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Cassius Carter’s 20th Year Blooms with a Love Story

The first play in the 20th year of the Cassius Carter Centre Stage is a love story, and it may be a hot one.

Playwright Lanie Robertson expects several New York producers to check out his “Alfred Stieglitz Loves O’Keeffe” at the Carter for a possible on- or off-Broadway production.

The Old Globe presentation, which opens Saturday, marks the third in five already scheduled regional productions of the play. The Globe is the only theater that has asked for script changes from Robertson. The playwright originally came out to see if doing the play in the round would require any rewriting. In the course of working with director Robert Berlinger and artistic director Jack O’Brien over the last three weeks, the three agreed that minor alterations might yield major thematic differences.

“A writer has to be very protective of the script,” Robertson said. “But I think they’re terrific changes.”

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Robertson, who has written 17 full-length plays and 21 one-acts in the 13 years since taking up playwrighting, drew his inspiration for the play in 1985 after seeing “A Portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe,” a collection of 50 photographs that Alfred Stieglitz took of the painter in the 1920s. Robertson describes his work as “a love poem, a Valentine. . .”

“My image is a heart carved on an oak tree, with ‘Alfred Stieglitz Loves O’Keeffe’ on the heart,” he said. “D. H. Lawrence has a phrase about love called star equilibrium , that describes two people, each being attracting and repulsing at the same time, each remaining in their own orbit rather than overwhelming the other. I felt Stieglitz and O’Keeffe had star equilibrium for a very long time. In those photographs, one can sense an intangible essence passing between the model and the photographer--it was such a whimsical and caring and careful collaboration between them. I felt there was some essence of their affection for each other that was quite exciting.”

Is this ideal relationship anything the 43-year-old Texas-born playwright has experienced first hand?

“One searches for it,” he said. “One always thinks, ‘Maybe this time.’ . . . But, sad to say, no, I haven’t experienced it--yet.”

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The first productions of “Alfred Stieglitz Loves O’Keeffe” were in March at the GeVa Theatre in Rochester, N.Y., and at the Alaska Repertory Theatre in Anchorage in October. Next stops are the Alley Theatre in Houston and the Cricket Theatre in Minneapolis.

The Old Globe has been looking for a permanent all-purpose rehearsal and audition space ever since it converted the former Falstaff Tavern into the Cassius Carter Centre Stage in 1968. Still, the conversion is one no one regrets.

The Falstaff Tavern was originally used as a restaurant during the 1935 California-Pacific Exposition and later converted into a multipurpose space. In 1963, then-artistic director Craig Noel experimented with producing plays that wouldn’t need to appeal to the larger audiences that the Old Globe was accustomed to serving.

Noel produced 25 shows at the Falstaff Tavern before the space underwent the renovations that transformed it into the Cassius Carter, where it has since been host to 112 plays, beginning with Peter Ustinov’s anti-war play, “The Unknown Soldier and His Wife.” A. R. Gurney’s first world premiere at the Globe, “Another Antigone,” was stage there, and Stephen Metcalfe’s “Vikings.” Metcalfe, an associate artist of the Globe, has since been produced in each of the Globe’s theaters (“The Incredibly Famous Willy Rivers” played on the main stage and “White Linen” at the Lowell Davies Festival Stage). His latest effort will soon be released, not on a stage, however, but at the movies: advertisements for “Cousins,” Metcalfe’s adaptation of the French film, “Cousin Cousine,” have already reached local theaters.

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PROGRAM NOTES: Rosina Widdowson-Reynolds, who won the San Diego Critics Circle award for best actress last year, will appear in “Catch Me If You Can,” playing Jan. 9-Feb. 18 at the Lawrence Welk Dinner Theatre. . . . Allison Brennan, who last wowed local audiences with her performance in “Hard Times” at the San Diego Repertory Theatre season before last, will replace Los Angeles actress Barbara Sohmers as the weary daughter of an elderly tall-tale-telling idealist in “I’m Not Rappaport,” at the Hahn Cosmopolitan Theatre Jan. 18-Feb. 26. Sohmers bowed out when she landed television work. . . . Don’t bother waiting for Steve Martin or Robin Williams at this one, but you can start “Waiting for Godot” at the Marquis Public Theatre in March. The choice of this play by Samuel Beckett continues in a line of thoughtful, and thus far effective classical choices at the Marquis that have included “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” “Madwoman of Chaillot” and “Rashomon.” The cast for “Rashomon” will go into rehearsal for “Godot” when that play closes Jan. 14. . . . “A Raisin in the Sun,” Lorraine Hansberry’s classic story about a black family torn apart by conflicting dreams of how to leave poverty behind, premieres with Esther Rolle and Danny Glover on American Playhouse on KPBS-TV (Channel 15) on Feb. 1 from 8-11 p.m. . . . Performance artist Rachel Rosenthal will present “Rachel’s Brain” at Sushi Gallery on Feb. 3-4. . . . San Diego’s homeless will be the headliners when director John Malpede of the Los Angeles Poverty Department returns to Sushi Gallery for the last weekend in February to organize them in a series of talent shows.


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