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Playwright Comes to Town for ‘Taxi Tales’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Everyone who’s had a hard time getting in touch with Leonard Melfi--family and friends included--might try showing up at the Raven Playhouse this weekend.

Melfi, a playwright living in New York, gave up his phone about a year ago. But this weekend he’ll be hanging around to answer questions after the Dark Night Players present his “Taxi Tales.”

Directed by David Anthony Dion, “Taxi Tales” is a series of five comic one-acts, each set in a New York cab. Often one installment is included in an evening of one-acts, but Melfi prefers they be staged as a unit, the way they were on Broadway in 1980.

Though he prefers digging deep into a full-length play, like his best-known, “Birdbath,” it’s the short vignettes that have brought Melfi the most renown. He wrote the “Night” part of “Morning, Noon and Night” with Terrence McNally and Israel Horovitz, which played at the Circle in the Square. He also wrote some of the vignettes in “Oh Calcutta,” the racy revue that ran on Broadway for 5,959 performances. (“That was a good show,” he said, “because I made money.”)

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His other one-acts--collected in two books titled “Encounters” and “Later Encounters"--are popular with actors who want to show off their chops. “A lot of my one-acts are just two characters--a man and a woman, most of the time--so there’s always a juicy role for an actor and an actress, and good things happening between them.”

* Leonard Melfi this weekend only after “Taxi Tales” at the Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 7 p.m. Play runs through May 10. (818) 845-4483.

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No Place Like Home: Imagination Central has toured California with its children’s plays for about 14 years, but now a branch of it is staying put in Encino.

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Imagination in Residency has set up shop at the Encino Community Center and opens its second play, “Three Tales” by Hans Christian Anderson, on Saturday. The show combines “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Swineherd” into the story of one royal family.

Artistic co-director Elizabeth Tobias explained that her company subscribes to the notion of interactive theater for kids. While professional, adult actors fill the speaking roles, children are sometimes invited on stage. For example, kids played the real rabbits who encountered the stuffed bunny in “The Velveteen Rabbit.”

“The production value is not the point,” she said. “The point is that the child is having a new experience and interacting with the characters on stage.”

* “Three Tales” by Hans Christian Anderson, Imagination in Residency at the Encino Community Center, 4935 Balboa Ave. Saturdays at 1 p.m. through June 13. $5. (818) 995-1690.

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Contemporary Classic: Just look at their logo: “A Noise Within,” it says. “Glendale’s Classical Theatre Company.”

Well, for those of you who thought Sam Shepherd was a contemporary playwright--he is alive after all, and still writing--A Noise Within would beg to differ. The company, which has made its mark with the works of dead white guys such as Ben Johnson, Anton Chekhov and William Shakespeare, has Shepherd’s “Buried Child” in its current repertory.

A Noise Within always throws in an American play, but in the past that’s meant works by Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller. “Buried Child,” which won the Pulitzer Prize 20 years ago, is the newest work they’ve ever done.

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Julia Rodriguez Elliott, who is directing “Buried Child,” said that when the three artistic directors choose a play they look to see whether it has stood--or in this case, will stand--the test of time.

Shepherd apparently didn’t think it was holding up so well. He revised the play in 1995. “A Noise Within,” however, stuck with the original text.

At the center of “Buried Child” is a family mystery that is unearthed by Vince (Louis Lotorto) when he returns to his grandparents’ decrepit farmhouse in Illinois.

“I think that the themes he expresses in this play, it could be a family anywhere in any time,” she said. “True today, true yesterday and true tomorrow.”

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The definition, apparently, of a classic.

* “Buried Child” at A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. In repertory through May 23. $22-$27. (818) 546-1924.


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