A Different Clock Ticks for Some Regional Plays

The life of a play in regional theater--an average of four to eight weeks--may seem short by commercial standards. Some plays have to run months, if not years, to be labeled successful.

But playwrights and producers at regional, nonprofit theaters tell time by a different clock--and thank goodness.

Sometimes, nothing happens immediately for such plays as Lee Blessing's "Down the Road" or "Two Rooms," both of which were commissioned and produced by the La Jolla Playhouse. "Road" played in La Jolla two years ago, "Rooms" three. Blessing's "Cobb," the story of baseball great Ty Cobb closes this weekend at the Old Globe Theatre.

Blessing is now adapting "Two Rooms," a story about the Middle East hostage crisis, for HBO.

In another development, Blessing said this week from his home in Minneapolis, Viacom, a feature film company, is interested in "Down the Road," a tale of the country's fascination with serial killers.

Blessing said the future of "Cobb," which got mixed reviews in San Diego, remains up in the air.

Part of what gives playwrights like Blessing a different clock to work with is the fact that regional theaters--such as the Globe and Playhouse--have taken on the costly and sometimes risky challenge of developing new works.

The Playhouse and Globe each have provided Blessing with a different method of developing his plays. The Globe was the third venue for "Cobb," and his third opportunity to rework the text. The Playhouse has commissioned and premiered two Blessing plays, thereby helping bring to life projects that might otherwise have perished.

Both theaters use both approaches with a range of contemporary playwrights. The La Jolla Playhouse was the second venue for Blessing's acclaimed "A Walk in the Woods," and the Old Globe has developed and premiered many plays, including Stephen Metcalfe's current "White Man Dancing," although the Old Globe hasn't commissioned a play since its pre-Equity days in 1975-1976.

Blessing described the value of the commissioned work as providing "a lot of excitement at having the absolute deadline and working so intensely with the various artists. In 'Down the Road,' I rewrote 80 to 100 pages within two weeks."

And the Old Globe production of "Cobb" allowed him to fine-tune the play to what he wants it to be.

"I did cutting, changing this and that. Listening to the audience gave me a clear idea of a few small moments I didn't need because they were repeated elsewhere."

"Cobb" is a dark look at the Hall of Famer so hated by his fellow players that only three people showed up at his funeral. Blessing said he found "a lot to admire" in the man, but acknowledged that his feelings towards Cobb are "complex."

Blessing, himself, is consistently complex. After seeing his plays about a killer, a terrorist and a venomous ballplayer, one might conclude that his most "upbeat" work in San Diego was about the nuclear threat in "A Walk in the Woods."

Still, the playwright maintains a sense of humor about the subjects that fascinate him. He laughingly refers to his last few plays in San Diego as "cheery" and promises that his next theater project "may be looking at gentler things."

That certainly seems to be true of the next Blessing show set to open in San Diego. Blessing is not in any way involved with the local premiere of one of his older works, "Eleemosynary," a San Diego Actors Theatre production opening Aug. 10 at the Elizabeth North Theatre.

The all-woman show explores the relationships between a mother, her daughter and her granddaughter, subject matter that is is a far cry from the all-male "Cobb."

"I don't think any of those women are sports fans," Blessing said of his characters in "Eleemosynary."

"I doubt any of them would be terribly taken with Mr. Cobb."

Another playwright whose work is finding post-premiere life is Keith Reddin. His new play, "Life During Wartime," closed last weekend at the La Jolla Playhouse's Warren Theatre and will have separate productions in October by the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Remains Theatre in Chicago. Daniel Sullivan, artistic director of the Tony-award winning Seattle Repertory Theatre, came to see the show at the Playhouse and was sufficiently impressed to commission a new play from Reddin for the Seattle Rep. Reddin also has recently been approached by Steven Spielberg's film company, "Amblin Entertainment," to write a screenplay.

PROGRAM NOTES: For months, the Old Globe Theatre has been pursuing the latest work by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson. Now the theater has its play. "Two Trains Running," which opened at the Yale Repertory Theatre earlier this year, will have its West Coast premiere at the Old Globe in March 1991 under the direction of Tony-award winning director Lloyd Richards, Wilson's longtime collaborator. "Two Trains Running" is the fifth play in Wilson's series about black life in America. It is the third West Coast premiere in the series for the Old Globe, which previously presented "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" and "The Piano Lesson." The latter is now on Broadway.

With "Two Trains Running" and the world premiere of A. R. Gurney's "The Snow Ball," the Old Globe has four shows left to announce in its winter 1991 season.

"Latins Anonymous" was a strong season opener for the San Diego Repertory Theatre, but, despite hopes by the theater staff, it was no "Six Women With Brain Death or Expiring Minds Want to Know," the Rep hit that ran nearly two years. The show about Latino stereotypes opened June 6 at the Lyceum Space and is set to close Aug. 12. The next show scheduled for the Space is "Cymbeline," which opens Nov. 7. No show has yet been announced for the intervening months. . . .

The San Diego Theatre League sold 1,696 tickets in its Pay What You Can Bargain Arts Day on July 26. The tickets sold for a total of $1,950, which averages to a price of $1.16 per ticket. The line stretched as long as 2 1/2 blocks at peak times, and some people stood in line for as many as four hours between the hours of 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., according to Alan Ziter, the league's executive director. Which, Ziter said, means more people want to see theater than can afford it. "If you're in line that long, that means you must really want to see a show and simply can't afford to call up and order by phone. People we chatted with in line told us this was their first time to take their kids to a play or the opera.". . .

Jack O'Brien, artistic director of the Old Globe Theatre, was in the audience at the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre Company's celebrity staged reading benefit for the theater, along with actresses Mercedes McCambridge, Marion Ross and Rosina Widdowson-Reynolds. The Gaslamp staff is planning another celebrity staged reading to be directed by Oz Scott at the Hahn Cosmopolitan Theatre Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m.

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