Vic Tayback moves further away from the all-American Mel of "Alice's" with his role as the Lebanese immigrant Youssef Joseph in S.K. Hershewe's comedy, "An Oasis in Manhattan," opening Jan. 19 at the Venture Theatre in Burbank.
"The 'oasis' is Youssef's household," explained Tayback, "and he runs it like a dictator. He loves the United States--he voted for Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan--and thinks that freedom, education and democracy are a good idea. But there are also some things from the Lebanese tradition that he thinks need to be upheld. Like when it comes to marriage, he wants his daughters marrying Lebanese."
The actor, whose own background is Syrian ("the cultures are very close"), finds the character colorful and likable--and understands his cultural clannishness.
"Those kinds of attitudes are a universal thing," he said. "People come over from another country and try to hold onto things from there. Youssef is definitely bigoted, but it's not against any particular race. He talks about Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Swedes, Italians, Irish and Turks--basically anybody who isn't Lebanese isn't OK. The play's message is that it's the kids who are going to take us away from that prejudice."
Also coming up this month:
Jan. 14: "Merlin, or the Barren Land," German playwright Tankred Dorst's six-hour retelling of the Arthurian legends, opens at the Ventura Court Theatre in Studio City. Pavel Cerny directs a 30-member cast, playing 200 roles.
Jan. 17: "The Chairman's Wife," by Wakako Yamauchi ("And the Soul Shall Dance"), has its premiere at East West Players in Hollywood. Players artistic director Nobu McCarthy stages the contemporary-set story of Mao Zedong's widow, Jiang Qing.
Jan. 18: Charles S. Dutton stars in August Wilson's "The Piano Lesson" at the Doolittle Theatre in Hollywood. The story of a family heirloom--dating back to times of enslavement--is directed by longtime Wilson collaborator Lloyd Richards ("Fences").
Jan. 18: Kerry Kennedy's "The Riding Club," which won $500 in the West Coast Ensemble's first annual Full-Length Play Competition, debuts at the Hollywood-based theater. Avner Garbi directs.
Jan. 18: Sisters take turns denying and confronting the past in Daniel Faraldo's "How Did It Feel?" at Toluca Lake's Gnu Theatre. Artistic director Jeff Seymour stages the world premiere.
Jan. 19: The winners of A Directors Theatre's first annual Young Playwrights Competition have their works staged at the Hollywood theater: Ji Yoon Francis Kim's "La Fantasia," Logan R.S. Abbitt's "Scratch" and Michelle Fugate's "The Unborn Problem."
Jan. 20: Eric Trules' "W(holes)," a series of monologues and dialogues by characters in crisis, makes its premiere at Theatre/Theater in Hollywood. Trules and Barbara Clay star.
Jan. 21: William Atherton, Gregory Harrison and Brian McNamara star in Robert Marasco's psychological thriller, "Child's Play," opening at the Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood.
Jan 23: The English-Yiddish musical revue, "Those Were the Days," opens at the Westwood Playhouse, featuring 30-plus songs from "old country" origins to contemporary Broadway tunes, accompanied by a klezmer ensemble. Eleanora Reissa directs.
Jan 24: Donald McKechnie's "Meetin's on the Porch," about three women growing up and sharing their experiences, has its American premiere at Beverly Hills' Canon Theatre. McKechnie and Richard Olivier co-direct Susan Clark, Patty Duke and Carrie Snodgrass.
Jan. 25: The Los Angeles Theatre Unit premieres John Susman's "Tiger Treadwell Takes Tinseltown" at the Ventura Court Theatre. Steve Itkin directs.