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A Ghostly Inspiration

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Both Noel Coward and W. Somerset Maugham set records by having several plays running in London’s West End at the same time. Playwright Gene Franklin Smith isn’t trying to break that record, even though it may look like it.

It’s just a coincidence that he’ll have two plays running at different theaters in Los Angeles at the same time. Next week, “Rubicon,” his irreverent, harsh take on White House politics, opens at Hollywood’s Coast Playhouse. And this weekend his “Life Beneath the Roses” opens at North Hollywood’s The Bitter Truth.

Actually both plays were scheduled to open the same night, but Smith’s inability to be in two places at the same time prompted the “Rubicon” opening to be pushed back a week.

While “Rubicon” is a send-up of the nation’s Capitol scene, “Roses” is a ghost story, and much more. It’s also about a family falling apart at the seams, and how a metaphysical event helps to pull them back together.

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Smith says the idea for the play was born on a night he was spending in a 200-year-old house.

“It was a pretty startling event,” Smith said. The owners had told him the history of the house, which had been built by a British tea merchant, who was lost at sea. Because the son had disappeared, the merchant’s wife inherited the property. No one knew what had happened to the son.

“This very aggressive, antagonistic force woke me in the middle of the night, trying to do something to me, pressing down on my bed,” said Smith. “I needed to write about it.”

The mother has become the ghost in Smith’s play, but she and the mysterious events of two centuries ago are symbolic of the ruptures in the family now living in the house. The play, Smith said, is about forgiveness.

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“A lot of it,” he said, “has to do with my own changing views on parenthood, and the lack I see in many parents, neglecting their children in so many ways. It takes this ghostly event to finally make them realize what they’re doing, and that they have to come together to save this very fragile family unit.”

Family Fable

Jeffrey Levy, of CSUN’s theater department, says cast members are learning something new. He means that all the techniques they’ve been learning are having to be rethought for their work on a production of a play based on a Sri Lankan myth.

It’s called “Sinhabahu,” was written by Ediriweera Sarachchandra, and is being directed by Namel Weeramuni. Original music by H.H. Bandara is also featured.

Levy said the play “explores the complex web of guilt, devotion and torn loyalties in the family,” told through the fable of the two sons born of the union between a princess and a lion.

The oldest son eventually kills the father. The performing style is story theater in form, and non-realistic, which only goes to prove that, when it comes to theater, there’s really more than one method.

‘Godfather’ Returns

Although it closed last weekend at Theatre East in Studio City, Seth Isler’s “The Godfather Workout,” which was successful enough to double its original eight-week run, hasn’t disappeared. It will probably be back at Theatre East in March.

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In the meantime, Isler reports that the one-man show will be presented in its entirety on two occasions during the HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo. The “Workout” will appear Feb. 26, the opening night of the festival, and again on Feb. 28.

Last year, when Isler was still working on an abbreviated version of the piece, Moffit-Lee Productions, which stages the HBO festival, was considering using a short scene. This year, Moffit-Lee came back to see the full work, and decided the whole thing should be seen in Aspen.

And there is a plan to have at least part of the “Workout” appear on HBO’s “Best of the Fest” cable chronicle of the event.

Isler is taking his crew with him. It takes nine people to run this one-man show, in which Isler re-creates the film “The Godfather,” playing all the roles himself.

“It’s gone beyond my expectations,” he said.

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BE THERE

“Life Beneath the Roses,” the Bitter Truth, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends March 30. $15-$18. (818) 755-7900.

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“Sinhabahu,” Little Theatre, Cal State Northridge campus, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m. Ends Sunday. Free admission. Information: (818) 677-3086.


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