Wide Range of Approaches on Weekend Theater Menu

The Seattle Repertory Theatre, Culture Clash and the Big Kitchen Dessert Theatre will give San Diego audiences a chance to check out three very different approaches to theater this weekend.

For those who want to check out the quality that recently earned the Seattle Repertory Theatre the 1990 Antoinette Perry Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre, the company will open John Millington Synge's "The Playboy of the Western World" at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts today at 8 p.m. The show played on Seattle Rep's main stage earlier this year with the same cast and director.

"The Playboy of the Western World," which caused riots when it opened in 1907 in Dublin's Abbey Theatre, tells the story of Christy Mahon, a stranger who reluctantly admits, in a pub, that

he killed his abusive father with a spade. To his surprise, he is glorified by the villagers--until his father shows up with his bandaged head--and the townspeople turn on Christy.

It's been two years since the Seattle Rep last performed in San Diego. That venture was "Tartuffe" at the East County Performing Arts Center, which bowed out of producing the Seattle Rep this year while the center turns its attention to getting its own financial house in order. (ECPAC just announced the formation of a fund-raising arm, the Guild for the Performing Arts Center, which will have an open house Monday, 5:30-7:30 p.m.).

Meanwhile, Benjamin Moore, managing director of the Seattle Rep, heard about the Poway Center, which just opened this year, called and signed a contract for one night. The company's final California stops are Palm Desert, Palos Verdes, Pepperdine University in Malibu and Big Bear Lake.

The Tony comes at the end of a banner decade for the Seattle Rep. Moore credits the entire 27 years of the Seattle Rep for the Tony award. Still, it is the last 10 years that have brought the company to the nation's attention with the development of such shows as "I'm Not Rappaport," "The Heidi Chronicles," "Largely New York" and "Eastern Standard," many of which were developed workshop-style in what the Rep calls "The Other Season."

The desire to tour comes out of the Rep's outreach program to take theater to places where there isn't much professional work, such as in the outer reaches of Washington, Moore said on the phone from Seattle. So why come to San Diego where there is no such shortage? Moore confesses that he often asks himself that very same question. And the answer is, of course, economic. The Southern California tour helps the theater break even on the Washington portion of the tour.

Still, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to see what the latest Tony award winner can do.

Culture Clash, a San Francisco-based Latino comedy troupe presenting a world premiere to close Sushi Performance Gallery's Neofest tonight and Saturday night, is a whole other ball of jokes. Richard Montoya, one of the three-person company, refers to Culture Clash as "tag-team comedy" and modestly describes the new show they are unveiling, "Frida Kahlo (wife of Mexican painter Diego Rivera) and Che meet Los Bookies de Norte" as "a revue, a selection of stand-up performance art, skits, post-modern Chicano magical realism, sensitive Lamaze-partner, NPR (National Public Radio) listening and Saturday Night Live-like comic brilliance."

The show is subtitled: "A Bowl of Beings."

"Frida Kahlo and Che" plays at 8 p.m. at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art (formerly known as the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art).

Montoya said he plans to take advantage of the fact that the "Latins Anonymous" show, which kicks off the San Diego Repertory Theatre season June 6, will be in town to have "a comedy laugh-off" Saturday night, at a place to be decided. The two groups have more than subject matter in common; Montoya and Diane Rodriguez, one of the four members of the Latins Anonymous team, used to be in a comedy show together in San Francisco. Culture Clash next heads to Los Angeles to perform "The Mission" at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, where "Latins Anonymous" finished its long-playing run on April Fool's Day.

For those who favor high-quality, low-tech theater, David Mamet's two rarely-seen one act plays, "Reunion" and "Dark Pony," will play at the Big Kitchen Dessert Theatre as a production of The Project Theatre, Thursday-Sunday through June 10.

What is meant by low tech? Try a lighting system that consists of ringing a bell and asking the audience to close their eyes for the blackouts.

What is meant by high quality? Just sample the fare, which has included such meaty short-takes as Bertolt Brecht's "Conversations in Exile," Edward Albee's "Counting the Ways," Irene Maria Fornes' "Drowning" and Slawomir Mrozek's "Striptease."

And consider the tiny theater's (20-plus seats, depending on which area of the restaurant is used) commitment to quality. As co-produced by Eric Grischkat, Kevin O'Neill and John Highkin, nearly all the actors employed by the Project Theatre are Equity actors, like Grischkat and O'Neill, who work under a rarely used producer's waiver contract, that allows them to work as Equity actors at $30 per performance without having to incur many of the financial responsibilities of Equity producers.

"Reunion's" running time is 45 minutes, and "Dark Pony's" 10 minutes. They are unrelated stories about father-daughter relationships and will be separated by Big Kitchen desserts. Directed by Grischkat, the show stars Grischkat's former UC San Diego professor, Equity actor Arthur Wagner and recent UCSD graduate Molly Powell. Grischkat plans to reopen "Striptease" and "Drowning" the week after the Mamet plays close.

Also premiering this weekend in San Diego is "Tien An Men," a dramatization of the Chinese student uprising in Tien An Men Square in Beijing, China, which will play Sunday at 1 p.m. at UCSD's Price Center in commemoration of the actual event that took place June 3 and 4, 1989.

The play, written by Yau-Gene Chan, and presented by a 25-member cast and crew, the majority of which are Chinese-American students, is free of charge, with the costs of presentation covered by Chan and his actors and crew, who are working free, the Chinese Student Assn. of UCSD and the Tien An Men Square Foundation, which raised $500 to cover the costs of local presentation.

The show, which has had numerous showings in the San Francisco Bay Area this year, is making its Southern California debut in San Diego. Wayne Chan, one of the members of the Chinese Student Assn., said he hopes the production will remind people of the students killed and imprisoned by the Chinese government and will "put more pressure on the Chinese government to let all the people still in prison free."

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