Most aggressive young theater directors and playwrights are drawn to work that's socially and politically pertinent. It's sort of like watching the evening news--live on stage at 8 o'clock.
Whether it's theater depends on what, besides its significance, it has to give an audience in the form of entertainment.
A good example is Mark Medoff's 1973 drama, "When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?," opening Friday at North Hollywood's Limelight Playhouse. If its tale of an all-night diner taken over by a gunman who harasses the customers was au courant in the '70s, it's even more pertinent in today's pistol-packing society.
Producing this third production of the Proscenium Theatre Company is Anthony Duva, who also plays the gunman, Teddy, in the production.
Teddy's childhood role models were cowboy heroes Hopalong Cassidy, The Durango Kid and Lash LaRue. But notions of heroism change and can get distorted when you grow up. It is this, as well as the theme of the lost hero, that Duva said attracted him to the script. For Duva the Teddys of the world--shrewd manipulators--are all around us.
"Teddy has this uncommon ability to spot people's fears right away," he said. "He's having a therapy session with these people by forcing them to confront the thing they're afraid of most. On the surface he's there to rob the place. He's going to leave there with some cash."
"Red Ryder" director William Binford agrees with Duva about what the play has to say about today's world. "If we'd go ahead and confront our fears," Binford says, "we would take the power away from people like Teddy. It also talks about the hidden power that most people have, but it takes an antagonist like Teddy to bring it out of them. Even in war, heroes come out of necessity."
"This man Teddy," Binford says, "is a killer, and he's willing to kill them if need be."
But those who are threatened ultimately fight back. "The play's basic theme," he added, "is the inner strength in all of us."
Another new company, called Vision Factory, has a production that also opens Friday night, at the Two Roads Theater in Studio City. Vision Factory has also set out to do something pertinent, but with a somewhat different agenda.
Vision Factory's "A Need for Expression" is the umbrella title for two one-acts dealing with AIDS. Rideaux Baldwin's "HIVers" concerns a patient and an attendant in an AIDS colony. "Culture Melange," by Chuck Rounds and Vision Factory producer Christopher Armbrister, discusses how AIDS affects society as a whole.
Armbrister recalls that most of the AIDS plays he has seen focus on the victims, but this production deals with the people around them.
All proceeds of this production will be donated to Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS. Even before the formation of Vision Factory, Armbrister was working toward the goal of raising money for the fund-raising group.
"I've always wanted to do some thing to help the AIDS organization," he says. "I myself, as an actor, don't have the money to give to them, but I could use my skills to produce something for that purpose. AIDS is the one thing in the last 10 or 12 years, more than anything else, that affects the way we deal with each other in our interpersonal relationships."
The critically acclaimed and generally socially-conscious Alliance Repertory Company in Burbank, will open their fall season Tuesday with a midweek production of six eclectic short plays by five innovative playwrights, including two one-acts by Tom Gilroy. These examples of bite-sized angst appear under the umbrella title "Naked Acts." Alliance is that company that produced the hit production of "Rage; or I'll Be Home for Christmas."
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* "When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?," Limelight Playhouse, 10634 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 12. $10-$15. (818) 791-2915.
* "A Need for Expression," Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 29. $15. (818) 763-2119.
* "Naked Acts," Alliance Repertory Company, 3204 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Runs indefinitely. $12. (818) 566-7935.