EXPLORING SALES RITUALS IN ‘DOWNSIDE’
Remember the song “Walk Right In” by the Rooftop Singers in the ‘60s? If you recall it now, you won’t be able to get it out of your head.
Bill Svanoe was an integral part of that group. After it broke up, he went on to become a successful TV screenwriter, as well as a playwright (two of his works, “The Newsstand” and “Intersection” played New York’s Off Broadway).
But something drove him away from the concerns of that floating portion of Los Angeles plugged into the Industry. One of the results of that withdrawal is “The Downside Risk,” a new play by Svanoe that opens at the Beverly Hills Playhouse Friday.
“A lot of people in the entertainment industry may be well read, but they aren’t tuned into reality,” Svanoe said, after having returned from his place in the “Hands Across America” line. “Information cycles and re-cycles within a small group. I’ve enjoyed success in Los Angeles, and I have many fine friends here. But something made me want to go elsewhere. I moved to Vail, Colorado, where I found a whole new viewpoint about this country and the world.
“ ‘The Downside Risk,’ which is a drama with humor, came out of meeting one of my step-cousins, who is a salesman. Through him, I saw a whole code and series of rituals specific to him and other salesmen. The play deals with a week in the life of a paper-products salesman in the Midwest.
“I feel that the poignancy of lives like this hasn’t been dealt with in the 1986 world. The idea of being on the road, of going into strange offices and trying to sell something to strangers who resist them--that’s a pressure, or it’s a perceived pressure that becomes a real pressure. I saw it in show business, which is 90% sales over 10% creativity. But here, in the Midwest, it had another meaning. Is the American dream an American nightmare?”
Listen hard if you hear someone using the word “Katz” in reference to the theater. “Katz,” phonetically, is not necessarily the “Cats” playing the Shubert. You’ll be alerted by any reference to:
A portrait of a 50-year-old socialite roasted (by her own volition) on her birthday;
A trendy Beverly Hills lady who runs a designer gun shop;
The world’s first transanimal (being a woman who undergoes an operation to transform herself into a parakeet);
The Total Performer, the world’s most self-absorbed person;
Eve, the lead singer for the rock group, Salmonella;
Chris Haig, prominent feminist stand-up comedian, who doesn’t have an act beyond her hostile opinions.
There are others, and all are the brainchildren of Phyllis Katz, whose series of songs and monologues entitled “Katz” opens at the Groundlings Thursday (Katz is a Groundlings alum). She concludes with a segment called “The Entire History of the World in Five Minutes,” which, the way things are going, could come in handy. should one be looking to take in a show during the Apocalypse.
Stylish clothes, stylish penthouse, stylish language. Psychological and sexual intrigue. These are the terms producer-director Monte Markham uses to describe Kermit Christman’s “Dinner and Drinks,” which has just opened at the Tiffany.
“The play is set in the ‘30s. It’s not just an average whodunit,” said Markham, who also plays a small but, in his description. pivotal, role. “Scratch the surface and you get Virginia Woolf.
“The appeal of the ‘30s here is in the appeal of social grace, where you didn’t say anything that came into your mind at the dinner table, and people didn’t say things like ‘Thank you for sharing this with me.’ Jules Feiffer has a cartoon with two guys where one is sitting with his head buried in his hands saying ‘I wish you hadn’t shared that with me.’ This is a refreshing departure.”
OTHER OPENINGS: Samuel Beckett’s “Company” opens at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, featuring Alan Mandell. The San Francisco Mime Troupe’s “Spain/36" also opens Thursday at LATC. Thursday is also the opening for the Mark Taper Forum’s 1986 repertory season at the Doolittle, with Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing.” “Hedda Gabler” follows on Saturday.
The summer season at the Old Globe in San Diego gets under way Wednesday with “Beyond the Fringe.” “Tartuffe” opens Friday.
The highly touted British import “Me and My Girl” opens Tuesday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Tom Lehrer’s “Tomfoolery” opens Saturday at the South Coast Repertory’s Second Stage. “Look Homeward, Angel,” also opens Saturday at the Pasadena Playhouse.