Rose and Walsh, Neil Simon's 33rd Play, Bows Feb. 5 in L.A.

News   Rose and Walsh, Neil Simon's 33rd Play, Bows Feb. 5 in L.A. Neil Simon's 33rd play, Rose and Walsh, said to be inspired by the relationship between writers Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett, opens Feb. 5 after previews from Jan. 28 at Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, CA, with Jane Alexander and Len Cariou as the lovers.

David Esbjornson (The Goat, Tuesdays With Morrie) directs the world premiere, which continues to March 9 at the respected L.A. not-for-profit. Also featured are David Aaron Baker as Clancy, a young writer, and Marin Hinkle as Arlene, Rose's assistant.

Simon, 75, bills the play this way: "Rose and Walsh follows two great literary figures and the depth and consequence of their enduring love. At a beautiful beach house on the tip of Long Island, Rose, a celebrated but near-penniless author, receives nightly visits from Walsh, the love of her life and a famous writer himself. Now Walsh must go away forever, but not before securing Rose's financial future with an extraordinary proposal that promises to change everything."

Simon has been on site at Geffen Playhouse working with the creative team. The play is fiction, and not a biography of Hammett and Hellman, a spokesperson said.

"There are things that happen [to the characters] in the play that simply didn't happen to," Hellmann and Hammett, Esbjornson told Playbill On-Line Feb. 4. "It was a point of inspiration for him. There may be some factual parts of the script that may go away. It's becoming less about the specific lives of their characters.

"The question in further incarnations," he continued, "will be how much we stick to that. There are wonderful things to basing your story of real characters and there are limitations too." Simon approached Esbjornson about directing the play last summer after the playwright had taken in the director's productions of Edward Albee's The Goat and Israel Horovitz's My Old Lady. Asked what attracted him to the script, Esbjornson said, "I think he's after something really wonderful with this play. He's taking a more serious tone. It's about what it means to be diminished in your powers as an artist; the loss of a loved one and the impact of that on your spiritual life. It felt different from a lot of his work that I was familiar with."

Cariou was a guest in Simon's Broadway comedy, The Dinner Party, and most recently starred in Broadway's Proof. He took home the Tony Award playing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Jane Alexander starred in The Great White Hope on Broadway (winning the Tony and getting and Oscar nom for the film version) and also appeared in Broadway's The Visit, Honour, The Sisters Rosensweig (among others) and was chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, 1993-97. She won the Emmy Award for "Playing for Time."

Simon, an American playwriting institution who fearlessly moved from celebrated sitcom plays (The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys, Come Blow Your Horn) into darker, though comic, explorations of dysfunctional-family dynamics (Lost in Yonkers, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Broadway Bound) — picking up three Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize along the way — has a Broadway theatre named after him. His most recent Broadway venture was 45 Seconds From Broadway in 2001; before that he served The Dinner Party.

Baker appeared on Broadway in The Rainmaker, Once Upon a Mattress and The Moliére Comedies. His Off-Broadway credits include Glory of Living, Hobson's Choice, Ancestral Voices, Bosoms and Neglect, Blue Window, Oblivion Postponed and Durang Durang.

Hinkle most recently appeared in The Fourth Sister, directed by Lisa Peterson, at the Vineyard Theatre. She appeared on Broadway in Electra, Alowns and The Tempest. Her Off-Broadway credits include A Dybbuk, Blue Window, Henry VIII, The Changeling, Sabina and Slavs!

The late Lillian Hellman, as a character, is appearing on the Broadway stage (til Feb. 16) in the bitchy Imaginary Friends, Nora Ephron's play with music about the rivalry between Hellman and Mary McCarthy, exploring the writers' approaches to fact and fiction. Simon told Variety in 2002 that his Rose and Walsh takes place in the early 1980s.

Designers are John Arnone (scenic), Elizabeth Hope Clancy (costume), Stephen Strawbridge (lighting), Jon Gottlieb (sound).

Geffen Playhouse is at 10886 Le Conte Avenue in Westwood. Rose and Walsh tickets range $28 $46. For information, call (310) 208-5454 or visit the Geffen website at www.geffenplayhouse.com.

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Geffen Playhouse is headed by producing director Gilbert Cates, artistic director Randall Arney and managing director Stephen Eich.

Jane Alexander and Len Cariou in <i>Rose and Walsh</i>
Jane Alexander and Len Cariou in Rose and Walsh (Photo by Ken Howard)