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STAGE / NANCY CHURNIN : Young Actor Gets Chance to Raise Voice at Old Globe

Tragedy is easy, comedy is hard, and farce, evidently, can land you in a hospital bed. Jon Tenney, who stars in the new Terrence McNally farce “Up in Saratoga” at the Old Globe, has developed a blister on his vocal cords that required laser surgery. After being off the show for a week, Tenney is expected to return tonight.

In the meantime, 24-year-old Mark Guin, in his second year in the Old Globe/University of San Diego master’s program, got his chance to go on in the starring role, which he may continue to do for the next two sets of Saturday-Sunday matinees after Tenney returns.

“It’s a fantastic experience just to get the chance to work with the company,” said Guin, for whom the thrill of “yelling and screaming” himself hoarse on the Globe’s main stage is definitely not gone.

Is it as exhausting to play the peripatetic suitor of four women as it sounds?

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“It’s scary. Terrifying. But it’s exciting. I’m on almost constantly, and when I’m not on, I’m changing clothes.”

To compound the challenges of the pacing, McNally is still changing the play. There is a new second ace for Guin to learn, with two completely new scenes and new pages coming to him as late as Tuesday night.

“Most people look at it as a dream come true to go on for the star. But the dream part of it is that it is a great opportunity to work with amazing actors on a role that would probably take me a few years to get to play. One of the big challenges is to stay faithful to what Jon Tenney did originally, to keep myself in line with the character he created. Another challenge is getting through it without falling down.”

At least one fan would call that aspiration modest. Guin was solicited for his first autograph this week.

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If there’s a trend in theater that deserves to catch on, it’s the policy to designate benefit performances for those in need.

Over the last three years, dozens of San Diego theaters have earmarked money and staff time to help victims of AIDS. San Diego theaters began to benefit local concerns in 1986, with “The Normal Heart,” a play about AIDS, at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.

North Coast’s artistic director, Olive Blakistone, approached the San Diego AIDS Project about giving it the proceeds from one performance. Later, when the North Coast staged “Torch Song Trilogy,” Harvey Fierstein’s bittersweet comedy about gay life, two performances in the run were designated to benefit the San Diego AIDS Project and the San Diego AIDS Assistance Fund.

Other local theaters later used shows about AIDS to raise money for organizations that help people with the disease: StageWorks; Diversionary Theatre; the Bowery Theatre and Artists for Life, which drew several groups together for a 24-hour marathon of staged readings that featured some AIDS-related material.

The next benefit, however, is for a group that no theater has raised money for before.

The 3-year-old Satori Company will donate 40% of the proceeds of its new show to the Assn. of Retarded Citizens (ARC). The play, “Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon,” is about three disabled people who struggle for a life independent of state homes. It opens at the old Mission Playhouse site in Quivira Basin Marina Village on April 15.

Forging a connection with ARC seemed a natural to Satori’s artistic director, Charles A. Pellor. ARC’s executive director, Richard Farmer, was surprised but pleased at the director’s interest in his 36-year-old organization. Farmer hopes the play, written in 1972 and based on a Marjorie Kellogg novel, will reawaken community interest in the problems of the disabled. He said the most pressing need of the 2,700 disabled that his organization serves is transportation by volunteers to events that will improve the quality of life for the disabled: religious services, bowling, golfing, baseball games and, of course, theatrical events like “Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon.”

PROGRAM NOTES: The Bowery Theatre, which scored its biggest success last year with John Patrick Shanley’s “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea,” will kick off its new season with a new Shanley play, “Italian-American Reconcilation,” scheduled tentatively for a June 16 opening. “Reconciliation,” which just closed Off-Broadway, is another Shanley love story, this time about a man torn between his love for the new woman in his life and for his ex-wife. . . . Sometimes, the first thing to change in a work-in-progress is the name. “Tango/Orfeo,” the new musical production to premiere July 2-Aug. 6 at the La Jolla Playhouse, has been retitled “Dangerous Games” by creator, director and co-writer Graciela Daniele. . . . First she steals San Diego hearts, now former Miss San Diego, Susan Howe, will play the love interest for Sam Malone (Ted Danson) in “Cheers” for at least five episodes next season. . . . “Greater Tuna” has been extended at the Lyceum Stage through April 9. . . . Mac Wellman, author of the upcoming San Diego Repertory Theatre premiere of “Albanian Soft Shoe,” just won a $25,000 Rockefeller Grant.

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