Serious Things Happen on the Way to the Forum

Serious Things Happen on the Way to the Forum REPORT FROM THE MARK TAPER FORUM

REPORT FROM THE MARK TAPER FORUM

It isn't every director who can go in one season from directing a production of Arthur Miller's Broken Glass to trying out a new musical about a family of gypsies (Twist of Fate) to an explosive drama like Oliver Mayer's Blade to the Heat. But then the bane and blessing of Ron Link's career has always been a mercurial versatility that defies categorization, that moves easily between commercial and regional theatre, between intimate houses and cavernous barns.

"It's what fools people about me," says Link with some chagrin at the need of producers to pigeonhole. "Yet, all of my work, regardless of subject matter, is influenced by Visconti and Fellini. It's sensual, offbeat, funny. My work has to be sexy or it doesn't work."

The director certainly has an arena to exploit just those qualities in Blade to the Heat, which begins previews at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles on March 17. Ironically, Los Angeles playwright Mayer wrote this work about a sexually confused Latino fighter trying to make his way in the homophobic L.A. boxing scene of the fifties for Link. But the director turned him down. Instead, Blade received its world premiere last season at the Public Theater in New York, under George C. Wolfe's direction, where critics praised its visceral power but faulted its thinness.

"Fortunately, I didn't see it at the Public," says Link, who with this production returns to the Taper for the first time since 1989 when he directed Bill Cain's Stand-Up Tragedy there. "But from what I've read, it's clear that Mayer's got to get richer in metaphor. My job as a director is to help him get there. Like Elia Kazan, you've got to be a good dramaturg if you're going to be a good director. Oliver's already on the third rewrite, so it isn't 'all flash and no soul,' to quote Tom Eyen." It's altogether fitting that the name of the late playwright comes up in the course of a chat with Link. After all, the two worked together on a number of projects in their early years in New York, including Neon Women and Women Behind Bars. And it was the Los Angeles production of Women, which ran for a year at the Tiffany Theatre, that brought Link out to the West Coast 12 years ago.

Having cut his teeth in underground and Off-Broadway theatre in New York, he says he first thought his stay in California would be short, but he's been working there almost nonstop since he arrived. The proliferation of theatre he's witnessed in the last dozen years has convinced Link that while theatre may still be a stepsister to movies here, it does attract attention and some respect. Big-time producers like Aaron Spelling can be surprisingly supportive in allowing television talent to moonlight in the theatre.

"Trying to cast a play in 'pilot season' is always rough, but I've gotten people who've stayed with me," he says. "And my growing up in New York got me used to putting things together myself, getting the kind of people who write checks to get involved. I've got a bit of the huckster in me."

In fact, New York is likely to see two of his productions this year, including the new musical Twist of Fate, which tried out to rave reviews in Los Angeles, and Erik Jendresen's The Killing of Mike Malloy, which had it's world premiere at the Tiffany in L. A. Whatever he's doing and however he's doing it, Link appears to be headed to a new plateau in his career. --

By Patrick Pacheco