas Carol," on Dec. 10, that the university wouldn't permit wine and champagne to be served at the opening-night reception. Such drinks had been served at the three previous opening receptions at the Luckman. But the university is currently without a liquor license, said a university spokeswoman, and because the opening-night tickets cost extra, the university was afraid that the extra cost might be interpreted as payment for alcohol.

The party went on Friday without the alcohol; a company member quickly went out and bought some sparkling cider and eggnog, and no one complained. *

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