'Tango / Orfeo' at La Jolla's Weiss Theater; L.A. Theatre Center Casting Policy Defended

Times Theater Writer

The recent news that "Tango/Orfeo" will fill the July 2-Aug. 6 slot at the La Jolla Playhouse's Mandell Weiss Theatre is the sound of a theatrical sea-change--appropriate for a theater with an ocean view. It heralds the melding of dance and theater--not new in the arts, but new in the La Jolla experience.

Graciela Daniele is the director-choreographer of "Tango/Orfeo" (jointly produced by the American Music Theatre Festival in Philadelphia, the Spoleto Festival USA and La Jolla). She co-wrote the book with James Lewis. The music is by Astor Piazzolla, with lyrics by William Finn ("In Trousers," "March of the Falsettos"). It will play Philadelphia May 6-21, then Spoleto and La Jolla.

Previously, the collaborators had worked together on "Tango Apasionado", an Intar production at the Westbeth Theatre Off Broadway in 1987. One "Tango" led to another.

According to La Jolla artistic director Des McAnuff, "Marjorie (Samoff of the American Music Theatre Festival) and Graciela (Daniele) came to us because they needed partners to produce this piece. It's somewhat abstract, an extension of (Apasionado)."

After a violent first half, set in a Buenos Aires brothel where women are objectified (characterized by McAnuff as "provocative and very sexy"), the second half tracks Orpheus' descent into hell to rescue Eurydice. Except that this is Argentina in the '70s. It begins in the country, with this Orpheus (Orfeo) following this Eurydice into the city and descending into the bowels of a political prison.

"It's a metaphor for domination--political and sexual--but very much an entertainment, too," McAnuff continued. "Graciela's clearly the captain of this ship. Her movement is extraordinary and her work with actors unique."

As did "Ajax" (La Jolla, 1986), "Orfeo" will go back into rehearsal for reshaping and fine-tuning before it plays La Jolla, McAnuff said. "I hope it will introduce a new genre," he expounded, "a new strain of work. They're creating almost a new form for dancers who also act. You can't do this kind of movement without being a superb dancer, though there's a lot of acting involved in the work. These are multi-talented people."

On other fronts, McAnuff still hasn't decided on the final show of the season (Aug. 27-Oct. 8).

"This year has been a glut of riches," he said. "We could do with eight slots (instead of six). The danger in talking to artists about what they want to do is that we can't find room for everything."

Having acknowledged that, McAnuff said he's now talking to post-modernist choreographer David Gordon about a dance-theatre piece "which we're simply calling the Murder Mystery Project that we want to do in '90 or '91."

Meanwhile, La Jolla will use its recently awarded $250,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Arts "in the area of financial stabilization--to take care of accrued deficits, create a cash reserve and augment the start of an endowment," according to managing director Alan Levey. The three-to-one matching grant will net the theater a cool $1 million when the matches are in.

"Our deficit right now is $703,000," Levey said. "We don't intend to put the entire million into cleaning up the debt. It'll be small components for each (area of need). We're at a point where, realistically, we have to add seats."

In that regard, the Playhouse is right on schedule. Construction starts on the new Weiss Forum in about 60 days. It will have 400 seats, instead of the 248 seats in the existing Warren Theatre it replaces. "We'll be operating with 150 more seats nightly beginning in 1990," Levey explained.

The company is currently in capital fund-raising for the next phase of construction, which will be the Studio Theatre, a flexible black box. Does not expansion in itself mean greater expenses?

"Expenses grow," Levey said, "but mostly in marketing and production. The rest of the overhead does not grow significantly. It's a balance you have to find."

SOUR GRIPES: A recent Times article reflecting the ethnic diversity in Southland theaters provoked Maria Rodriguez of Woodland Hills to write a letter protesting casting policies at the Los Angeles Theatre Center:

"For the Los Angeles Theatre Center to consistently cast productions without open Equity auditions, i.e., casting within its own ranks, is an insult to the theatrical experience it professes to be. Shame on it for using public funds."

A check with Actors' Equity Assn. and the theater found out otherwise.

"Open casting in the literal sense of the word, in the sense that every play is open to every actor in the city of Los Angeles, no," said LATC artistic producing director Bill Bushnell. "But anyone can submit a photograph and a resume, after which we hold general auditions about once a month. We hold open Equity auditions once a year. Any union member can come."

Equity's George Ives confirmed Bushnell's assertions. But what may be disturbing Rodriguez is the fact that theaters tend to develop coteries of performers they like to use, creating an inner circle and frequently casting their shows from within those ranks.

WINNERS: Two local names are among this year's recipients of the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship for American Playwrights Program: Playwright Jon Robin Baitz ("The Film Society," "Dutch Landscape"), who garnered a $25,000 Level I award, and the Cast Theatre in Hollywood, which received a $5,000 Level II award for the second year in a row.

This is the final round for this valuable 17-year-old program. The Foundation is in a restructuring mode and hopes to redesign its grant program for writers.

LATE CUES: Actor John Rose, who died Feb. 13 of complications of AIDS, may be best remembered for his performance as the child molester in the Los Angeles Actors' Theatre 1976 production of Miguel Pinero's "Short Eyes" and for his portrayal of Prokofiev in the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble's "Master Class" (1987). But he will be most remembered simply for the grace he brought to his life and to his art. . . . And in this writer's review last Friday of "Making Noise Quietly" at the Taper, Too, actor Christopher Grove was referred to in error as Alan Tadd. Tadd is the name of the character Grove plays so well.

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