A Pacific Theatre Ensemble Sampler

Pacific Theatre Ensemble, the Venice-based company that has won popular and critical acclaim producing work with extra-large casts--including “Slaughterhouse on Tanner’s Close,” “The Blue Dahlia” and “The Beggar’s Opera"--is making a move towards minimalist theater. With this weekend’s opening of an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” it will launch its Sampler Series, a trio of small-scale, one-act works.

“We wanted to incorporate things we’ve not done yet: plays for families, plays targeting cultural diversity, plays for international exchange,” said artistic director Stephanie Shroyer. The company’s growth, she added, is dependent “on diverse programming, larger audiences. But we don’t have the finances to produce a season of really big plays. So we’re using unit sets--all the same set pieces--that we can then turn upside down or sideways for other shows. It’s a good training ground for us, an opportunity to take more chances.”

This version of “Alice” was developed in the early ‘70s by the Manhattan Theatre Project under the direction of Andre Gregory.

“It evolved out of improv; for months, they played with both ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass,’ performed in jails and forests,” noted Shroyer, who’s directing the piece.


“It’s truly a child of that genre--theater that sees the whole world as a stage: busy and full of movement, which lends itself to children although it’s not being directed for them. Certain references, like The Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ are definitely for adults.”

The result: “Parents can go out on Saturday nights and bring the gang with them.”

Following “Alice” in the Sampler Series will be Claire Braz-Valentine’s Spanish-language “When Will I Dance?” (April 11) and Steven Leigh Morris’ immigrant story, “Aliens” (May 16).

WHERE’S THE BALL? For those who were wondering why the Embassy Ball scene was missing from California Music Theatre’s recent production of “My Fair Lady,” CMT artistic director Gary Davis points out that he’s not establishing a precedent: in the past, other stagings have also eliminated that scene, “because it really doesn’t forward the story.” Financially, he allowed, the additional union expenses of running a three-hour-plus show were also a factor.


“But the main reason was that a three-hour show feels too long today. People used to think in terms of getting their money’s worth. But tastes have progressed over the years; in 1991, a 2-hour, 50-minute show is long enough.” The feelings of his star, Noel Harrison, also played a part. “When I did the show (before) in Long Beach with Noel, we did inter-linear cuts,” he said. “Then I did it in San Jose and cut something else. But this is an anniversary production, and Noel didn’t want to cut any dialogue.”

PRIZE TIME: The 13th annual Susan Smith Blackburn Prize (awarded to a woman writer for an outstanding theater work) has resulted in a tie for first place. The honors are shared by Illinois’ Cheryl West for “Before It Hits Home,” a play about the impact of AIDS on a black family, and Scottish playwright Rona Munro, whose “Bold Girls” focuses on the lives of four Belfast women.

ALICE GOES TOKYO: While one “Alice” unfolds locally, the Actors Repertory Theatre of the Santa Monica Playhouse made its international debut last week in Japan with a mini-tour of its own version of “Alice in Wonderland.” The event marks the third cultural exchange between Tokyo’s Model Language Studio and the SMP company, whose members include Evelyn Rudie (as Alice), Chris DeCarlo, Daren Rice, John Waroff, Cheryl Moffatt and Heather Ross.