Lincoln Heights Company Opts to Scale Back

Don Shirley is The Times' theater writer

The Bilingual Foundation of the Arts is retrenching, at least for now.

Since late 1999, the Lincoln Heights-based company has presented half of its shows at Los Angeles Theatre Center, in much larger quarters than the company's 98-seat home base, complete with Actors' Equity contracts for the casts.

The group's fall production of "Salon Mexico" had been announced for LATC, but now it has been moved back to the smaller theater, for financial reasons.

"The cost at LATC was going to be exorbitant"--about $185,000--said the group's president, Carmen Zapata, "and we were not able to raise the underwriting." Because of recent economic conditions, "everybody has been cutting back," she said.

The group already has an $80,000 deficit. "We didn't want to get in any deeper," Zapata said. She estimated that the production at the Lincoln Heights theater--minus rent and Equity contracts--will cost about one-third as much as it would have at LATC.

"Out of necessity," Zapata said, the company found a creative rationale for the move as well as a financial one. "Salon Mexico" is set in a Mexico City nightclub in the '30s; at the group's own space, the front of the building, lobby and part of a rehearsal space will be incorporated into the nightclub environment, allowing the cast to interact with the audience before performances. Playing Sept. 21-Nov. 4, the production will extend a couple of weeks beyond what would have been the dates at LATC.

The company isn't deserting LATC and will try again next year to produce a couple of shows there, Zapata said.

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THREE AT THEATRE WEST: Theatre West's 2001-02 season will consist of only three shows, down from seven two years ago, but it has nothing to do with financial retrenchment, executive director John Gallogly said.

The seven shows in 1999-2000 made up "the nutso season," Gallogly said. "That's when my hair turned white." So many shows were scheduled that year simply because they had accumulated over the years as projects suggested by company members, and they appeared to be ready (critics generally disagreed). Last year's season at the 160-seat theater in the Cahuenga Pass included four shows.

This year will bring a revival of Ray Bradbury's "Falling Upward!," Sept. 13-Oct. 14; "Merry Christmas, George Bailey," a stage adaptation of a radio version of "It's a Wonderful Life," Nov. 23-Dec. 23; and--to celebrate the theater's 40th anniversary--a revival of one of its biggest successes, "Spoon River Anthology," May 9-June 9. The company also will celebrate with a 40th-birthday gala in April that will take up much of the company's time and energy during the first part of 2002, Gallogly said.

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A HOME FOR 'HAVEN': Maybe you saw the TV show--now comes "Haven," the stage musical.

The new musical, drawn from the same material as a CBS miniseries broadcast earlier this year, will be the longest-running show ever at the 475-seat Gindi Auditorium, at the University of Judaism in between West L.A. and the San Fernando Valley. Opening Oct. 25, the show will play for four weeks, six or seven performances a week.

"Haven" is the story of Ruth Gruber, who escorted nearly 1,000 Holocaust survivors out of Italy to the United States during World War II.

Despite the campus venue, this won't be a student production. The producers raised $250,000 from local backers. The actors will work on Equity's Hollywood Area Theatre contracts. Although there is no pit at the Gindi, a 12-piece orchestra will provide the music.

The score is by William Goldstein, the book by Jerome Coopersmith and the lyrics by Joe Darion, of "Man of La Mancha" fame, who died in June at the age of 90. In the works for seven years, "Haven" was Darion's final musical, according to co-producer Judy Arnold.

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INGE ENGINE: Peter Ellenstein, who was producing director of Los Angeles Repertory Company from 1992 to 1997, is the new director of the William Inge Theatre Festival, held each April in tiny Independence, Kan. He'll be the first full-time director of the festival.

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