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Why Stoppard Play Didn’t Descend on L.A.; Parking Limits Worry Melrose Theaters

TIMES THEATER WRITER

Tom Stoppard’s “Artist Descending a Staircase” opens tonight on Broadway. The play was originally expected to have its American premiere at the Mark Taper Forum in January. But the rights were withdrawn about two months ago, when a production of Stoppard’s “Hapgood” (seen at the Doolittle in April) failed to materialize on Broadway.

It was all a matter of circumstance, according to Taper artistic director Gordon Davidson and Emanuel Azenberg (one of “Artist’s” Broadway producers and the man who brought its London production to Davidson’s attention).

“Manny and I had been talking about this play for a long time,” Davidson said. “I told him I liked it and he said he didn’t know when he could do it (in New York), so we looked at doing it here first. Either our production would have gone into New York or (Azenberg and his partners) would have staged their own. We kept that loose.”

“It was really very simple,” Azenberg concurred from New York. “ ‘Hapgood’ was done with the intention of going to New York, and Tom (Stoppard) did not want to have two productions on Broadway. He thought that was arrogant. ‘Bully vegetables on the market place.’ He also felt the productions would suffer by comparison (to each other).”

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When “Hapgood” didn’t happen, “we decided we would come to New York,” Azenberg continued. “ ‘Artist’ is happening now because in the spring Tom will be shooting ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’ in Yugoslavia. Gordon got caught in the middle. I would have wanted it to play the Taper first. It would have been to my advantage . We could have made adjustments to the play. Instead, we went to Duke University for a week.”

Azenberg added that if the play finds favor in New York, it could still make the Taper’s (or the Ahmanson’s) 1990-91 season.

As was announced Nov. 8, those other Britons, Kenneth Branagh and his Renaissance Theatre Company, will fill the slot left vacant by “Artist.” They’ll perform “King Lear” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in rep Jan. 21 to March 4.

TO PARK OR NOT TO PARK: A proposal to restrict night-time parking on residential streets off Melrose Avenue to parking by permit is about to be considered by the City Council’s Transportation Committee. It could happen as early as Wednesday or soon after the first of the year.

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Aside from other night-time businesses and restaurants on the popular thoroughfare, the impact of such a restriction would be felt by the theaters on Melrose (the Matrix, the Zephyr, the Groundlings), whose patrons depend almost entirely on side-street parking.

“It’ll put a big crimp in us if it doesn’t put us out of business altogether,” said Oren Michels, executive director of the Groundlings, echoing similar fears expressed by Joe Stern of the Matrix and Gary Guidinger of the Zephyr.

“We’ve looked into the possibility of valet parking, but you still have to put the cars somewhere. The city has allowed Melrose to develop and they would be damaging something that has become an integral part of L.A. An icon. They’ll have to create parking somewhere, somehow.”

“A deal was cut to where we were allocated some spaces in the lot next to Mel ‘n’ Rose’s Cafe,” he added, “but it’s not enough.”

“There is a department of off-street parking that is looking into parking angles that might help,” said Eitan Kushner, a deputy to councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, in whose 5th District this matter falls.

Among some of the city’s alternative parking considerations, Kushner said, is a plan to build a parking structure on the Fairfax High School premises, augmented by shuttle service up and down Melrose. But this would take time and money. The question is what to do for immediate parking relief that will enable the theaters (and businesses) to survive.

“Nobody wants to see the demise of Melrose Avenue,” Kushner said. “The city is working towards providing an alternative. If the proposal I’m thinking of is adopted by the committee, maybe at its December meeting,” he added without elaborating, “it would provide free parking for the theaters and businesses.” Stay tuned.

EATING CROW: Last week’s Turkey awards to “Phantom of the Opera’s” Michael Crawford--accusing the actor/singer of not sharing his opening-night flowers with co-star Dale Kristien and of dodging questions about whether he’ll remain with the show beyond February--have brought in letters of overwhelming support for Crawford. One particularly gracious--and irresistible--endorsement came from Kristien herself.

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“Concerning the opening night faux pas you accused Michael Crawford of making,” Kristien wrote, “the flowers he received were not from anyone ‘official,’ but rather from a group of ladies who travel from England to see him. To publicly give these flowers to his leading lady (as you suggested) would have been inappropriate and rude to those who had given them. What you don’t know is that backstage he gave each and every lady involved with the show one of those roses. Slandering this man’s dignity and grace is uncalled for.

“In regards to whether Mr. Crawford would stay with the show past February, I must tell you that he is concerned only for his health. . . . A glance at his medical file would verify that. You made it appear he was only after the bucks and this is just not true. It would be better to stand in this man’s shoes through one performance before you make judgments on his character. No one on that stage gives more than Michael Crawford in any performance and he would not continue if he couldn’t give it everything he has.”


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