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THEATER | Theater Notes

Cornerstone Is Taper's Holiday Gift

March 26, 2000|DON SHIRLEY | Don Shirley is The Times' theater writer

For years, occasional grumbles have been heard that the Mark Taper Forum, L.A.'s flagship theater company, and its parent Center Theatre Group weren't sufficiently receptive to L.A. talent. Certainly the Taper has, over the years, drawn its plays and talent from a wide, international pool, without giving locals preferential access to the Taper main stage. In the wake of the 1992 riots, the Taper turned to out-of-towner Anna Deavere Smith for a theatrical response ("Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992"), much to the initial disapproval of some of the locals.

Now, however, the Taper has invited Cornerstone Theater Company to do a show on the main stage this December. This isn't entirely unprecedented; the local comedy trio Culture Clash performed "Carpa Clash" on the main stage in 1993. But if you consider Culture Clash to be a comedy group rather than a theater company, as most observers probably do, you can accurately say that Cornerstone will be the first independent L.A.-based theater company to produce on the Taper main stage.

"There is inevitable tension between theaters of different sizes," said Cornerstone artistic director Bill Rauch, acknowledging some of the history of locals' relationship with the Taper. However, from his point of view, the Taper has been very helpful since Cornerstone settled in L.A. in 1992. The Taper hosted the company's first all-professional L.A. production, a revised "Twelfth Night," in its first L.A. run at what was then the Taper's smaller space, the Taper Too in the John Anson Ford Theatre. Various Taper staffers have worked with Cornerstone as directors. When Cornerstone approached the Taper with the idea for the upcoming show, "For Here or to Go?," the overture "came out of a longtime mutual desire to work together," Rauch said.

"For Here or to Go?" was announced last week as a special bonus to the upcoming Taper season. Based on the 1611 play "Knight of the Burning Pestle," Alison Carey's script is described as a "comic, musical tale of lost love, feuding families and fast food." Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and Ramadan will all overlap during or near the run of the play, Dec. 15-24, and all will be incorporated into the script, Rauch said.

The production will feature representatives of the 14 local communities with whom Cornerstone has worked since its arrival in L.A.. Twenty of the 30 cast members will be nonprofessionals, but they will be professionally compensated according to the terms of a contract that's being negotiated with Actors' Equity, Rauch said. The regular Taper contract won't apply, said Taper artistic director Gordon Davidson, because the production will essentially be Cornerstone's, with only artistic input, not control, from the Taper.

Davidson said he saw "Broken Hearts," Cornerstone's production last fall that drew on people from four of the L.A. communities with whom the company has worked, and he thought it was "wonderful."

"I can't do it often," Davidson said, referring to the idea of importing a local company, "but this is a way of saying we're a part of this community, and this is something we can share."

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MANAGING DIRECTOR MOVES: Lou Moore, the founding managing director of the Geffen Playhouse (since 1995), will leave at the end of the current season, though she will remain as a consultant.

Meanwhile, two of San Diego's largest theaters have hired new managing directors. Douglas C. Evans will leave the Horace Bushnell Memorial Hall in Hartford, Conn., to become the new chief administrator at the Old Globe Theatre, replacing Thomas Hall, who more than a year ago announced his decision to leave the job he has held since 1981. And Karen Wood, who was downsized out of a job as general manager of the Mark Taper Forum in 1995 and recently served as managing director of the Music Center Education Division, will become the new managing director of San Diego Repertory Theatre.

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NEW CAST BOSS: Rebecca Smith has become the new producing artistic director of the Cast Theatre, following the recent departures of Justin Tanner and Andy Daley (Theater Notes, Feb. 20). A longtime resident of Lexington., Ky, where she co-founded two theaters and served as artistic director of a Shakespeare festival, Smith had never been at the Cast until she worked there last fall as a stage manager for the revival of Tanner's "Bitter Women." But she said the board is determined to drum up the financial support to keep the theater going. A co-production, "The Older Man You Always Wanted," opens there Friday.

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