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COVER STORY

Getting Ahead...On The L.A. Stage?

Yep. In a scene once thought to be limited, it's now possible to build an acting career that includes Hollywood--or not.

August 12, 2001|REED JOHNSON | Reed Johnson is a Times staff writer

"I love doing theater, but I detest doing eight shows a week, and with a family it is just not something I would choose to do now," says Laraine Newman, a former cast member of "SNL," who has also had stints on "Laverne & Shirley" and "St. Elsewhere."

A recent exception was Newman's appearance last fall, playing opposite Glenne Headly, in a well-received production of Colleen Dodson-Baker's "Detachments" at the Tiffany Theater in West Hollywood.

"It was a role where I got to play about six characters, so it was right up my alley," Newman says. "I loved working with Glenne; it was a great experience and it was four days a week--a short run."

But even the inconvenience, low pay and industry disinterest doesn't seem to stop L.A. stage performers from wanting to return.

Veteran character actor John Diehl spent a good chunk of this spring and summer logging three-hour round-trips between his Ojai home and the 2100 Square Feet Theater on San Vicente Boulevard.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday August 19, 2001 Home Edition Calendar Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Los Angeles theater--A story in the Aug. 12 Sunday Calendar incorrectly identified the location of the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre. It is in Claremont.

The gig? An under-seen but critically lauded turn as a charming blue-collar rogue in Murray Mednick's dysfunctional family drama "Joe and Betty."

"If it wasn't for the theater, I don't know what I'd be doing," says Diehl, 50, whose career has encompassed feature films ("Stripes," "Nixon"), teleplays, New York and Los Angeles theater (including "A Lie of the Mind" with Holly Hunter at the Taper) and a brief but lucrative part as Detective Larry Zito in "Miami Vice."

He doesn't waste any words summing up his unique artistic contributions to "Jurassic Park III," the $92-million summer blockbuster in which he had a bit part--literally.

"They paid me a lot of money. I worked five weeks. And I get eaten on Page 28."

The difference between playing a character like Joe and getting eaten on Page 28 is the reason Diehl got into theater in the first place, about two decades ago. And it's the reason he's not about to quit now.

Chatting over coffee one recent afternoon, Diehl said while most of his acting these days is done "for Starbucks and love," he thinks that could change as L.A. theater slowly continues to come of age.

"L.A. [theater] is not there yet," Diehl says. "But L.A.'s kind of waking up, I think in a kind of human way. In a big-city, human way."

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