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A SEXY TRIO OF PREMIERES

A single punch-line idea gets the full feature treatment this week in Wendy Goldman and Judy Toll’s “Casual Sex,” (opening Wednesday at the Groundlings Theatre), a fun-in-the-sun comedy that was initially presented as a sketch in last year’s revue “Please Don’t Eat the Groundlings.”

Billed as “a musical fling,” the story centers on two young women (played by Goldman and Toll) and their adventures at a Club Med-type resort (“Club Fun”) in Cancun. Explained producer Mary Woods, “Melissa, who’s just been jilted, tends to cling, make a relationship more than it is--you know, the type who talks marriage on the first date. And Stacy, who’s more accustomed to the singles’ life style, tries to instruct Melissa on the ways of the world--but ends up falling hard for a counselor in a deluded one-week affair.

“It’s a relationship comedy,” Woods added, “sort of a yuppie beach movie. Light and funny, but eventually ending up at ground one: even though society says we should be liberated and free and independent, and that casual sex is a necessary product of our times--all we really want is to be loved.”

Woods herself fell in love with “Sex” at its earliest stage, a Groundlings audition for “alternate format” projects (as last year’s “Olympic Trials, a Chick Hazard Mystery”).

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“All they had was a title and a half-hour worth of scenes and music,” she recalled. “But it was one of those instinctual things. I knew I wanted to get involved.” Since then, the material has been rewritten from the ground up, with an “ambitious set” added by Bob Breen, and an original score (sporting such eclectic fare as “ ‘Cause We’re Girls,” “Someone For Everyone,” “I’m Only 33" and “Sensuous Dude”) by Alan Axelrod.

But perhaps the largest creative contribution has come from the cast (all Groundlings members). “Because they’re improv actors, they’re not afraid of constantly improving, building, changing. Many write their own stuff. Best of all, they’re adaptable . When the revisions were coming fast and furious every day, they accepted them all. I’m used to following a script, but this show has been a tremendous metamorphosis. . . .”

Also making its world premiere is Neil Koenigsberg’s “Live Boys, Live Girls,” opening Thursday at Cast-at-the-Circle.

“There’s lot of talk about sex, a grittiness of reality,” warned the playwright of his “realistic” work. “The main character is a woman in her mid-40s (played by Micole Mercurio of “Mask”), who’s made her living as a prostitute, but her client list is slowly dwindling. So it’s about her relationships--to her boyfriend, neighbors and customers--people whose lives are desperate and wanting, who are realizing where they are--and moving on.” Accordingly, don’t be surprised by the balance of humor and pain: “It was conceived as a comedy but became a drama.”

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For Koenigsberg, who toils by day as a senior partner at PMK public relations, “Live Boys” represents his first produced effort, a 25-minute treatment subsequently nurtured and developed by LAAT’s Playwright’s Unit. (It was at the workshop that Koenigsberg also met Robert Harders, who serves here as director.) “And it’s been amazing for me,” he noted of the theatrical experience. “As someone always in publicity/promotion/advertising, I never really understood how important actors are, how they allow a scene to grow and live. This is the other end of hype, realizing how my clients are crucial to the process.”

The third debut this week is Calvert Parlato’s “Ambrosia and Arthur” (opening Friday at the Cast), which director Jeannie Carson McGuire describes as “a romance comedy with a twist. We’ve got a very strong leading lady (Ambrosia, played by Lee Garlington)--the likes of which haven’t been seen on a stage. Like the Shrew, but in modern-day language. She’s a surgeon from Rumania who meets a gentle soul: a psychiatrist (Arthur, played by Sandy Helberg), who originally wants to interview her--and in the process, falls in love.”

As for any first-time jitters, the British-born actress/director (whose stage work includes “Hamlet” with Christopher Walken and “A Doll’s House” directed by Eva LaGalliene--and who, with husband Biff McGuire, founded the Hyde Park Theatre Festival), acknowledged, “There’s always more pressure with a premiere: the material’s never been tried; you can only judge it as you see it develop.”

In this case, that process is being aided by the presence of local playwright Parlato (“Billings For the Defense,” “Antic Love”), who contributes daily to the “work-in-progess,” supplying an authority figure that McGuire welcomes. “My job as director is to interpret what he’s written, but not impose on top of that,” she stressed. “After all, if I didn’t like the play in the first place, I wouldn’t have gotten involved.”

LATE CUES: Come June 1, the Ensemble Studio Theatre moves from its Embassy Hotel site to the two-theater complex at 1089 N. Oxford Avenue, formerly the home of LAAT. . . . This month, the first annual L.A. Theatre Players and Personnel Directory (published by Mike Hyman) becomes available--incorporating listings for actors, creative/technical and musicians. Look for it at Samuel French’s.

L. A. Theatre Works’ Playreading Series winds up its season with Geraldine Sherman’s “The Right Credentials” (Tuesday), Phil Zarecki’s “The Embrace of Allen” (June 4) and Scott Tracy’s “When Credit Is Due” (June 11).


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