Longer Season at La Jolla Playhouse; Zephyr Cooks Up a Noonan Smorgasbord

Times Theater Writer

If Des McAnuff had any doubts about becoming artistic director of the new La Jolla Playhouse six years ago, he can have none now. Not only has the Playhouse zoomed to national prominence under his guidance, but McAnuff is expanding his 1988 season by five weeks for the best of reasons: increased ticket demand.

The five shows for 1988 include a new musical, a new Lee Blessing play (he gave us “A Walk in the Woods” last year), a new translation of a German classic, a clown show and that element of surprise: a TBA (“To be announced”).

The TBA first. McAnuff, who has everything else in place, is still negotiating for the show that kicks off the season in the Mandell Weiss Center for the Performing Arts on the UCSD campus, May 22-June 26.

“There are two possibilities, which is part of the problem. I can tell you it’s very likely to be a classic comedy, but it’s not resolved,” McAnuff said Tuesday from Duke University, where he’s in previews with Blessing’s “Walk in the Woods,” due for a Broadway opening late next month.


Sooner or later someone was bound to write a play about the kidnaping of Americans in Beirut, and that’s what Blessing has done in “A Quality of Tears,” set for June 26 to July 31 at the smaller Warren Playhouse on campus. The piece was commissioned by McAnuff after the huge success of “Walk.”

Mark Lamos, who last season staged a Chaplinesque “School for Wives” at La Jolla, returns to mount a new translation by Roger Downey of Wedekind’s classic, “Lulu” (July 10-Aug. 7).

(Lamos, incidentally, who is artistic director of the Hartford Stage Company, is off to Moscow’s Pushkin Theatre next month where he’ll stage O’Neill’s “Desire Under the Elms” with Russian actors in Russian. It’s a commemoration. The Pushkin was launched in 1926 with the premiere of “Desire"--the first O’Neill play performed in the Soviet Union. Lamos, believed to be the first American to direct a Soviet company, is in fact merely first in line: He precedes Nagle Jackson of Princeton’s McCarter Theatre, Adrian Hall of Providence’s Trinity Rep and McAnuff himself, all of whom will be staging a play in Moscow this year. “He’s the guinea pig,” quipped McAnuff.)

Continuing with the La Jolla season, Geoff Hoyle will seize the Warren stage with his one-man “The Fool Show” (Aug. 14-Sept. 18). One man, many fools. It’s a rapid history of clowning by one of its ranking members. The English-born Hoyle, a former Pickle Family Circus clown, was the star of the San Francisco Mime Troupe’s “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” in 1984 and appeared at La Jolla in “A Man’s a Man” (1985) with fellow masterclown Bill Irwin.


Finally, McAnuff (who created the award-winning “Big River” in 1984) caps the season (Aug. 28-Oct. 9) with a musicalization of Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days.” It will be an international undertaking, with music and lyrics by British rock star Ray Davies (of the Kinks), book by British playwright Snoo Wilson based on a French novel and staged by an American reared in Canada.

“Vintage playhouse,” McAnuff reflected. News of the theater can sometimes be good .

NOONANFEST: No one can say that John Ford Noonan isn’t prolific, but four Noonan “world premieres” in almost as many months goes beyond prolific. It becomes a festival. Which is what producer Sharon Day-Nye and producer-director Louis Waldon have in mind.

The festival is planned at the Zephyr Theatre, April to August, provided money and audience interest hold out. The new pieces are “Green Mountain Fever,” set in a Vermont village, with a cast of 13 women and tentatively targeted for April 22; “Friends in High Places,” set in New York and expected to open in early June; “Nothing but Bukowski,” a bill of two Hollywood one-acts that should open mid-July--and “When Life Was Beautiful,” a piece about a Hollywood producer who moves his family to Vermont. This one’s promised for the end of August.


As if this weren’t enough, a fifth play may join the pack, according to Day-Nye. “Where Do We Go From Here?,” previously staged in New York, could have its West Coast premiere at another theater.

Waldon, the prime mover behind all this, will direct “Green Mountain Fever” and is putting the festival together under the auspices of his Tyree Theatre Company.

“I was here with John (Noonan) last year,” Waldon said, explaining his enthusiasm. “I attended four of his plays that were being done (“Spanish Confusion,” “Talking Things Over With Chekhov,” “Recent Developments in Southern Connecticut,” “The Critic and His Wife”). I think I understand him.”

He should. Their friendship goes back to the ‘60s when Waldon worked with Andy Warhol (“I was in his movies”) and on Broadway (“Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad” in 1962 and “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe,” 1963).


“John’s very intense, very honest,” Waldon continued. “He has this breathtaking Irish wit. I understand people who put their lives on the line like that. There’s a certain subtextual madness in his plays. I went up to see ‘Critic and His Wife’ (in Santa Barbara) with him. He insisted on taking me to this place to eat, up in the foothills--nice, very touristy, but there were also a lot of bikers.

“We went in, sat down, had a drink. There was music. All of a sudden John picked me up and we started to dance right there in the middle of the floor. I was embarrassed. There I was, being thrown around by this giant. He’s a huge man. It can put off a lot of people, but everyone seemed to like it.

“I feel comfortable with this madness. It’s totally creative.”

Waldon expects that the Noonan plays will be done in repertory. “We’ve raised money to put on the first two,” he said, “and we hope one play will produce the next and so on. There are future plans, but that’s . . . for the future.”


Noonan is due in town Tuesday.