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Summer Splash | Theater

Add Their Names to the Reservation List

Top guns at six local theaters tell us what they've put on their must-see lists. 'Antigone' and 'Newman' lead.


From Antigone to Randy Newman--you can't say that Southern California theater isn't diverse.

Calendar conducted an entirely unscientific survey of six leaders of Southland theater to determine which summer shows they're particularly looking forward to seeing--apart from their own productions, of course. New variations on the story of Antigone and the work of songsmith Randy Newman led the list.

Those polled (in alphabetical order) were Ben Donenberg, producing artistic director of Shakespeare Festival/LA; David Emmes, producing artistic director of South Coast Repertory; Kym Eisner, A.S.K. Theater Projects' executive director; Sheldon Epps, Pasadena Playhouse artistic director; Corey Madden, Mark Taper Forum associate artistic director; and Carmen Zapata, Bilingual Foundation of the Arts president and producing director.

Four of those surveyed mentioned Cornerstone Theater's production of "An Antigone Story," which is a version of the classic Greek tragedy set in the near future. In keeping with Cornerstone's site-specific tradition, it will be performed at an unusual venue, the old subway terminal building on downtown L.A.'s Hill Street, opening July 29.

"I want to see the play in that setting," said Donenberg, whose company has its own history of doing work in nontraditional downtown venues. "And I think Cornerstone is doing some of the most important work in the country."

Three of the panelists cited "The Education of Randy Newman" at South Coast Repertory as a must-see this summer--and because a fourth panelist was South Coast's Emmes, we can probably assume that he shares that opinion. It's opening on June 2.

"I grew up on the music of Randy Newman," said Eisner. " 'Short People' was a grade school favorite, so I've got to see 'The Education of Randy Newman.' "

The Old Globe Theatre's "The Full Monty" musical was mentioned twice. Donenberg said that Old Globe's Jack O'Brien, who is staging "The Full Monty," "is at the height of his sensitivity and power as a director." But then he asked a question that a lot of theater folk are asking about "The Full Monty": "Will it really move to the stage?"

The Mark Taper Forum's "Expecting Isabel," about a couple's infertility problems, also was cited by two of those surveyed. Epps said he had heard good things about it when he was directing recently at Washington's Arena Stage, where "Isabel" received its premiere. From playwright Lisa Loomer's previous work as well, Epps counts himself as one of her fans.

A wide range of other wanna-see projects emerged from individual panelists. A sampling:

* "James Joyce's The Dead," coming to the Ahmanson Theatre, was liked by Emmes in New York, and he's looking forward to seeing it again.

* "Immortality," from the same company that produced last year's 99-seat hit "Harry Thaw Hates Everybody," can expect to see Madden in the audience.

* "Blood Wedding," the first production of La Jolla Playhouse's new artistic director Anne Hamburger, is attracting the attention of Zapata, a veteran of several previous "Blood Weddings." She's interested to see La Jolla producing a couple of performances in Spanish, which is standard operating procedure at her own company, including its own production of "Blood Wedding" last year.

* "Henry V," to be staged by Dakin Matthews at the Old Globe Theatre, has "some really good people in it," Donenberg said. "I know, because we were fighting for the same actors."

* The late-summer opening of the Colony Studio Theatre in its new home at Burbank Center Stage is gratifying to Eisner: "They have been working toward this for a long time, and I'm looking forward to their first production ['Dandelion Wine']."

* "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," from A Noise Within, appeals to Zapata. A Noise Within does good work, she said.

* "Harold and Maude," at Theatricum Botanicum, will feature Ellen Geer, who had a role in the 1971 movie, as Maude. Put Zapata down for that one too.

Other grown-up-oriented shows mentioned included "Defiled" at Geffen Playhouse, "Fosse" at the Shubert, L.A. playwright David Rambo's "God's Man in Texas" at the Old Globe, and Taper, Too's "The Square."

Madden and Eisner both mentioned kids' picks too. Madden's kids are excited about "Blue's Clues," she said.

And while Eisner's 10-month-old twins aren't exactly expressing opinions about theatergoing just yet, "the current favorite entertainment in my home is singing puppets," Eisner said. "So I was pleased to learn about the Puppeteers of America's Pacific Southwest Regional Festival, and I'm planning on taking the whole family."

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