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New Theatre Grows in Brooklyn

Until recently, anyone searching for theatre in Brooklyn had two primary options: the Brooklyn Academy of Music or the Cyclone roller coaster on Coney Island. As New York’s largest borough rapidly becomes the new residential mecca for overcrowded Manhattanites, it is logical that cultural alternatives will reflect the shifting demographics.

Deborah J. Pope is one Brooklynite who does not think it should be necessary to take the D train across the East River to find serious theatre. Under her spirited leadership, the aptly titled New Theatre of Brooklyn is establishing a forceful identity as a professional community theatre after only a year of operation. Considering the dearth of professional stage operations in Brooklyn in recent years, Pope’s New Theatre has exhibited a daring resistance to commercial trends. Witness the first production of the company’s new season: the American premiere of Franz Xaver Kroetz’s The Nest.

The company is assertively reaching out to local junior high and high schools. In a Thursday to Sunday performance schedule Pope includes three matinees (including an 11:00 a.m. performance on Thursdays) specifically aimed at students. Pope combines performance attendance with classroom workshops where students perform scenes from the plays they have just seen and discuss issues such as the difference between film and legitimate theatre, or the nature of Broadway houses vs. intimate arenas.

Significantly, Pope does not condescend to her youthful audiences. As she adamantly explains, “Our theatre is first and foremost an adult theatre. Teenagers are adults and they should not be shielded. All too often, though, they are treated to the worst experiences of an adult, and not the best—like going to the theatre. We give them the chance to see something better than video game parlors, and they soon learn that it is fun, easy to get to and not that expensive.”

Pope’s younger audiences will see The Nest elbow-to-elbow with the New Theatre of Brooklyn’s older, more sophisticated following. Is she apprehensive? “The play is not offensive in any way. There is no violence and there are very accessible situations. Last year when they came to see our production of Ostrovsky’s rarely performed Artists and Admirers, I was a little nervous. It’s a wonderful play, but it’s so long and talky. And you know what? They were rapt. Of course we had to confiscate their Walkmans on the way in, but it’s easy to put up with things like that.”

Defiant Leap

(Photo by Chris Bennion)

The friendship between two young Chinese immigrants during the transcontinental railroad strike of 1867 comes to vivid life in David Henry Hwang’s The Dance and the Railroad, which closed the 1984 season at the Intiman Theatre of Seattle. Exhibiting fine Kung Fu form, James Scales leaps over a flag brandished by Gregg Hashimoto (right). For director and choreographer Tzi Ma, the Intiman assignment marked his sixth production of the show—Ma appeared in the original and the television versions, and co-directed a critically acclaimed San Francisco production. Veteran Intiman designer Karen Gielsteen created the costumes and sets. Another Hwang drama, Sound and Beauty, runs through Jan. 26 at the Cricket Theatre of Minneapolis, under Shozo Sato’s direction.

More Than a Structure

History repeated itself on Oct. 29, when a fast-moving, early morning fire swept through the 620-seat outdoor Festival Stage of San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre. With the ruined structure still smoldering, the Old Globe board of directors met in emergency session and vowed to rebuild the facility on the same site, a wooded canyon adjacent to the building which houses the complex’s other two spaces.

This is the second such tragedy the theatre has experienced. In March 1978 the Festival Stage was leveled by a similar fire and rebuilt in a scant 52 days, in time to house that summer’s Shakespeare Festival. Reflecting on the recent setback, executive producer Craig Noel stated, “Theatre is much more than a structure. It’s a spirit. A theatre can be destroyed, but never that spirit. We will rise again, more glorious, more magical than before.”

After an investigation into the nature of the blaze, experts have determined that it was caused by arson and set with common combustibles. Neither a motive nor suspects have yet been uncovered, but the San Diego Arson Strike Team is continuing its probe, and is optimistic about discovering those responsible.

According to Old Globe president James Milch, plans had been on the boards for significant external improvements to the structure before the fire occurred. Redesigned entrances and a new façade were in the planning stages in anticipation of the Festival Stage’s June rededication as the Lowell Davies Festival Stage. (The late Mr. Davies was a longtime supporter of the Old Globe and served as both its president and board chairman at various times.)

Estimates for reconstruction of the space range from $1.2 million to $1.5 million, with a maximum expected insurance settlement of $665,000. With several large grants already pledged, a fundraising campaign to make up the difference is currently underway, and it is hoped that construction will be completed for the Stage’s customary June opening.

The setback occurred during the Old Globe’s 50th anniversary season and just one week after a day proclaimed “Craig Noel Day” in San Diego, in honor of the executive producer’s 50-year career in theatre.

Round One

The Denver Center Theatre Company completes the first round of its ambitious repertory season this month with a diverse selection of modern and classical offerings. Daniel Davis as the melancholy Dane thrusts home his rapier in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, directed by National Theatre Conservatory director Allen Fletcher. The tragedy runs in repertory with Noel Coward’s Design for Living in Denver Center’s The Stage. In The Source, the theatre’s newest stage space, Mike Regan takes careful aim in the world premiere of Frank X. Hogan’s Ringers, directed by Donovan Marley. Dealing with a Denver masonry contractor who becomes embroiled in a nuclear contamination controversy, the play runs through Feb. 1 in repertory with the world premiere of James McClure’s Lahr and Mercedes. Rounding out the rep are Sidney Howard’s They Knew What They Wanted, playing through Feb. 1, and William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life, offered through March 30. Both plays are performed in Denver Center’s The Space.

