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Stages Large and Small Make Some Major Steps

September 15, 2002|DON SHIRLEY

The most anticipated autumn event in Southern California theater isn't a particular play; it's the unveiling of the new South Coast Repertory campus in Costa Mesa.

Opening Nov. 8 will be the 336-seat Julianne Argyros Stage, with a traditional proscenium, a balcony and boxes, a back row only 39 feet from the stage and Richard Greenberg's new "The Violet Hour."

The company's other two theaters have been refurbished. The 507-seat main stage, now called Segerstrom Stage, will have a more flexible stage apron--rounded off for the opening "Major Barbara"--and a brighter interior look. The former second stage, now Nicholas Studio, will have 95 seats, all facing the stage from one side instead of three sides as before. Maybe all the changes will place South Coast Rep on the radar of more people.

The pre-Broadway tryout of "Imaginary Friends," opening at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre on Sept. 29, is the fall's showiest item, just on the basis of the names associated with it: subjects Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy, stars Swoosie Kurtz, Cherry Jones and Harry Groener, writer Nora Ephron, composer Marvin Hamlisch, lyricist Craig Carnelia and director Jack O'Brien.

In Los Angeles, the looming question at the Mark Taper Forum is whether the big theater on the hill can succeed in taking over the sign language-enriched "Big River" from the little theater in the Valley, Deaf West. Opening on Nov. 14, "Big River" will be the first Taper production imported from the teeming ranks of L.A.'s sub-100-seat theaters. But first up, on Thursday, is "Nickel and Dimed," a look at America's minimum-wage culture, adapted from Barbara Ehrenreich's book by Joan Holden of San Francisco Mime Troupe fame.

Pamela Gien's "The Syringa Tree," set in '60s South Africa, began in an L.A. class but sought fame elsewhere, winning an Obie. It's finally back, at the Pasadena Playhouse, opening Nov. 3. Angeleno Debbie Allen brings her "Pearl," which also premiered elsewhere, to Westwood's Geffen Playhouse Nov. 20.

UCLA's International Theatre Festival is one of the most exciting-sounding theatrical gatherings in L.A. in years. But everything in it is imported.

On the home front, however, Oct. 12 is opening night for two intriguing plays in L.A.'s sub-100-seat world.

At L.A.'s Evidence Room: "Hot Property," the first new full-length comedy by '90s L.A. chronicler Justin Tanner since 1998. It's about the schisms that occur when one member of a group of friends becomes a star.

Also on Oct. 12, at Venice's Pacific Resident Theatre: the L.A. premiere of "Big Love," Charles Mee's adaptation of Aeschylus' "The Suppliant Women." Mee is best known in L.A. for the much-lauded "The Berlin Circle" at the Evidence Room, but it's his current romantic comedy, "Wintertime," at La Jolla Playhouse that makes me hungry for "Big Love."

A week later, the Colony Theatre opens "Bea[u]tiful in the Extreme" by Leon Martell--the first world premiere at the Colony's 276-seat theater in Burbank. It's a kick to see the new and bigger Colony's subscription season venturing into the work of a local playwright, and into a subject--Lewis and Clark--that's almost as unexplored in the theater as the Louisiana Purchase was in 1803.


Don Shirley is a Times staff writer.

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