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Satire on NEA Turmoil Flaunts an X-Rated Title

Sledgehammer Theatre will stage “7 blowjobs,” a world premiere by Mac Wellman in mid-October, with exact date and place to be announced.

The play, a satire on the current National Endowment for the Arts political turmoil, tells the story of seven mysterious photos that show up in the office of a fictional “Senator Bob.”

The photos are of “unnatural acts,” and Sen. Bob begins an investigation as to their origins.

Wellman’s choice of subject stems from firsthand experience with the recent politicization of the NEA by conservative forces.

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The NEA gave Wellman a $15,500 fellowship in 1990, but later removed its name from the credits of Wellman’s play “Sincerity Forever,” when it was produced at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. At the time, the NEA acknowledged that the decision to remove its name from the production was linked to political pressures.

“Sincerity Forever,” which critics described as an angry, dark comedy charged with profane language and some religious satire, later won an Obie award. It focuses on contemporary American society as seen through the eyes of two teen-age girls in the Deep South.

Wellman describes “7 blowjobs” as the companion piece to “Sincerity Forever.” Both works are dedicated to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Rev. Donald Wildmon, head of the Mississippi-based American Family Assn. Scott Feldsher, artistic director of Sledgehammer Theatre, said he had no hesitation about doing the play, despite the controversial title and subject matter.

Sledgehammer does not receive any direct NEA funding, although it has indirectly received NEA money through grants to the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and the Combined Arts and Education Council of San Diego County, or COMBO.

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“The NEA is still in a critical position, the arts are in a critical position, so we felt the play was an important thing to do,” Feldsher said. “We also felt that it was a play that could appeal to a pretty large audience because it’s pretty funny, and the title would get a lot of attention. It’s a good satire.”

The San Diego Repertory Theatre, which produced Wellman’s “Albanian Softshoe” in 1989, considered a staged reading of “7 blowjobs” but passed on it, a Rep spokeswoman said.

Douglas Jacobs, artistic director of the San Diego Rep, gave the script to Sledgehammer instead. Jacobs will star as the senator.

Jack O’Brien, artistic director of the Old Globe Theatre, will direct Lincoln Center’s U.S. premiere of “Two Shakespearean Actors” on Broadway.

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The play, by American playwright Richard Nelson, is based on the real-life feud between two rival Victorian tragedians: British William Charles Macready and American Edwin Forrest. It was first presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and will open in New York on Jan. 16, at a Shubert theater to be announced.

In 1849, the actors’ simultaneous New York productions of “Macbeth” stirred passionate conflicts between fans, some of whom hated Macready just for being a foreigner. The tensions led to a riot outside New York’s Astor Place Opera House, in which 22 people were killed.

O’Brien, speaking on the phone from his San Diego home, said he loves the play and “is salivating” to begin work on it.

San Diego audiences shouldn’t expect to see it at the Old Globe any time soon, however. It takes 26 actors to perform “Two Shakespearean Actors,” and a large cast means a large budget--too large for the Old Globe to tackle next year, O’Brien said. That’s why, when he heard that Lincoln Center was doing it, he contacted them and campaigned for the director’s job.

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“I read it and fell in love with it,” O’Brien said. “For years I’ve been longing for some major American playwright to tell a great American story, and here it is. But Tom (Hall, managing director of the Old Globe) said I couldn’t do it next year because we did ‘The Snow Ball’ this year, and now we have to do more economically feasible work. So I called Lincoln Center and said, ‘If you hire an English director to do this play, may it be on your soul.’ And they gave it to me.”

O’Brien laughed and said he didn’t really mind Hall’s vetoing the show at the Globe. “Tom and I are partners,” he said. “Tom knows I have an appetite for large work, that I would stage the Bronx telephone directory if he would let me. That’s who I am, and if I didn’t have a partner that I trust who could play that game with me, we would be broke in two months. He knew this was very important to me and encouraged me to go to Lincoln Center.”

PROGRAM NOTES: South African playwright Athol Fugard, now directing and acting in his play “A Lesson From Aloes” at the La Jolla Playhouse, will participate in a free seminar at San Diego State University. SDSU drama professor Dr. Peter Larlham, also from South Africa, will host the seminar in the Don Powell Theater at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9. Reservations can be made by calling the playhouse box office at 534-3960. . . .

More than 50% of all tickets have already been sold for the Nov. 1-24 return of “Forever Plaid” at the Old Globe Theatre, grossing more than $200,000. The show, which will feature the same cast as the first run at the Globe, may extend through the first week of January if the demand is there.

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The Gaslamp Quarter Theatre Company has raised $11,750 in nine gifts toward its one-to-one matching challenge grant of $240,000. The challenge grant was made by an anonymous consortium of past and present board members. The deadline for the money to be raised is Oct. 31. . . .

The San Diego Actors Co-op has incorporated and made a new name for itself: The Actors Alliance of San Diego. The organization will present an evening of storytelling titled “Chances to Win: Stories About Love and Luck” from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Top of the Kingston. Call 238-7396 or 274-6417 for further information. . . .

The Old Globe’s theater-education programs received $122,500 from the W. M. Keck Foundation last week. . . .

“Knock ‘Em Dead,” Will Roberson’s interactive mystery dinner theater show, which opened June 27 at the Reuben E. Lee Dinner Theatre, has been extended through Nov. 31. . . .

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The National Theater for Children will present Babes in Toyland,” adapted by director Ruff Yeager, Nov. 5 and Dec. 9 at the Spreckels Theatre. . . .


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