As Eleanor of Aquitaine mused in "The Lion In Winter," "Every family has its problems." Her life with King Henry, and their three royal sons, was certainly dysfunctional. Nowadays, most people, including the royals, it seems, are talking about family problems more frankly as a means of clearing the air.
One playwright who is interested in family conflict is Studio City's Dennis Melonas, whose "Classical Sweets" opens this weekend at Actors Alley's Storefront Theatre at the El Portal. Most of his plays deal with personal relationships, and how individuals fare inside them.
"Sweets" was suggested when his ex-wife, not an opera buff, burst into a room where Melonas was listening to an opera. "Turn that ( . . . ) off," she ordered.
"I started thinking," Melonas said, "what would happen if I were a different kind of person, if we had a different kind of relationship. How would someone else take that affront?"
That affront, which opens the play, causes a violent reaction, which leads to passion, Melonas said, and that is exactly what the play is about. Elements of passion, both destructive and positive, abound in every relationship, he said. The play, he said, explores "how your dreams can be destroyed when you allow someone, in the name of passion, or love, to tell you what you are. You allow their love to define you in the name of passion."
The playwright refers to his work as surrealistic, in that he attempts to follow a series of events--past, present and future--some occurring simultaneously. The audience figures out what is what, which, Melonas said, is the fun of it.
"If there's gloom and doom in it," he said, "the characters are very funny about it. All drama, whether it's fabricated or in real life, when you look at it in retrospect, it's very funny to see the things that happened to us, and how we got through them."
Melonas, in addition to his playwriting, has been an actor and director, and has founded two theaters, one in Memphis, Tenn., the other in Charleston, S.C. Los Angeles audiences will remember his "The Glitter Palace," which ran for eight months at Hollywood's former Playbill Theatre, and his "Square Tomatoes," about a physicist trying to change the nature of the tomato, while at the same time trying to change the nature of those around him.
Melonas admits that he is not inclined to write easy material.
"The audience is there to be entertained," he said, "but if you don't have something of substance underneath the entertainment, there's no reason to come to the theater."
* "Classical Sweets," Actors Alley at the El Portal Center, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Ends Nov. 26. $15. (818) 508-4200.
A more dysfunctional, and topical, situation is at the core of a play that opened last weekend at Group Repertory Theatre. It concerns a world-famous classical musician, his emotional and physical abuse of his two young sons, and the tragic effect on the boys as they mature. Coincidental with the beginning of the second Menendez brothers trial, Thom Thomas' "Set In Motion," was born long before Lyle and Erik first took the stand.
Thomas recalls that the germ of the idea came to him in conversations with a reclusive man he met. The man's marriage and life were shattered by his unwillingness to have children in the fear that the molestation he suffered by his father would repeat itself.
Contact with a well-known screenwriter, whose abuse lasted until he was 22, further fueled Thomas' need to give dramatic form to a subject he feels has not been scrutinized.
"There have been stories about father-daughter incest," Thomas said, "but the father-son taboo hasn't been really addressed. Then the first Menendez trial suddenly happened" and Thomas' findings on this dark subject were echoed from the witness stand.
* "Set In Motion," Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Indefinite run. $15. (818) 769-7529.
And a final reminder that the Valley Theatre League's Artistic Director Achievement Award Ceremony will be Wednesday at North Hollywood's Television Academy Plaza Theatre in North Hollywood. Tickets are $15. For information or reservations, call (213) 660-8587.