Bridge over troubled waters

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Charles Marowitz says the past is ancient history; returns to direct at Malibu Stage Company.

By Ryan O’Quinn / Special to The Malibu Times

Charles Marowitz’s return to the Malibu Stage Company to direct Joe Orton’s “Entertaining Mr. Sloane,” opening on Aug. 3, marks a reunion of sorts for the MSC and the director. Marowitz, who was the founding artistic director of MSC, was dismissed from the board five years ago amidst various accusations and threats of lawsuits, and deep rifts between him and board members, problems, he said, that were due to differences in artistic vision for the theater.

But now he’s back. At least for now.

“During this period when I left the theater I was involved with a lot of things outside of L.A. and outside of America in fact,” Marowitz said. “Relations were maintained between my wife, Jane Windsor, and Jackie [Bridgeman, president emeritus and co-founder of MSC]. It was in discussions that Jackie had with Jane that produced the suggestion and invitation [to direct a play] and everything spawned from that.”

Marowitz said this does not necessarily signify a permanent return to the MSC, saying the topic had not been discussed in detail beyond the upcoming show and that he is evaluating other prospects at playhouses in Los Angeles.

Geoff Ortiz, chairman of MSC, was on the board when Marowitz was dismissed. He said the board was aware of and approved of Bridgeman’s arrangements with Marowitz to direct the upcoming play, but said that beyond that it was an open question as to whether Marowitz would be invited to return as artistic director.

The MSC has been without a permanent artistic director since Marowitz’s departure in November of 2002. Playwright Oren Safdie has been acting as interim artistic director for several years. The MSC board, Ortiz said, has not actively pursued finding a permanent person because they have been focusing on other matters such as getting funding to keep the company open. Also, he said, it’s very difficult to find someone willing to be the artistic director of a 99-seat theater. “Anyone who would do it, would have to do it for very little [or no] pay,” Ortiz said. “It’s a labor of love.”

However, Ortiz said the board is almost ready to start looking for someone soon.

Bridgeman said she would like to get someone local to participate. “The whole theater could take on a whole new aspect,” she said.

Other current board members said they are interested to see the final product of the upcoming production.

“It seems like this is quite a big project,” board member Michael Preece said. “I was at the theater last Saturday. [Marowitz] had this miniature of the set that was designed with plastic and little figures, and was really very professional. Perhaps more sophisticated than what I’ve seen at the theater in recent years.”

Preece also said one avenue to ensure the seats are filled for each performance is to hire local Malibu actors because the community tends to support their neighbors.

Marowitz has assembled a notable cast of British actors for the upcoming production. Each of the actors has extensive theater, film and television resumes, and Marowitz said he is looking forward to the production and directing in the theater he helped build in 1995. He has also brought in production designer John Iacovelli, an Emmy Award-winning and Tony-nominated designer, to do “Entertaining Mr. Sloane.”

Marowitz said everything that happened in the past between he and board members is old news and he is looking forward to renewing relationships and working again with the board to mount a professional production at MSC.

“I don’t want to stoke over coals from the past because all the things that happened in the past are ancient history,” Marowitz said. “When the rupture actually took place I was on a collision course with the members of the board because I was trying to establish a permanent ensemble of actors that would do classics and contemporary plays as well as build up a subscription-based audience.”

The director has had problems with past MSC boards. In September of 2000, eight members of the then 12-member board resigned, reportedly because of their frustration over working with Marowitz.

Marowitz said he could not get board members to share his vision and blames himself for bringing in board members who were not “theater people” who did not understand that a successful theater needs subscribers and to tell patrons in advance what the season will consist of.

“Had all of that happened I believe the theater would be much further developed than it is,” Marowitz said.

Indeed, some board members did not agree with Marowitz’s plans for the theater company. Stuart Gross, one of the resigning board members in 2000, told The Malibu Times then, “The majority of the board does not agree with his vision and I would suggest poor attendance at most productions speaks of the community’s lack of same.”

Marowitz said the problem was a Catch-22 in that the board was opposed to spending money they didn’t have, when his suggestion was to raise capital with subscriptions. Bridgeman agreed that it was a problem to invite subscribers to send money in, yet not have the funding to put on four shows. She said she didn’t want to take the risk of not being able to produce what was promised.

Neither Bridgeman nor Ortiz would comment on Marowitz’s assessments of the theater company’s current status.

Following “Entertaining Mr. Sloane,” Marowitz’s next undertaking will be a one-woman show based on the life of renowned actress and singer Ruth Etting. He said he was uncertain whether it would be performed at the Malibu Stage Company.