Times Theater Critic

The healing process has begun at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre, recently shaken by the resignation--some would say, the deposition--of its founder-director, William Ball.

Ball is still on the scene at the Geary Theatre, readying his production of "The Passion Plays." But that will be his last assignment for the theater. It has replaced his final production, "The Woolgatherer," with "The Lady's Not for Burning," staged by Joy Carlin and starring Peter Donat.

This leaves Ball free to leave San Francisco, and he's doing so. On May 20 he joins Bud Yorkin Productions in Hollywood, with an aim to developing film and TV projects, including a specific one that Yorkin's publicist, Dale Olsen, didn't want to name.

"He is a self-starter who can do it all," Yorkin said of Ball.

"When I started ACT 20 years ago it was an experiment that turned out to be successful," Ball said. "I hope to bring some of the elements of my theater work onto the screen in a new visual style that will blend both of the mediums."

ACT also announced that, in order not to hurry the search for a successor, interim artistic director Edward Hastings will serve for two seasons, not one.

In several films--Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo" the latest--the movie screen becomes a kind of Alice's looking glass, with real and reel people intermingling.

Now a stage piece tackles the theme. John Jesurun's "Deep Sleep" at New York's La Mama E.T.C. has the audience sit between two movie screens, between which the action Ping-Pongs. But there are live actors as well, who occasionally visit "up there."

David Sterritt of the Christian Science Monitor felt that the show didn't work particularly well dramatically, its plot being dictated "less by its own logic than by an eagerness to exploit the play's mixed-media possibilities.

"Similarly the characters seem designed not as full-fledged individuals but as puppets (literally in one case) twitching and jerking as the playwright almost literally pulls their strings."

Conceptually, however, Sterritt found the evening "dazzling." Gordon Rogoff of the Village Voice was also intrigued, particularly by the piece's implications regarding the power of film in today's culture.

"Jesurun's work suggests that the screen has plunged us into a relatively new primal reality--whatever we may think of our daily lives we are also being defined by dreams. . . ."

With all but one of the live characters eventually being captured by the filmed ones, Rogoff even inferred the spooky message that the real people might be the projections, and the filmed figures the enduring ones.

"I think I want people to have a peek into understanding confusion," Jesurun told the Voice's Michael Feingold in an earlier interview. "Into how they disassemble elements in their own minds and try to make it less confusing for themselves. Either that or they can just throw it all out the window and . . . stay confused."

QUOTE OF THE WEEK. The great monologuist Ruth Draper (1884-1956): "I must get the audience up onto the stage and into the scene with me."

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