Justifying existence

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    The Malibu Stage Co. explores the dilemma of two men and their crushed ideals during the fall of Communism in “Fellow Traveler.”

    By Tracy Marcynzsyn/Special to The Malibu Times

    What happens to people when their ideals are crushed? This question, and its possible answer are explored in the play, “Fellow Traveler,” set to premiere Sept. 12 at the Malibu Stage Co.

    Written by Playwright John Herman Shaner and directed by Charles Marowitz, artistic director of Malibu Stage Co., “Fellow Traveler” deals with the struggles faced by two lifelong supporters of Soviet Russia who must come to terms with the collapse of Communism in the post-Soviet world and the women in their lives who help them pick up the pieces.

    This 150-minute play set in 1996, at the eve of the election between Yeltsin and Genady Zuganov, features veteran film, television and stage actor Harold Gould as Arnold Priest and actor Michael Kagan as David Kreutzer, the two main characters who seek to figure out who they are now that their cause has died.

    “A Hollywood writer devoted and almost devoured by the ideology of socialism, now has to justify his existence,” Shaner explains.

    Shaner, who also wrote plays “The War Against Women” and “After Crystal Night,” and whose film credits include “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” “Wild, Wild West,” “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” and many other plays and films, says he created the two main characters based on experiences from his and a close friend’s life.

    A believer in social causes, Shaner took part in the march at Selma and was tear-gassed, participated in the women’s rights march down Hollywood Boulevard and was spat on, and took part in various civil rights movements.

    “I really believe in these social causes,” Shaner says. “And I liked the excitement of it.”

    The play reflects its writer’s passion for social causes, and is partly autobiographical, says Shaner, who defines a “fellow traveler” as “a nonmember who supports or approves of the cause of the Communist party.”

    “Justice, justice, above all pursue justice,” Shaner explains, is one of the central themes examined in the play.

    “Fellow Traveler” also raises and attempts to answer another crucial question, Shaner says.

    “How did so many intelligent, sensitive people tolerate so many lies and so much horror, so much brutality in the Soviet Union?” he asks. “We sought economic equality, justice and universal peace. Instead we got barbarities and atrocities, censored books … “

    “So many fine and kind and decent people-their eyes were talked into blindness,” says Shaner, wondering why people outside of Russia didn1t say anything to stop the horror.

    The comedy/drama provides “intellectual stimulation” that will appeal to a politically aware audience, says director Charles Marowitz, who first became involved with the play more than four years ago when Shaner shared the script with him.

    Marowitz sees the play as relevant to present day issues regarding the “crumbling of philosophy.”

    “When certain beliefs get tarnished, it’s necessary to see them for what they are,” Marowitz says. “A good parallel is the Catholic Church scandals.

    “Things they [believers] held precious turned out to be rubbish,” he says.

    Shaner hopes his audience will learn something from his play.

    “Friendship is precious,” Shaner says. “Marriage and love cannot be put aside for an ideology. Anybody who gets devoured and obsessed by personal matters is in trouble.”

    Shaner, along with Sally Kellerman, Robert Towne and Jack Nicholson, all acting students of the late Jeff Corey, built the first Equity Waiver Theater in Los Angeles in 1958.

    “We wanted to control our destinies,” Shaner says.

    Marowitz is the founding artistic director of the Malibu Stage Co. and is also the designer of its Continental-styled stage and auditorium. He also founded The Open Space, one of London’s most successful experimental theaters and was part of the tripartite directorate of the London-Traverse Theater.

    Actor Harold Gould has performed on stages throughout the country, from Broadway, in such plays as John Guare’s “House of Blue Leaves,” Neil Simon’s “Fools,” Jules Feiffer’s “Grown Ups,” Tom Stoppard’s “Artist Descending A Staircase,” and Richard Bae’s “Mixed Emotions” to Los Angeles where he performed a one-man show, Lynn Roth’s “Freud.” In 1993, he won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Distinguished Achievement Award for his performance as Ezra Pound in Tom Dulack’s “Incommunicado.” Now in his ’70s, Gould has several film credits and has been nominated for five Emmy Awards for his work in television.

    Other members of the cast include Mimi Cozzens as Providence Allgrace-Priest, Molly Weber as Evening Star, David Barry Gray as Alan Bimmel and Joshua Schulman as Jeff Broder. Production staff includes Gary Wissman (scenic designer), Kent Inasy (lighting designer), Julie Paar (costume designer), Elizabeth Gulic (stage manager), Louie Diaz (assistant stage manager) and Nikita Gupta (lighting operator).

    “Fellow Traveler” rounds out the theatre’s first subscription season, and will run through Oct. 20. Performances Friday and Saturday will be at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 5 p.m. Tickets are $20 General Admission, $15 for groups of 15 or more and $10 each for seniors and students with identification. To purchase tickets, call Malibu Stage Co. Box Office at 310.589.1998.