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Repertory Theatre Starts on CSLB Campus; L.A. Weekly Presents Smaller Theater Awards

Professional theaters and colleges go well together, at least in Long Beach.

A new company, the California Repertory Theatre, is arising on the campus of Cal State Long Beach. It will join the four-year-old International City Theatre, affiliated with Long Beach City College.

The CRT has announced a tantalizing bill of fare for its first season--a season that’s more “international” than the American plays that make up the programming at the International City Theatre.

The CRT may even open abroad. The company has been invited to bring a production of Jerome Lawrence’s and Robert E. Lee’s “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail” to Shanghai in June, accompanied by playwright Lawrence.

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The hosts would be Fudan University and the Central Institute of China. CRT will spend two weeks there--if enough of the $43,000 necessary to fund the project is raised by April 1. If the money isn’t raised, the trip will be postponed a year. So far, the theater has amassed $25,000 for the trip.

Long Beach will be able to see the CRT at the Oct. 13 opening of “Lucy’s Play” by John Clifford (who also wrote “Losing Venice”). It will be followed quickly by the Oct. 27 opening of Kenneth Ross’ “Breaker Morant"--the play, set during the Boer War in South Africa, that was turned into an acclaimed Australian film.

Both productions are American premieres, and they will be performed in repertory, to be joined by Charles Marowitz’s adaptation of “Measure for Measure” Feb. 3. All three plays will briefly remain in repertory, but the first two will close before the final opening of the year--of a play still to be announced, on Feb. 23.

The new company will employ three Equity actors and an Equity stage manager, as well as additional Equity members drawn from the faculty of the university. The school will provide in-kind services and facilities--and a company of 12 graduate students (eight of whom have Equity cards) to fill the remaining roles; each of the imported Equity actors also will teach a class.

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The theater will seat 99; it will be converted from a space currently housing a directing laboratory.

Howard Burman is artistic producing director of the company, in addition to being chairman of the theater department at Cal State Long Beach. He cites the Hilberry Repertory Theatre, which is affiliated with Wayne State University in Detroit, as a model for CRT, although he also points to certain differences--Hilberry used a much larger theater but employed no Equity actors. Burman ran the Hilberry company for four years.

AWARDS: The L.A. Weekly presented its 10th annual awards for achievement in smaller theater in a rowdy ceremony Monday at Myron’s Ballroom in downtown Los Angeles.

Winning the top awards were “Peep Show” (production of the year), “Dream Girl” (revival of the year), “Blame It on the Movies! II” (musical of the year) and Kedric Robin Wolfe’s “Let Me Explain” (creation/performance)--yet none of these shows won any awards in any of the lesser categories.

Garnering two awards each were “Monsoon Christmas,” “Losing Venice,” “The Goldfish Bowl,” “Megabeth” and “How the Other Half Loves.” Designers Deborah Raymond and Dorian Vernacchio won a career achievement award.

S.T.A.G.E. (Southland Theater Artists Goodwill Event) won a humanitarian award for its staging of AIDS benefits. It was presented by Los Angeles Festival director Peter Sellars, who referred to the local gay entertainment community as “among the most closeted in the country” and added: “Becoming visible is the point of theater.”

The emcees, the Groundlings, provided irreverent commentary--including an opening sketch that lampooned a meeting at which the Weekly’s critics choose the award winners.

Later, in one of several critic-tweaking jokes (which ribbed The Times and Drama-Logue in addition to the Weekly), Groundling Deanna Oliver attributed a political tone to the reviews of the Weekly critics. However, the most acclaimed political theater group in town--the Actors’ Gang--received not one nomination from the Weekly critics this year.

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A few serious notes interrupted the festivities. Presenting an award for “innovative environmental staging,” Pipeline’s Scott Kelman said the use of unusual environments such as motels and swimming pools for theater might become more common because of “the loss of Equity Waiver and the rising rents in Los Angeles.”

Room for Theatre’s Sylvia Walden, accepting the award for “Dream Girl,” exclaimed: “This makes me cry, because Room for Theatre doesn’t exist any more.” The factors Kelman mentioned--the end of Equity Waiver and rising rents--were the reasons Room for Theatre closed last year.

WOMANRITES: L.A. Theatre Works and the Tiffany Theatres are presenting an alternating schedule of shows called WomanRites. It opened last week with a reprise of Annie’s Griffin’s performance in “Almost Persuaded,” which she also performed at the Tiffany last year, and continues with the arrival next Thursday of A Traveling Jewish Theatre’s “Snake Talk: Urgent Messages From the Mother.” A third play, to be announced, will open April 13.

LATE CUES: John O’Keefe’s one-man “Shimmer” will move from the New Playwrights’ Foundation Theatre to the Powerhouse for a run scheduled from March 23 through April 16 . . . Stephen Tobolowsky will replace Tom Waits in the final five performances of “Demon Wine” at Los Angeles Theatre Center, March 24-26. Waits departs in order to collaborate with Robert Wilson and William Burroughs on their “Black Rider” project . . . The Pasadena Playhouse has extended its hit “Accomplice” again, through April 23.


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