NEA Nominee Jane Alexander Gets Raves

The confirmation hearing for actress Jane Alexander's appointment as the new head of the National Endowment for the Arts is expected soon, probably on Wednesday. If her reviews from the senators are like those from her theatrical peers, she's a cinch.

"It's pretty terrific," said Center Theatre Group's Gordon Davidson about Alexander's appointment. "I had some talks with her. Her sensitivity to the issues didn't surprise me, but her grasp of the political scene was more sophisticated than I imagined."

While some of the previous non-artists who ran the agency did a good job, Davidson said, "what's difficult are the people who are bureaucrats or beholden to the Administration. (Alexander) doesn't owe anybody anything."

"It's very cheery to have a working artist in this role which had been totally politicized with lackeys of the White House," said Highways artistic director Tim Miller, whose own troubles with the NEA made him famous as one of the "NEA Four."

"You could get an artist who's a monster, too," he added. But he doesn't expect Alexander to turn out that way. He cited a scene in the anti-nuke movie "Testament," "in which she had to hold her dying son while he's bleeding from his rectum. It was a moment that some might think is morbid or violent or graphic. The understanding she had of that moment encourages me to believe she can deal with other work with shocking images."

Another of the "NEA Four," John Fleck, said he doesn't know much about Alexander's politics. "But she was in 'The Great White Hope,' which was very controversial at the time. (Alexander played a black heavyweight champion's white lover in the role that made her famous). That's encouraging."

Alexander's stature as an artist will bring "greater credibility to the defense of the arts" than would a political appointee, said South Coast Repertory producing artistic director David Emmes. "She could stand up to a Jesse Helms," he speculated.

Leaving aside the larger political battles, might Alexander pay greater attention to the NEA theater programs?

"Well, I don't want an oboist" to run the agency, quipped Miller.

"I'm sure she'll be impartial," said Emmes. "But it's nice to know it's someone who understands a professional resident theater and won't confuse it with show-biz or Broadway. Her career has been very committed to the art of her profession, as opposed to the Hollywood lures."

"CYCLE" REVIEWS: Robert Schenkkan's "The Kentucky Cycle," co-produced by L.A.'s Mark Taper Forum, is drawing a wide range of reviews at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

Washington Post critic Lloyd Rose dismissed it as "trivial and mediocre," though she liked some of the performances, including that of the show's new star Stacy Keach. J. Wynn Rousuck of the Baltimore Sun liked everything about the six-hour saga, though she found the first part less compelling than the second. Washington Times critic Hap Erstein preferred the first half to the second; his review was more mixed than the others but generally upbeat.

BUSHNELL AT LARGE: Bill Bushnell is looking for a job.

For many years the artistic director of Los Angeles Theatre Center, Bushnell most recently worked 1 1/2 years at Cal State Long Beach and Cal Rep, the semi-professional company affiliated with the university. But his contract there wasn't renewed for this year.

Artistic director Howard Burman and Bushnell blamed state budget cutbacks for Bushnell's departure, and both said they wished the contract had continued for another year.

While job-shopping, Bushnell is also directing a new play by Raymond Barry, "The Mother's Son," in workshops and approaching theaters about a full production of it.

Meanwhile, Cal Rep spent the summer doing three plays in Shakespeare at Sand Harbor, an alfresco program sponsored by the North Lake Tahoe Fine Arts Council. One of those productions, "Hamlet" (with a slightly altered cast), will open in the university's 250-seat Studio Theater Friday.

"MARVIN'S ROOM" ARRIVES: Santa Barbara's Ensemble Theatre Company will open its season with the Southland professional premiere of the late Scott McPherson's acclaimed "Marvin's Room," a comedy about a woman who has cared for her invalid father and now faces leukemia, Oct. 1-Nov. 14.

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