Long-Distance Love Affair Brought Hit to San Diego

Sometimes theatrical fact is sweeter than theatrical fiction.

The real story of how the San Diego Repertory Theatre mega-hit, “Six Women With Brain Death or Expiring Minds Want to Know,” got here, turns out to be a love story.

David Larson, a professional associate at United States International University, missed his girlfriend, Valerie Fagan, who was living in Missouri, where they met 3 1/2 years ago in summer stock.

He was the director at the Mule Barn Theatre in Tarkio. He cast her as Guinevere in “Camelot,” Nellie Forbush in “South Pacific” and Annie Oakley in “Annie Get Your Gun.”


Then, 1 1/2 years ago, he moved to San Diego and she stayed behind with a little show she cooked up with five other actresses and two men: “Six Women With Brain Death.”

“I worked awfully hard to get that show up at the Rep,” Larson recalled. “In 1986, Valerie was out visiting over Christmas for her birthday. I got Sam (Woodhouse, producing director of the Rep) to audition her in a hallway without a piano.”

Woodhouse committed to the show a few months later, and the show went up Oct. 28, 1987, but without Fagan--she was in another show. Not until Melinda Gilb left the cast in February to do “Suds” did Fagan get another chance to be a sixth woman.

Larson recently returned from Kalamazoo, Mich., where he directed a new version of “Six Women,” to direct “Great Expectations,” the season opener for the North Coast Repertory Theatre, which has its West Coast premiere today.


The new version of “Six Women” includes experimental numbers to replace “Hello, Nancy,” a song addressed to Nancy Reagan that may be replaced here after the Reagans leave office.

The advantages of updating the show, Larson said, may mean that it and Fagan could stay just a little bit longer.

“That was the main reason I wanted the show to come to San Diego, so we could be in the same city for more than a week,” Larson said. “Now we’ve been together for seven months, and let me tell you, it’s been a nice fringe benefit.”