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THEATER | Theater Notes

'Cider' Pressed for Cash in the Big Apple

May 30, 1999|DON SHIRLEY | Don Shirley is The Times' theater writer

Angelenos who ignore local theater and then brag about all the shows they've seen in New York should pay attention: If you passed up the "The Cider House Rules" marathon when the show's two parts played the Mark Taper Forum on a rotating schedule last summer, chances are you won't be able to see the whole production in New York after all.

Although the first half of the epic, based on John Irving's novel, is playing at the off-Broadway Atlantic Theater Company through Saturday, the producers couldn't raise enough money to continue with Part 2 during the summer, as they had planned. Neil Pepe, the Atlantic's artistic director, said almost half of the necessary $300,000 is in place, and he held out some hope that the rest could be raised within the next month, which would allow the saga to continue next fall. But for now, New Yorkers who saw Part 1 and want to find out what happened are best advised to read the book.

The New York production cost far less than the one at the 760-seat Taper, where Actors' Equity contracts required wages for the 22 cast members that were more than three times the wages for the 19 actors at the 165-seat Atlantic. Still, it was the Atlantic's most expensive show ever, said Pepe, with Part 1 alone costing approximately $490,000.

The New York budget was so lean that the production could afford to house only one actor from out of town, said co-director Jane Jones. Jillian Armenante, who created a sensation here as the orphan Melony, got the nod over Michael Winters, who was acclaimed as one of the leads in the original Seattle production and the L.A. version. Winters was replaced by Colm Meaney. The other L.A. lead, Josh Hamilton, lives in New York and was therefore able to continue in the role.

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The production wasn't helped by a New York Times review that said the first half alone was "more than enough." But other reviews were encouraging. The Newsday review concluded with the hope that the Atlantic could make Part 2 happen. "Judging from this terrific initial effort, the Atlantic should proceed immediately [with Part 2]," concurred the Associated Press critic. "I can't wait" to see Part 2, wrote critics for both the New York Daily News and the New York Post.

Part 1 has been almost a complete sellout, Pepe said. The New York Times review was a factor in not being able to raise additional money, he acknowledged, but he also noted that nonprofits such as the Atlantic are not as dependent on reviews as Broadway shows are. Foundations contributed to Part 1, and more such money is being sought for Part 2.

The Atlantic script restored a minor character, an assistant stationmaster, who spoke about 10 lines that had been heard in Seattle but were not heard in L.A., Jones said--this tiny addition "helped make Part 1 more of a complete evening in the absence of Part 2." Otherwise the script remained the same.

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A DIFFERENT THEATRE 40: For the first time in 28 years, Theatre 40 will move out of its 99-seat space on the campus of Beverly Hills High School this summer, but it won't go far. The company will set up 80 seats as part of an environmental-style space on the stage of the high school's main auditorium.

The move is required by asbestos removal inside the building that houses the regular Theatre 40 space, although artistic co-director Artur Cybulski said that the removal operations are not taking place in the theater itself.

In its new space, the company will present "Morning's at Seven" on weekends and "Fences" on weekdays. The audience will sit in three sections, as they do in the regular theater, but they will be more a part of the playing space in the new configuration, which Cybulski hopes will be "an adventure." The conventional seating area of the auditorium will be blocked from view. Theatergoers will use the same parking structure as always, and signs will direct them to the new space.

Theatre 40 will move back to its regular space in the fall. The company receives its quarters at the high school in exchange for adult education programs it provides on Monday evenings.

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SCHOOL TIES: Another link between theaters and schools: South Coast Repertory, following in the footsteps of a similar program at Pasadena Playhouse, is offering half-price first-time subscriptions for next season to any full-time employees of an educational institution. A valid ID is required. Information: (714) 708-5555.

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