Go Directly to Jail, Don’t Collect $200, Don’t Write a Play

It sounded like a good idea: Prison inmates were encouraged to write plays and enter them in a state-sponsored Arts-in-Corrections program. Three of the scripts won a public reading by professional actors at the Ivar Theatre in Hollywood last Monday.

The works were chosen by a six-member panel, including Robert Blacker of La Jolla Playhouse and Oskar Eustis of the Mark Taper Forum.

For two of the inmate playwrights, it worked out as planned. “Let’s Keep Dancing” by John Purugganan and “Maxine Oh Maxine” by Stuart Hicks were read.


But there was a hitch for inmate playwright Dan McMullan. His play, “Blythe,” was pulled from the program just a few days before the scheduled performance.

McMullan’s play is set in the desert town of Blythe, near the Chuckawalla Valley prison where the author was an inmate when he wrote the play. Prison authorities “felt it wasn’t helpful for the relationship between the institution and the community” for the play to be presented “at this time,” said Jim Carlson, manager of the state Arts-in-Corrections program.

Or at any other time. Not only did the current Chuckawalla warden, Julian Marquez, squelch the Ivar reading, but an earlier performance inside the prison was also vetoed by the warden who was in charge last spring, Theo White.

The wardens could not be reached for their own critiques of the play. But prison spokesman Eric Flamer said “the play made references and innuendoes toward the staff that were not exactly accurate” and also referred inaccurately to prison escapes.

Furthermore, Flamer said, “a lot of the play minimizes what we were trying to do” in overcoming initial resistance to the prison among some of the local townsfolk.

Still, the play as a whole is “humorous and harmless,” said one of the professionals who was working on it. “You can’t expect them not to write about their world and what they know of it. This has opened up a can of worms, where the possibility of work being screened and maybe censored could happen.”

NEW JEWISH THEATER: The American Jewish Repertory Theatre has opened for business, operating out of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Albert H. Dubin/Alfred Wolf Exhibit Center, 3663 Wilshire Blvd. But for its inaugural production of “The Survivor,” only 175 of the theater’s 650 seats are being sold for each performance.

It was a necessary sacrifice in order to qualify for the use of Actors’ Equity’s Small Professional Theater contract instead of the Hollywood Area Theater contract that would normally apply in a mid-sized theater--and would have required higher wages and more performances per week--said co-producer Kristin Hahn.

The theater is solely supported by the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, said Rabbi Harvey Fields. He saw a production of “The Survivor,” about a group of Jewish teen-agers who smuggle food into the Warsaw ghetto during World War II, earlier this year at the Hudson Theatre. He was so impressed he asked writer Susan Nanus and her sister, director Sasha Nanus, not only to move this production to the temple but also to become artistic directors of the new company.

Despite the “Repertory” in the name, however, no second play has yet been selected, and no funds have been committed to guarantee that the company survives “The Survivor.” “We need to learn where we are before we go on with the next step,” Fields said.

He is confident, however, of the long-term potential of a Jewish theater here: “L.A. has one of the largest Jewish communities in the world, and it’s a community that’s demonstrating more and more interest in its own culture.”

FOOTING THE BILL: The Itchey Foot has been scratched.

The restaurant at Temple and Figueroa, home of the Taper Literary Cabaret from 1980 until earlier this year and also the site of many non-Taper cabaret acts in recent years, has closed its doors.

From 1982 until 1990, the Itchey Foot hosted the Taper’s “A Christmas Memory” in December. This year, there will be another kind of Taper holiday show, one with no connection to Christmas: James Whitmore in “Will Rogers’ USA,” returning to the mainstage, where it played in 1970 and 1973. The Dec. 11-20 run, totaling 11 performances, will be co-produced by George Spota.

GEE, MAYBE WE SHOULD LEAVE THE CAR RUNNING DURING THE SHOW: There were no obvious hitches during Theatre LA’s Ovation Awards ceremony Monday. The Raitts (father John and daughter Bonnie) sang “They Say That Falling In Love Is Wonderful.” Heartfelt eulogies to the late Franklin Levy were offered.

Charlton Heston, presenting an Ovation to the ARCO Foundation for its financial support of L.A. theaters, made this novel observation: “Chances are that just by driving your car to the theater, you’ve helped the ARCO Foundation make that show possible.”