New Plays Sprouting as Spring Approaches

Spring is coming, and with it the inky aroma of new plays. Some will venture forth in the Old Globe Theatre's Play Discovery Series--a farm club for Globe shows--which continues Monday with a reading of Mark Lee's "Paradise," and Teatro Meta's Latino Play Discovery Series, which presents a workshop of "The Granny" at the Progressive Stage Company March 10-12.

Terrence McNally's "Up in Saratoga" will bypass early developmental stages when it springs up as a full production Thursday at the Globe. And even Edward Albee will get into the act when he comes to town to tape an introduction to the California Young Playwrights Project winner, "Simply Maria, or the American Dream," to be shown on KPBS-TV. Albee will read from his latest work, "Marriage Play," Sunday morning at the Hahn Cosmopolitan Theatre. The show is already scheduled for Broadway and London engagements.

But the big news at the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre is that contracts have been signed and money has exchanged hands on "The Debutante," a twist on the "Pygmalion" story that re-imagines the tale in upper-class black society in the 1920s.

It is not the nonprofit Gaslamp that commissioned the play but a new, for-profit company, Debutante Inc., set up by Gaslamp managing director Kit Goldman. The company plans to hire the Gaslamp to produce the play early next year. This doesn't mean Goldman, president of Debutante, has yet signed her hoped-for star, Cleavon Little, or director, Oz Scott, both of whom now have the script. It means she fell in love with the writing by Elmo Terry-Morgan and decided to go with her instincts, which told her she has a hot property on her hands.

"I work on the Cortez theory of doing business," Goldman said. "They came on shore and burned the ships so there was no choice but to go ahead and conquer. I went ahead and burned the ships. This is new territory for me. I have never commissioned a script. But I'm very excited. The characters are wonderful and the story is excellent. Mark Loigman, production manager at La Jolla Playhouse for two years, is working with me to make up budgets and sell shares."

Goldman said the Gaslamp's financial struggles this year only fueled her determination to press ahead with the project. Like other theater directors taking a gamble on new plays, she knows that launching an untested project may prove to be a disastrous expense, but she is buoyed by the hope that, if the show takes off, the Gaslamp may reap heaps of critical and financial rewards.

"This project had a life and schedule of its own. I hope I'm never so distracted by the present that I miss entrepreneurial opportunities," Goldman said. "We have a plan for financial stability and stature, and part of the plan is 'The Debutante.' "

The audience may not be captive, but the performers certainly will be when seven minimum-security inmates from the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in Otay Mesa will present three one-act plays at the Lyceum Space in Horton Plaza April 15-16.

The warden and a handful of guards have already made their reservations.

This outside venture is a first for California prisoners, according to Spike Sorrentino, a local director and actor who has been directing the inmates toward this goal for four months.

Sorrentino voiced a familiar directorial complaint about the job: "It was hard to get good talent and hard to hold onto it."

While other directors lose actors to the competition, he lost his as they finished their jail sentences.

Another challenge, he said, was building trust.

"The guys in minimum figure they aren't going to be in there that long, so they wonder why they should put their faces out there and show everyone they're prisoners."

One powerful motivation for them, he said, is that ticket sales from "The Actor and the Invader," by Robert Patrick, "Rats," by Israel Horovitz, and "The Scam," by local playwright Christopher R, will benefit the San Diego Crime Victims Fund.

Allan Havis, a professor of playwrighting at UC San Diego, was one of six playwrights to win the McKnight Fellowship in Playwrighting, a national award given by the Minneapolis Playwrights' Center to writers who are judged to have had a significant impact on the field of theater. Havis, who received his MFA from the Yale School of Drama, has had his plays produced in a variety of theaters across the country from the American Repertory Theatre to the WPA to the South Coast Repertory Theatre, which most recently produced his works "Haut Gout" and "Morocco."

Local actors David Novak, Courtney Flanagan and Philip Sneed will tour "The Kingdom of Midas," a new one-act children's play written by Novak and Flanagan, to several San Diego schools March 16-May 24. Under the auspices of the San Diego Institute for Arts Education, the actors will assign the students to the supporting roles of courtiers, farmers and attendants in the story of the king who wanted everything he touched turn to gold--until his wish was granted. Call Ann Chase, program director, at (619)452-3840 for further information.

PROGRAM NOTES: Nearly half the 25 recipients of the semiannual COMBO (Combined Arts and Education Council of San Diego County) awards went to theaters this year. Some of the much-needed pennies from heaven went to the Bowery Theatre, which is planning on a June opening for its new Gaslamp-area space and Diversionary Theatre, which received backing for a production of Charles Ludlam's "Reverse Psychology." . . . The San Diego Actors Co-Op will hold its second annual All-City Audition March 6-7 and 13-14 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre's Lyceum Space, where they will do their monologues on the set of "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You." . . . The North Coast Repertory Theatre will follow up "The Mandrake" with "Cat's Paw," a story about terrorism, in its two-play summer series. . . . The Marquis Public Theatre, which had to cancel plans for "Waiting for Godot" when it learned that the Old Globe had the rights and "The Marriage of Bette and Boo" when it found out the San Diego Repertory Theatre had the rights, is trying again with August Strindberg's "A Dream Play," opening April 13.

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