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OLD GLOBE CONTINUES TO SPIN WITH ‘PYGMALION’

It used to be that San Diego’s Old Globe theater would open like a summer flower full of Shakespearean festivity, and as winter approached would settle into becoming the city’s first community theater.

But ever since Jack O’Brien came on as artistic director in 1982, he’s been trying to make the Globe a year-round professional theater. For his Dec. 5 opening of Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” he claims he’s assembled “the best cast for anything I’ve ever done.”

Ellis Rabb will play Henry Higgins, Barbara Dirickson plays Eliza, Eric Christmas plays Doolittle, Irene Tedrow is Mrs. Higgins and Sidney Walker plays Pickering.

Stewart Parker’s “Spokesong” follows, directed by Warner Shook.

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Playing opposite “Pygmalion” will be the American premiere of New Zealand playwright Robert Lord’s “Bert and Maisy,” followed by Eric Overmeyer’s provocatively entitled “On the Verge, or The Discovery of Yearning.” The Old Globe will also co-produce Peter Parnell’s “Romance Language” with the CTG/Mark Taper Forum.

“What’s happened is that San Diego’s artistic taste has matured,” O’Brien said. “The major classical thrust will remain the cornerstone of the summer season, but now we’ll be able to bring in a star-studded winter season of varied plays without, I hope, alienating the theater’s conservative root. I’ve consulted a great deal with Craig Noel and John Houseman on how to go about this. There isn’t anything about running a theater Houseman doesn’t know.”

When the English theater made its dramatic break with tradition during the ‘50s (the cracking point usually attributed to the effect of John Osborne’s “Look Back in Anger” and Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”), and the convention loosely known as Theater of the Absurd began emerging in Britain and on the Continent, the American theater was slow to pick up on the change. Edward Albee, and to a lesser extent Arthur Kopit, seemed the only playwrights around that time (this was before the Becks, Cafe Cino, La Mama and Sam Shepard) who saw the stage as something more than a naturalistic picture.

There was one play virtually everyone regarded as a ground-breaker, something structurally new that placed the European metaphors of subversion in a grim American Zeitgeist. That was Jack Gelber’s “The Connection,” which opened at New York’s Living Theatre in 1959. Its depiction of heroin addicts waiting for a fix was not only an introduction to a subculture that wasn’t as well-known as it is now, but it also managed to tap into the peculiar currents of American life, where despair is uniquely energized.

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Has “The Connection” held up? With any luck we’ll find out Friday when the play opens at the Gardner Stage. Michael Schlitt, late of the Antenna Theatre and San Francisco (“The Bay Area has a nice mix of neurotic mellowness”) directs.

“If the play is meant to say anything, it’s about people who are beyond our realm, who make a conscious choice to shut themselves off from the values of the world we’re in,” said Schlitt.

“Somebody said that I should change it to cocaine, and make it ‘an ‘80s play.’ But addiction is addiction, whether it’s waiting for your next dollar, your next new coat, aspirin, fluoride, vitamins--anything that’s a hook. A lot of times it isn’t even the high or the rush. It’s the fixing up, the ritual and the brotherhood of the needle.”

Although a great deal of progress has been made in accommodating the needs of the disabled, more often than not, being an observer rather than a participant must be a chafing experience. As far as the theater is concerned, Victoria Ann-Lewis is offering some help through a series of acting workshops for people with disabilities at the Mark Taper Forum beginning Monday.

The production workshops, which are designed for professional and non-professional actors, emphasize self-expression and will run in a series of Monday night and one-day intensive weekend workshops, and will include 10 adults and 10 teen-agers. The end result will be a performance piece that will tour community centers and schools.

This is Ann-Lewis’ fourth year of conducting these workshops, which are co-sponsored by the Taper and the California Arts Council. Previous workshops have resulted in two television productions, “Who Parks in These Spaces?” and the award-winning “Tell Them I’m a Mermaid.”

For information: (213) 972-7366. For the deaf: TDD: (213) 680-4017.


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