The Actress and the Storyteller

Scandinavian author Per Olov Enquist is best known in this country for his 1975 play Night of the Tribades, which concerns the tempestuous life of August Strindberg. But in his own country, Enquist is better known as a journalist and novelist, with six novels and a collection of short stories to his name. His most recent play, Rainsnakes, has just finished a limited-run American debut at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre, under the direction of Jose Quintero.

Rainsnakes, which concerns complex, often painful friendship between Hans Christian Andersen and Danish actress Johanne Heiberg, premiered at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen in 1981, where it ran for two years. It also has the distinction of being the only contemporary Scandinavian play ever directed by Ingmar Bergman (in a Munich production). Rainsnakes has been translated into 10 languages and has been presented in every Scandinavian country, as well as Zurich, Paris and Warsaw.

The Long Wharf production featured a translation by Harry G. Carlson and a cast including Jeffrey Jones as Anderson, Colleen Dewhurst as Heiberg and William Cain as her much older husband, Johan Ludvig Heiberg. Tickets were sold out in advance of the play’s opening, which also marked the opening of Long Wharf’s Stage II series. The series continues later in the season with Thomas Keneally’s Bullie’s House, directed by Kenneth Frankel.

Prime Moves

In the continuing quest for bigger, better, cheaper—or just plain newer—quarters, three more theatres have announced relocation plans, two effective this month.

With the assistance of the City of New York, Soho Repertory Theatre begins its 10th season in the neoclassical auditorium of Bellevue Hospital, a 100-seat thrust space. The move comes after the Rep lost its home last June, due to skyrocketing rent. According to co-artistic director Marlene Swartz, “It’s something like a fairy tale, with this small, unconventional theatre company being taken under the wing of the city. At one point, 25 people from eight different city agencies were working to help us relocate.” The turning point came when Manhattan Borough President Andrew Stein came through with a $60,000 grant to renovate the Bellevue space. The Rep’s first production there is the American premiere of Nicholas Wright’s The Crimes of Vautrin, originally produced by England’s Joint Stock Theatre.

The Merrimack Regional Theatre of Lowell, Mass. begins its 1985 season with a new name as well as a new $6 million home this month. Henceforth known as the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, the company has moved to the 398-seat Liberty Hall, part of Lowell’s Memorial Auditorium complex. It has undergone major renovation, financed by both city and state. Commenting on the name change, producing director Daniel Schay states. “While we’re proud of the area we serve, the word ‘regional’ in our title seemed to confuse potential audiences about our nature. The term ‘repertory’ has come to stand for our sort of resident professional theatre, committed to a loosely structured but real company of directors, designers and actors.”

Relocation plans for New York’s AMAS Repertory Theatre aren’t quite so far along, but a big step has been taken toward realizing artistic director Rosetta LeNoire’s dream of a new home for the company, named for Eubie Blake. In late September, with the assistance of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, work began on refurbishing an old building on West 42nd Street’s Theatre Row. A large fundraising drive is in progress—“Every brick, every pane of glass and every bucket of paint will have to be paid for by donations of friends,” said LeNoire. In the meantime, AMAS’ 1985 season will open in February in its current home on East 104th Street.

(Photo by Allen Namura)

See Through

Karin Epperlein crosses the metaphorical boundary between stage and screen in the above moment from Outcalls/Riptides, the newest work of the San Francisco-based performance group Soon 3. The piece is an “interactive cinema performance landscape,” specifies director Alan Finneran, whose works most often grow out of the juxtaposition of unrelated images in his own mind. Outcalls/Riptides, which opened in November at the Magic Theatre, began with the ideas of a large, red, high-heeled shoe; someone singing; and a lighthouse, Finneran claims. From that, a narrative of sorts emerged, with roles for three actors, five film projectors and considerable visual spectacle. “By incorporating these ideas into a rich theatrical fabric,” says Finneran, “we’re able to combine a lush, entertaining experience with very serious ideas.”

Briefly Noted

Harold Prince is hoping that Diamonds will be his best friend this season, as a new musical by that name settles into New York’s Circle in the Square under his direction. Composed of songs and sketches by a long roster of authors, composers and lyricists, Diamonds is billed as “a rambunctious look at America’s favorite pastime”—yes, it’s baseball, not baubles that gives the new play its name. Among those who contributed to the book are Bud Abbott, Gerard Alessandrini, Roy Blount, Jr., Jim Wann, John Lahr, Lou Costello and Alan Zweibel. The team of composers and lyricists includes Howard Ashman, Cy Coleman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, John Kander and Fred Ebb, Larry Grossman and David Zippel. The play, sporting a cast of nine, opened in mid-December, providing a perfect winter antidote for incurable baseball fans.

Chicago’s Goodman Theatre is collaborating with its neighbor the Organic Theater Company to present the Organic’s production of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as the Goodman’s second mainstage production. Under the direction of Organic artistic director Stuart Gordon, the production marks two anniversaries: It is 10 years since the original Adventures of Huckleberry Finn had its world premiere at the Organic, and it is the 150th birthday year of Mark Twain.

Theatre critic and playwright Eric Bentley’s reworking of Heinrich von Kleist’s Penthesilea provided an occasion for collaboration between two Milwaukee theatres recently. Part of Bentley’s “Kleist Variations,” The Fall of the Amazons was co-produced by Theatre X and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Amazons springs from a legendary meeting between the Greek warrior Achilles and Penthesilea, an Amazon queen, during the Trojan War. As directed by John Schneider and John Kishline, the play was a blend of ancient and modern, with Greek warriors portrayed as athletes—complete with helmets and sports equipment.

Currently, the Theatre X company is preparing for a Jan. 24 opening of its Original Horror Show, a company-developed work directed by Eric Hall and John Kishline.

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