Times Theater Writer

Can a theater year that ended with as much of a bang as 1985 be followed by a whimper? Not likely. The new year is looking good, and here, in chronological order (for your refrigerator door), are some of the things that might be worth looking up in 1986.

TODAY: "Boesman and Lena," Los Angeles Theatre Center. It's fitting for our newest Equity house to be the one to kick off the year. This 15-year-old Athol Fugard anti-apartheid play may be more topical today than when written--and when South Africa's racial injustice wasn't yet making headlines. Watch for Shabaka, Moses Gun and Madge Sinclair in the cast.

MONDAY: "Request Concert," Cast Theatre. This is for theatergoers with heavy duty tastes that run more to internal politics of the soul. Salome Jens will take the stage without a single word to help her in this silent play by German playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz.

It traces an evening's activity in one room by a woman alone. At the end of it, she kills herself.

This should be a tour de force for Jens, who has given us others--none more memorable perhaps than her Anne Sexton (another suicide) in " . . . about Anne."

TUESDAY: "The Foreigner," South Coast Repertory, Main Stage. A comedy by the late Larry Shue, wherein a bashful Englishman visiting the American South pretends to speak no English in order to avoid speaking to his hosts at all. Of course, it all backfires and we'll let you find out what happens.

JAN. 17: "The Road Not Taken," Dell'Arte Players at the Cast-at-the-Circle. Those zanies from Blue Lake are back with a new piece about our favorite supersleuth, Scar Tissue. Remember "Intrigue at Ah-Pah" four years ago at the Odyssey? It was a hilarious spoof of the Bogart Bacall Raymond Chandler melding pot. "Road" is another adventure. Joan Schirle again is Scar and again will be supported by quick-change artists Michael Fields and Donald Forrest.

JAN. 23: "Romance Language," Mark Taper Forum. "On the Verge," now closed at the Taper, Too, was a preamble to this parallel exercise by Peter Parnell.

The explorers in "Verge" were lurching aimlessly forward through time, buoyed by some of the most conspicuous language ever to show off on stage.

The adventurers in "Language" travel backwards--an odd pair given to odder pursuits. What do you say to Huck Finn and Walt Whitman heading for the Little Bighorn and a meeting with other 19th-Century literati, just in time to run into General Custer?

The fact that it's a dream play explains a lot. Previews begin Jan. 12. (This is a co-production with San Diego's Old Globe, where "Language" is headed next.)

JAN. 23: "The History of Fear," Victory Theatre, Burbank. This one shares an opening date with "Romance Language," but its journeys are of a different order. Read psychic explorations of love and sex and related phenomena.

The "fear" of the title is fear of intimacy--creating the chasm that keeps us separate. Kostmayer, who gave us the stunning "On the Money" at the Victory two years ago, is thoroughly plugged into the American psyche. This play, stylistically very different, has had a hard birth. Midwives are director Maria Gobetti and producers Tom Ormeny and Lynne Wasserman.

JAN. 24: "Driving Around the House," South Coast Repertory, Second Stage. The theater's had an excellent track record with new plays on its Second Stage. This one, by Patrick Smith, dwells on images of childhood as seen through the eyes of two 5-year-olds. Artistic director Martin Benson will stage.

JAN. 31: "Nite Club Confidential," Tiffany Theatre. Stage Watch complained last week that the Tiffany had yet to catch up artistically with its material comforts. This benign Off-Broadway spoof of the '40s and '50s nightclub and movie scenes would like to try.

"It all started with (composer) Dennis Deal's love of Kay Thompson material, but she wouldn't hear of it," explained Steve Gideon co-producer (with T. Harding Jones) and one of five performers in the show. "So he created a fictitious character--Kay Goodman--who 'writes' material that sounds like Thompson's. He did a small nightclub version of it about 1982, then developed this version last year at the Ballroom Theatre."

Deal has interspersed real songs of the period with some he's made up. Gideon is joined by Krista Neuman, Scott Bakula and two members of the New York company--Fay DeWitt and Tom Spiroff.

Other good news: Gideon and Jones, who'll be paying performers "more than Equity minimum," claim they'll move the show to a larger house if reviews warrant it.

"We've already raised the money," Gideon said. "We believe the show has an audience in Los Angeles." Previews start Jan. 23.

FEB. 1: "The Common Pursuit," Actors for Themselves at the Matrix. This one's choice--a Simon Gray piece, new to the West Coast, described by the author (who'll be in residence this month) as a play "about friendship . . . English, middle-class, Cambridge-educated friendship." Gray is a special playwright with slow, intense, internal rhythms, as witnessed in "Butley," "Otherwise Engaged" and "Quartermaine's Terms." It's for those who enjoy that sort of white-hot British cool.

Previews start Jan. 16.

FEB. 1: "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea," L.A. Theatre Works at the Back Alley. Paul Lieber and Didi Conn are featured in another heavy-duty piece, this time by John Patrick Shanley, a young American playwright relatively unknown on the West Coast. This taut, explosive duologue examines the relationship of two young toughs transformed--temporarily?--by the love that grows between them.

Previews begin Jan. 22.

FEB. 2: "Legends," Ahmanson Theatre. For sheer star and staying power, you can't beat Carol Channing and Mary Martin to be seen feuding on the Ahmanson stage.

Having them play (as they will) legendary actresses thrown together against their will in this new comedy by James Kirkwood is art imitating life. To a point. Martin and Channing, who won't be required to warble a single note, are fast friends in real life.

FEB. 12: "The Memento," East West Players. A tender, quasi-mystical new piece by Wakako Yamauchi, who gave us the exquisite "And the Soul Shall Dance."

All of which should not detract from some continuing goodies. Among them, "Foxfire," with the incomparable Cronyns at the Ahmanson; "Blue Window," the ultimate drawing-room semicomedy of the '80s, at the New Mayfair; "Glengarry Glen Ross" a tough-talking wheeler-and-dealer minidrama at the Henry Fonda.

The potential is there. Now for the delivery. . . .

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