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Some Positively Hitchcockian Summer Fare

February 11, 2001|DON SHIRLEY | Don Shirley is The Times' theater writer

The summer-like weather last weekend turned theatergoers' thoughts to alfresco theater--and what awaits us in the leading outdoor venues this summer.

Let's start with PCPA Theaterfest, an institution that appears poised for a comeback. Known to Southland audiences primarily for its outdoor fare in a charming, 700-seat venue in Solvang (though the company is headquartered in Santa Maria, farther up the coast, and also performs indoors there), PCPA--the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts--has presented such predictable seasons in recent years that it faded from the consciousness of a lot of L.A. theatergoers.

This summer, however, PCPA will present a true oddity among otherwise familiar titles: "Rope," a staged version of the 1948 Alfred Hitchcock film based on the story of the infamous murderers Leopold and Loeb. Shot as an experiment in very long takes, "Rope" was already closer to a stage experience than most movies. The PCPA version will stage Arthur Laurents' screenplay, which was based on a play by Patrick Hamilton, without further adaptation. PCPA got the rights through the aid of Pat Hitchcock O'Connell, the director's daughter, who is on the PCPA Foundation board. The production is scheduled for Aug. 23-Sept. 9 in Solvang and Sept. 14-30 in Santa Maria.

"Rope" will be directed by Jack Shouse, who stepped down last year as PCPA's artistic director. His successor, R. Michael Gros, said he also hopes to include new work in PCPA's seasons, including a musical in 2003. The company is also hoping it will have a second, smaller indoor space in Solvang in a couple of years, enabling PCPA to offer weekend packages of three plays, Gros said. PCPA expects to increase the number of Actors' Equity members with the company from last year's eight, though the final number isn't yet known. This year's other offerings: "42nd Street," "The Tempest," "My Fair Lady" and "On Golden Pond."

Moving south, the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga will present "The Cradle Will Rock" and "Medea" this summer in addition to two Shakespeare comedies: "Much Ado About Nothing," which the company has never tackled, and "Twelfth Night." The Theatricum's smaller second space will be under construction this summer, but artistic director Ellen Geer said construction noise won't interfere with weekend play schedules. "The Cradle Will Rock" will be staged in tribute to Geer's father and the company's namesake, the late Will Geer, who created the role of Mr. Mister in the original production of "Cradle," Marc Blitzstein's '30s leftist musical.

Shakespeare Festival/LA will present "The Comedy of Errors" this summer in L.A.'s Pershing Square, South Coast Botanic Garden in Palos Verdes Peninsula and another venue still being negotiated. The company also will move up the Actors' Equity scale. It previously operated on a letter of agreement, written in reference to an Actors' Equity contract. But starting this year, the company will use a regular League of Resident Theatres contract.

This will make Shakespeare Festival/LA the fourth LORT company in Los Angeles County--in addition to the Mark Taper Forum, Pasadena Playhouse and Geffen Playhouse. In practical terms, the Equity actors in the company's productions will get about $500 a week--a raise of about $100 from previous years.

The Grove Theater Center, which produces outdoors in Garden Grove and Fullerton, has scheduled "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "Twelfth Night" this summer.

SIZING IT UP: When the Ahmanson Theatre's next show, a trio of one-act musicals called "3hree," premiered last fall at Philadelphia's Prince Music Theater, it was in a 450-seat house. In L.A., it will use the smallest configuration of the Ahmanson, with 1,600 seats instead of the 2,100 that's standard for musicals. Still, are 1,600 seats too many for small musicals? A number of those who saw "James Joyce's The Dead" last year at the Ahmanson, especially those who sat behind the front section, groused that the show was too small for the hall.

Ahmanson producer-artistic director Gordon Davidson acknowledged that "3hree" "is on a modest scale," but he believes "it will sit beautifully in the Ahmanson." The performance style is "presentational," he said--more directly addressed to the audience, as opposed to the sense of eavesdropping encouraged by "James Joyce's The Dead," in which the performers occasionally had their backs turned to the audience.

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