Second City, Improv Head for the Beach

The western end of Santa Monica Boulevard may soon become Comedy Central.

Second City, the country’s most famous troupe of sketch actors and improvisational comics, plans to open a branch at the Mayfair Theatre in Santa Monica, probably in mid-December.

It will be across the street from a new 350-seat branch of the stand-up comedy club, the Improvisation, which may open in a few weeks.

Second City will present 90-minute rehearsed shows, followed by 45 minutes of improvisation, every night except Mondays, with two performances on Fridays and Saturdays. The theater will be used for Second City workshops during daytime hours.


“For years we’ve watched our graduates come out here and more or less fall into an abyss,” said Andrew Alexander, owner and producer of Second City. “They could benefit from a showcase, and so could we.”

In other words, Second Citizens may be more quickly cast in film and television if they perform in an ongoing showcase in the Los Angeles area, and Second City itself will be in a better position to expand into film and television production.

In fact, Second City is “going into partnership with a major (film/TV) production company,” said Alexander, adding that more details about the partnership would be available later this week. For television, Alexander has already co-executive-produced the celebrated “SCTV” series and several Second City specials.

The initial company in Santa Monica will include seven actors, drawn from Second City troupes in Toronto and Chicago, working under an Equity contract. Alexander said those from Toronto include Don Lake, John Hemphill and “Saturday Night Live” alumna Robin Duke. Still to be announced are the names of two other men and two other women.


Second City is acquiring a 10-year lease on the theater and is investing $500,000 in renovating it, said Alexander. The building, which dates from 1911, will meet modern seismic standards for the first time. The Mayfair name will be replaced by the Second City moniker.

New cabaret-style seating will accommodate 300, down from the previous 340. Tickets will cost $11.95-$13.95, but there will be no drink minimum.

Meanwhile, the former 321 Club, at 321 Santa Monica Blvd., is about to become the fourth Southland branch of the Improvisation. Co-owner Mark Lonow said the new club will include a 115-seat restaurant and a 30-seat bar, with dancing to a deejay seven nights a week, on a separate floor from the comedy showroom--which will be soundproofed, he added.

The comedy programming will resemble what’s available at the Improv’s other clubs. The new club is expected to open next month for the taping of two Improvisation-produced TV series and may open for regular programs as early as Dec. 1.

Lonow said that Second City and the Improvisation are discussing cooperative ventures: “We’re trying to make the whole area an entertainment center.”

MORE FROM SANTA MONICA: L.A. Theatre Works will stage the American premiere of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s “The Grace of Mary Traverse” at the new Santa Monica Museum of Art in the Edgemar complex on Main Street. Previews begin Nov. 7, with several opening nights for various groups scheduled during the next week.

Wertenbaker is an American who has lived in England for the past decade; other plays by her are currently in production at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Court. This will be the first American staging of any of her original plays, though her translations have been produced in the United States.

Set in 18th-Century England, the play has been described as a female version of “The Rake’s Progress.” It will be the first play to be staged at the new museum, occupying a space that is eventually designed to become a restaurant.


MUM’S THE WORD: Long-awaited discussions between officials of Actors’ Equity and opponents of Equity’s new 99-Seat Theater Plan were held Tuesday, with all parties vowing not to talk about what happened--at least for now. “Discussions are continuing. We have no other comment,” said Equity Western Regional Director Edward Weston following the meeting. For the first time in months, opponents of the plan had nothing further to add.

Meanwhile, Equity’s Michael Van Duzer said that “the plan still exists and enforcement will remain the same.” However, he added, “I am barred from saying any more” about specific steps being taken to enforce the plan. He said he is still waiting for a written response from two Santa Monica actors who have been sent cease-and-desist letters for violating the plan.

DISABLED WRITERS: A free play-writing workshop for writers with disabilities will be taught this winter by Irene Oppenheim, the Mark Taper Forum’s California Arts Council Artist-in-Residence for 1988-89, beginning Nov. 6. Information: (213) 469-5339.

60 BIG ONES: Los Angeles City College’s theater department celebrates its 60th anniversary this season with the return of three former department chairmen. Jerry Blunt will discuss Greek classical theater Friday at 8 p.m., Norman Mennes will direct “Night Must Fall” Nov. 11-19, and James McCloskey will direct “Noises Off” Jan. 13-21. Information: (213) 669-5528.

GHOSTS: No time to celebrate Halloween this weekend? Never fear--"Dr. Silkini and His Original Great Ghost Show” will open at the Las Palmas on Nov. 23. Actually, the title is a misnomer. The original Dr. Silkini, who toured between 1933 and 1974, died in 1980. But producer Steven J. Conners bought the rights to the magic show and found a new Dr. Silkini.