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Playwright Pleased to Be Opening at Home

The world premiere of “Dance of the Mayfly” at the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre through Dec. 19, marks the first San Diego production for local playwright Judy Montague, and Montague couldn’t be happier.

“I’ve had some Off-Off-Broadway productions in New York, and there it’s a take-it-or-leave-it attitude,” said Montague, 38.

“Here, they didn’t stint me at all. Anytime I wanted something, they tried very hard to help me. I’ve just been amazed. They call me about everything: ‘Is this all right, is that all right?’ The props people said, ‘You need a little more of this or a little more of that.’ A local pianist, Jack Pollack, wrote a song for the play. Then they wanted to know if I liked it. I thought, ‘What a lovely thing to do.’ ”

The play, based on a true incident, tells the story of two girlfriends, one of whom briefly seduces the boyfriend of the other. Pregnancy results, then marriage, then tempers. The unhappy mother flees, leaving the others to deal with the guilt and consequences.

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The play’s selection by the Gaslamp for its annual world-premiere presentation began as a result of a good friendship. Montague’s friend, Janet Schechter-Tiger, who had her work “The Third Party” premiered by the Gaslamp two years ago, brought “Dance of the Mayfly” to Gaslamp associate director Jean Hauser’s attention a few years back.

Montague and Hauser agreed that the script needed to evolve.

“The plot hasn’t changed, the characters haven’t changed and the idea of the play hasn’t changed,” Montague said. “But one-quarter to one-third has changed in terms of actual dialogue and scenes.”

Montague said she doesn’t regret a single alteration.

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“Their whole process is to work with a playwright and help the playwright. Jean (Hauser) gave me workshops and acting space. I’m willing to change and change and change, and Jean would say, ‘No, that’s fine.’ She has more confidence in me than I do.

“It’s been a collaborative process, working with everyone from the light people to the graphic artists,” Montague said.

“For me it is a gift.”

The dark days of the Hollywood blacklist are not the stuff comedy is make of. Nevertheless, former blacklisted actor Benny Silverman makes what jokes he can about the experience in Jeffrey Sweet’s “The Value of Names” at The Progressive Stage Company through Nov. 12.

A charged performance from Jack Pritchard as the aging actor gives the uneasy impression that the jokes have gotten darker every year.

Ten years after having been blacklisted proved too long for Benny to salvage his career as a serious actor; he did, however, manage to get a leading role on a television series, “Rich, but Happy.”

Re-enter Leo, the man who turned Benny in years ago to save his own directing career. Leo is now in a position to give Benny’s daughter, Norma, an acting job. Benny steadfastly refuses to tell anyone what to do, but what he thinks becomes increasingly clear.

One longs for the playwright to push the envelope of the story further: How would Benny feel if Leo were offering him a job that would, at long last, stretch his talents?

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Supposedly, there are three people with three points of view here. Really, there is one--Benny. How can Leo seriously argue with him that he had a right to turn people in because the party they once joined was as confused as everything else turned out to be? How can his daughter, to whom career is everything, seriously contend that he should shrug off 10 deadly years’ worth of a professional death and start afresh?

Bill Brinsfield as Leo and Dana Case as Norma struggle valiantly with unsympathetic roles. But the focus stays narrowly on Benny, and, although his story is worth telling, it does leave one wanting more.

Of course, if you think you can improve on “The Value of Names,” The Progressive Stage Company has a standing invitation out to actors, writers and musicians to participate in its “After Hours at City Hall” program Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 p.m. For information on submitting work for staged readings and performance, call 234-8603.

At least 10 productions in the 1988-89 season will be interpreted for hearing-impaired audiences, thanks to a $3,800 grant the San Diego Theatre Foundation recently received from the Easter Seals Society of San Diego. More than 133,000 San Diego county residents are hearing-impaired . . . Meanwhile, the San Diego Repertory Theatre has received funding from the Syrelle Gertrude Levin Memorial Foundation to continue a four-show series of interpreted performances through the end of its season. “Burning Patience” will be interpreted Nov. 22 and “A Christmas Carol” Dec. 4. The La Jolla Playhouse touring production of the Des McAnuff musical, “Silent Edward,” will be interpreted Nov. 18 for and by Lafayette Elementary School, a hearing-impaired magnet school in Clairemont.

Jonathan Miller’s version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” is transformed from picture-book Japan to a Marx Brothers-like film musical on KPBS Television tonight at 9 p.m. . . . Meanwhile, back in the Oriental swing of things, the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre of New York brings “Yellow Fever,” a send-up of the private eye genre, to San Diego with super sleuth Sam Shikaze saving the day, at 8 p.m. Sunday at UC San Diego’s Mandeville Auditorium.


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