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The Taper Tightens Its Belt--$800,000 Worth

Scratch the next Taper, Too season off the calendar.

The customary spring series of at least three plays in the Mark Taper Forum’s second spaceon the lower level of the John Anson Ford Theatre is a casualty of belt-tightening.

But the 90-seat venue will not remain dormant. The Taper will host a production of John Fleck’s “A Snowball’s Chance in Hell” at the Taper, Too for nine performances, Jan. 24-Feb. 9. Fleck, one of the “NEA Four,” created the piece on a commission from the late Los Angeles Theatre Center, whose demise ended “Snowball’s” chance of appearing under its auspices.

The Taper, Too will also be used for workshops, with perhaps other “special presentations” like the Fleck show, said Taper artistic director Gordon Davidson.

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A presentation of the two-part “Angels in America,” scheduled for next spring at Taper, Too and sold as a separate event to Taper subscribers, won’t happen until the 1992-93 season, if then. Refunds are going out. But a workshop of the second half of “Angels,” “Perestroika,” may still take place in the spring.

Davidson said the postponement of the complete “Angels” would have happened even without the current cost-cutting because playwright Tony Kushner believes “Perestroika” needs more work.

Likewise, Davidson attributed the absence of the Taper’s holiday reading of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory"--held annually at the Itchey Foot restaurant until this year--not to budget cuts, but rather to the unavailability of director Michael Peretzian, who confirmed that a vacation prevented him from taking his usual trip down “Memory” lane.

Nevertheless, Davidson acknowledged that the cutbacks have exacted an $800,000 toll. Besides the cancellation of the Taper, Too season and some trims off the literary cabaret season at the Itchey Foot, four “support people” were laid off, other positions were not filled and economies were mandated “across the board.”

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The cutbacks were caused by “lowered expectations” for this year, due in part to a shortfall in Music Center fund raising for last year and in part to lower projected ticket revenues because of the recession.

Before he knew he’d have to make cutbacks, Davidson had already committed to “The Kentucky Cycle"--a two-part epic opening next month--as the centerpiece of the mainstage Taper season. “I probably would not have been able to do it if we had known what was facing us,” he conceded.

About 1,000 of around 22,000 subscribers balked at paying the increased price for the “Cycle,” which was added after most of the subscribers had renewed, expecting to see another play. The recalcitrant subscribers are being issued refunds for the canceled play. But Davidson still expects increased revenue from the higher ticket prices for the “Cycle” to help compensate for its higher production cost--"if all goes well.”

PANTY-LINE WATCH: Dining out in a busy restaurant before seeing “Private Lives,” couples discuss their anticipation of the show. They mention playwright Noel Coward and co-star Simon Jones.

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“Would you all get real?” asks one of the women, Pam. “We’re all here to see Joan Collins, admit it. We’re here to see how she looks, how she acts, what she’s wearing.”

When another woman protests that she’s no “shameless voyeur,” Pam points out that she brought binoculars, though they have fourth-row seats.

“Well,” replies the second woman, “Sylvia says in the second act, in the red sequins, (Collins) has panty lines. Isn’t that reassuring?”

One of the men starts singing “Both Sides Now,” prompting his friend to shush him with the news that it’s not Judy Collins, the folk singer, but rather “Joan Collins--the thespian.”

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“No, she is not,” retorts the second woman. “She’s been married four times.”

Rim shot, please.

This radio ad for “Private Lives” at the Wilshire Theatre has raised a few eyebrows. “Trashy” and “tasteless” are among the comments Stage Watch heard.

“Great,” responded Pete Sanders, a spokesman for the show. “Normally, do people talk about radio commercials? Something works when people talk about it.”

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He explained the rationale for the ad, which was devised by the New York agency Serino, Coyne: “People can see (Collins) being glamorous on TV for free. Why would they want to see her in a theater? Because it makes her more accessible.”

Hence the reference to “panty lines.” “It makes her real,” said Sanders, noting that one of the early reviews of the show, in Denver, mentioned the look of her stomach. Collins’ character in “Private Lives” is “fun-loving,” he added. “We wanted to portray her as very un-Alexis (her character on “Dynasty”).”

He applauded Collins’ approval of the ad. “She accepted the fact that it was just fun.” Another star he’s worked with, Kathleen Turner, “would never have let something go on like this,” he said.


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