San Diego County Arts Editor

Mort Sahl, the trenchantly funny stand-up satirist, has been hotter in the last few years than he was in all of the 1970s. Maybe that's because his favorite targets have redefined themselves. The radical-hippie-liberal types of the '60s have gone increasingly conservative, conservatives are moderating, and the resultant role confusion makes a perfect target for Sahl's barbs. He recently broke the attendance record at New York's Bottom Line--an old '60s haunt of his--and tonight through Sunday he checks into La Jolla's Comedy Store.

"The best compliment I get these days is, 'I don't know where you stand,' " Sahl said last week at a La Jolla lunch. "That means I'm doing it right." Sahl is also doing a lot--in addition to a busy stand-up schedule, the Los Angeles native says he has just finished writing a screenplay, "The Last Anchorman," in which Meryl Streep may star. "It's about electronic journalism," Sahl says, "although that's a contradiction in terms."

Sahl was last scheduled to appear here a year and a half ago, but fell victim to back spasms and canceled.

"What am I talking about in the act these days? Well, I'm explaining to the liberals how they lost the election, and telling how to be a writer for the movies. You know, now that the Writers Guild is on strike, that's the closest a lot of writers will get to the studios--when they go on the picket line. Hey, out at the studios, all of the producers who used to be liberals are saying to me, 'My God, my kids are Republicans! How did it happen?' I say, 'I told you in the '60s that if you keep using drugs your kids would be mutants.'

"As for my audiences now, they're mixed--some of the crowd from the old days, and types you wouldn't think you'd see. The press recruits people, it seems. But I don't give any of 'em a chance to react or get comfortable. I get 'em from all sides."

PLAZA PLANS: When Centre City Development Corp. officers opened bids for the Horton Plaza theaters last week, everything went according to plan until they got to the bid for the general construction, drywall and steel work. The bid was $1 million over budget, pushing the total cost of the complex to $6.2 million. Since only one company bid for the work, the job could be re-bid.

"We suspected our estimate might be low because of the complication of the steel work," project director David Allsbrook said. "Since it's all enclosed, they'll have to use block and tackle or a scissor lift system. They're very labor intensive." A recommendation will be made to the CCDC board within several weeks, Allsbrook said.

BITTER PILL: After a year and a half in downtown warehouse space, the San Diego Public Theatre is out. Linville Martin, a lawyer and "artists' groupie" who has sought to convert his Candy Factory building at 8th Avenue and K Street into an artists' loft live/work space, said the Public Theatre, which leased the Candy Factory Annex, could not meet the rent, which doubled after the troupe's first year in the 4,300-square-foot space. The next show, at least, will go on, but not at the Candy Factory. Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," pared down to seven players, will be staged at Sushi Gallery, opening April 10.

Meanwhile, a consortium may be in the works to take over operation of the Candy Factory Annex. Lynn Schuette, who operates Sushi, said that she and theater director Ollie Nash of the Aleph Company and another unnamed theater manager hope to make a proposal to Martin for a six-month lease.

"There are so many little groups that come to me who want space. But I don't have anything," said Schuette. "I don't want to change my programming to become an experimental theater. But we need that kind of space. I think a combination of short solo runs and longer runs like we have here would work. I think (the Candy Factory Annex) could be run, but you've really got to be tight with it."

DANCEWATCH: This week, the California Ballet canceled a spring performance of repertory works that would have premiered a production of "Petrouchka," the Fokine masterpiece.

This cancellation comes on the heels of the company's biggest artistic triumph, a February concert that included George Balanchine's "Concerto Barocco" and David Lichine's "Graduation Ball"--two 20th-Century masterworks that signaled a new era of professionalism for the troupe but were disappointments at the box office.

"We're embarking on a big fund-raising campaign," said the ballet's board chairman, Peter Frank, "and we don't want to try fund-raising from the red."

ARTBEATS: COMBO will present a draft of its application for the National Endowment for the Arts test program grant at 5:30 p.m. March 14 in the conference room at the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. building, 101 Ash St. Artists and arts groups are urged to attend. It will be the last public meeting before submission of the application . . . The Old Globe Theatre has retained additional security guards for duty during performances. The guards are stationed in the Alcazar Garden and Organ Pavilion areas, near the canyon where actor David Huffman was slain last week.

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