Times Theater Writer

The fat's in the fire over the "Fatty" Waiver production that opened on the South Stage of the Tiffany Theatre last week.

The company's noisy pre-opening defiance of the refusal by Actors' Equity to grant Waiver status to the ritzy, twin 99-seat houses on Sunset Boulevard was not aided by the bludgeoning reviews that greeted the play. These cast an ironic pall over the actors' campaign to vindicate their perceived right to play the Tiffany (and Tiffany owner Paula Holt's perceived right to Waiver status) in spite of Equity's objections.

Those objections stem from a simple contention: that the Tiffany once had been a movie house seating more than 99 people and that Waiver rules forbid shrinking any theater that was ever capable of accommodating more than 99 to Waiver size. Holt maintains this applies only to theaters with a history of legitimate production, not movie houses. Equity maintains it makes no difference. The result? Deadlock--and litigation.

Now that the case has hit the courts, Equity is mum and Holt, who instigated the action, volunteered: "It's very complicated." (The suit also is described as "massive" by one Equity source who said, "With the money spent on litigation, you could have paid the actors and fed half of Ethiopia.")

Pressed further, Holt said: "I'm fighting for them (Equity) not to interfere with my ability to do business with producers (on a Waiver basis). I've met all the guidelines as I understand them."

Does she expect this to linger?

"No, I don't. I think it has a resolvable date in the not-too-distant future. I see no reason for this to be a cause celebre. And I see no reason for me to be singled out just because these theaters are pleasant and comfortable.

"The premise on which the Waiver has been denied doesn't hold up. I don't know any Equity actors who earned a living in the old Tiffany Theatre--do you?"

So despite its grim reviews, "Fatty" continues its indefinite run. As to how the Equity impasse has affected the rental of Holt's theaters, she said, "We have about 10 shows waiting for this thing to be resolved."

One, at least, is undeterred.

A Waiver staging of W. Somerset Maugham's "Rain" is in rehearsal for the North Stage. Director is Allan Rich (actor, director and acting teacher), the producing company is Richmar/Macli and the producer is Bob Marcucci of Robert Marcucci Enterprises, a division of Chancellor Records Inc. Previews are expected to begin Oct. 10.

"I'm a total lover of Somerset Maugham," said Marcucci, a personal manager and film and television producer partly responsible for the recent version of Maugham's "The Razor's Edge" with Bill Murray. Maggie Macdonald and Frank Annese play the leads in "Rain," heading a cast of unknowns. Doesn't the theater's contretemps with Equity trouble Marcucci?

"We're rehearsing every day," he said, conceding that he's not particularly well versed in Waiver. "I think Paula Holt has done everything she was supposed to do."

THE RUMOR MILL: No one at Equity is willing to characterize the contract renewal talks going on with the League of Resident Theaters, but time is getting short. Current contracts run out Sunday and a possible strike looms.

Queried Monday about negotiations, Equity spokesman Dick Moore said, "They are going. Both sides are caucusing and they'll be going late into the night."

They went late Tuesday, too. By press time Wednesday, there was no official word but the rumor, based on information being given to Equity members, was that "significant progress" had been made and most of the major issues had been "locked up"--notably the reorganization of company categories, rehearsal and performance work rules, equal employment for ethnic minority members, stage managerial staffing, housing expenses for actors working away from home, salaries and benefits.

Still outstanding were the categorization of new theaters, application and mechanics of a new plan to protect actors' subsidiary rights and language in a number of areas.

These issues are expected to be wrapped up by today or Friday--and a strike may be averted.

COLOR IT BLACK, SAM: When it was announced that Pam Grier, Moses Gunn, Richard Lawson and Henry Sanders were cast in the Los Angeles Theatre Center's production of Sam Shepard's "Fool for Love," the first question that loomed was: How does Sam Shepard feel about a black cast doing his white play? After all Samuel Beckett wasn't too thrilled when director JoAnne Akalaitis pulled the same color change on his "Endgame" at Boston's American Repertory Theatre late last year.

"We didn't know what Sam would think," said producer Diane White, "but we didn't have a minority play to open the season with and, after we found out we couldn't get the New York cast and reading the play four or five times, I became convinced that it would work. The director, Julie Hebert, had worked with Sam on the New York production. She called him up on the set of the movie version of 'Fool' and asked him. The idea had never occurred to him. He was neither wild about it nor against it. He thought it was OK to do it as long as we got a great cast."

So this black "Fool for Love" joins Chekhov's "Three Sisters," William Mastrosimone's "Nanawatai" and Mabou Mines' "It's a Man's World" for the big opening of the handsome new center set for the final two weeks of September.

PLAY IT AGAIN, WOODY: Looking like somebody famous can be good. It's given actor Robert Sacchi (a ringer for Bogart) a career he otherwise might not have had. But looking too much like Woody Allen can be dangerous. Ask actor/director Phil Boroff.

Allen recently slapped a court order against Boroff (who, among other things, staged Jim Geoghan's "Tom and Jerry" at the Los Angeles Actors' Theatre in 1983) for looking too much like him in ads he did for a video rental company.

Now, I ask you, Sam, is that playing fair? For someone who based an entire play ("Play It Again, Sam") on the impersonation of another actor (the ubiquitous Bogart again), such drastic action feels distinctly like overreaction.

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