<i> San Diego County Arts Writer </i>

The new La Jolla Playhouse has not lost its edge or its willingness to take--for a San Diego theater--monstrous risks. Odds are unlikely that one in 100 people has heard of even one of the five plays in its current season--such as Odon von Horvath’s “Figaro Gets a Divorce”; an adaptation of an Italian commedia, “The Three Cuckolds”; William Hauptman’s “Gillette,” and another new adaptation of Sophocles’ “Ajax.” The fifth is “Shout Up a Morning,” a world premiere.

“This is the first season where all the material is new. Perhaps we’re getting either foolhardy or courageous,” Des McAnuff, the playhouse’s iconoclastic artistic director, told a group of visiting theater critics last week. McAnuff had planned to stage one recognized drama, “Three Sisters,” but dropped the Chekhov play when a key actress was cast in a movie. Instead, he is directing the musical “Shout Up a Morning,” which opened Tuesday.

McAnuff has considered the show about the legendary “steel driving man,” John Henry, for six or seven years. “Because it’s so big it can’t get done anywhere. Most resident theaters are very cautious about doing musicals. We probably should be too, but we haven’t learned that yet,” he said.

McAnuff credits the playhouse’s “unknown season” in part to the way he and associate director Robert Blacker choose plays. Rather than pick a season’s worth of drama and then line up directors, they go to the directors first and ask them to come direct a play they have always wanted to stage.


McAnuff tired of being asked to direct specific plays when he was a free-lance director and chose to use a different system at the playhouse.

“It just seemed that the odds of me wanting to direct such and such play were so remote that I always used to say, Why don’t you ask me to direct a play? I’m an adult. I’m capable of choosing my own projects.”

The new method tends to add layers of complexity in planning and budgeting, but McAnuff feels the results are justifiable. The 60 awards the theater has won in three years tend to support that. More importantly, so do ticket sales. After so-so seasons the first two years, the playhouse sold more than 85% of its tickets last year, and 1986 season ticket sales are way ahead of 1985.

SYMPHONY SENTENCES: The concert we were all waiting breathlessly for has been canceled. Sad to say, but there will be no San Diego Symphony Spinners concert at San Diego State University. The concert was scotched due to “lack of ticket sales” a symphony spokeswoman said.


In other symphony matters, the absence of a chief executive officer at Symphony Hall to oversee major fund-raising projects could imperil two National Endowment for the Arts grants that the orchestra has applied for. (Last month symphony Executive Director Richard Bass announced plans to resign this summer.)

The head of NEA’s music programs, Ed Birdwell, would not comment on the effect because the grants are under review. The most critical is a $1-million challenge grant for expenses related to the remodeling of Symphony Hall. The NEA will report on that application in September or October. Attorney Herb Solomon, elected last week as president of the symphony’s board of directors, said the search committee is moving expeditiously to find a replacement for Bass but will not sacrifice quality for time. But he hopes to have a new chief executive by the time Bass leaves.

Solomon seems eager to shore up shaky management relations with musicians. Besides a blue-ribbon group of board members (including Issco president Meldon Gafner, entrepreneurs Irwin Jacobs and Peter Preuss, developer Blaine Quick, industrialist Murray Hutchinson, and former Pacific Bell executive Linc Ward) Solomon appointed bassist and musicians’ representative Greg Berton to the search committee. That’s something new. When Bass was hired almost two years ago, no musicians were consulted.

Meanwhile, the symphony has announced two free “thank you” concerts at 7 p.m. June 18 and 19 at the Civic Theatre. The gratitude is in response to the community’s outpouring of more than $2.5 million in cash and pledges during an emergency fund drive earlier this year. Emergency donors get first crack at tickets until Monday, when the public can pick them up at the symphony box office. The limit is two tickets per person--no phone or mail orders.


Symphony music director David Atherton will conduct the concerts in a program of Berlioz’s overture to “Le Corsaire,” Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto featuring concertmaster Andres Cardenes and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9.

MEXICAN MURALS: A total of $2.3 million is being sought to restore murals damaged in the catastrophic September, 1985, earthquakes that killed thousands and devastated sections of Mexico City. Murals by such artists as Orozco, Rivera and Siqueiros that weren’t destroyed are cracked and deteriorating while monuments have been severely weakened.

Marlies Black, president of the Save the Mexican Murals and Monuments Fund, will speak at 4:45 p.m. at Tasende Gallery, 820 Prospect St., La Jolla.

ARTBEATS: Teatro Ensemble, a bilingual undergraduate theater troupe from UC San Diego, is the first and only student group to be invited to perform at the New York Shakespeare Festival’s Festival Latino during August and September. The students, who will perform “Nora” by Mexican playwright Emilio Carballido, have begun fund-raising efforts which they hope eventually will generate $6,600 to cover travel expenses.


They will present the play, a Brechtian commentary on Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” in English and Spanish at 8 o’clock tonight at the Bowery Theatre. Tickets are $5. . . .

Ballet Concerto of Tijuana, a dance troupe formed by members of the California Ballet and Tijuana’s Araico Academy, will debut at 7:30 tonight at the Centro Cultural Tijuana, at Paseo de los Heroes and Mina in the Zona Rio. The program includes “Graduation Part,” “Birds of Paradise” and “Carmen Suite.” . . .

Once the Old Globe wraps up its restaging of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” at San Diego State University, the university’s drama department will produce Studs Terkel’s musical “Working.”