STAGE TO SCREEN: Leguizamo Behind Bars & Smith at Twilight

STAGE TO SCREEN: Leguizamo Behind Bars & Smith at Twilight I received some information in late spring about a bunch of films either in production or development at Lower East Side Films, John Leguizamo's new production house. One of the films slated was "Pinero," a drama produced by and starring Leguizamo as the tormented poet/playwright.

I received some information in late spring about a bunch of films either in production or development at Lower East Side Films, John Leguizamo's new production house. One of the films slated was "Pinero," a drama produced by and starring Leguizamo as the tormented poet/playwright.

Wait a second. Who's Pinero? His name rang a bell from some random college theatre history class. Wasn't he British? Sort of a starchy Oscar Wilde? Something seemed wrong. I grabbed the Cambridge Guide to Theatre to see what light it could shed. It said Arthur Wing Pinero, knighted in 1909, was in fact a British playwright who specialized in what Cambridge calls "social dramas highlighting the plight of women in an unforgiving world" -- more of a starchy Henrik Ibsen, it seems. His best-known play, a love letter to the mid-Victorian theatre named Trelawny of the "Wells," still gets produced in London from time to time.

I was more confused than ever. Why is John Leguizamo playing a musty old pre-feminist Victorian? A quick call to Lower East Side Films cleared things up somewhat. The film is actually about Miguel Pinero, who died in 1988 at the age of 41 after having some critical success off-Broadway. This still didn't seem particularly cinematic, but at least it was more plausible. Things didn't truly click into place until I got in contact with a few Hispanic publishing houses. Both Arte Publico Press, out of the University of Houston, and Hunter College's Center for Puerto Rican Studies set me straight in a hurry.

Pinero fit an incredible amount into those 41 years: After bouncing in and out of jail, mostly for drug-related offenses, he participated in a theatre workshop at Sing Sing and wrote the first draft of what would become his first play, Short Eyes, in 1974. This and other plays appeared at Lincoln Center and the Public Theater; Short Eyes was filmed in 1977, just as Pinero was being indicted on charges of grand larceny and heroin possession. He spent the next 14 years writing poems and plays, along the way writing for shows like "Miami Vice" and playing bit parts on TV and in the movies, but never managed to shake his addiction. (He generally played drug dealers or users, the same sorts of parts that Leguizamo describes getting in Freak.) Pinero was working on another play for the Public when he died of cirrhosis of the liver.

The role seems tailor-made for Leguizamo, who finally seems to have moved on from the likes of "Spawn" and "Super Mario Bros." Director/writer Leon Ichaso had hoped to begin shooting in the early summer, but when I talked to the production house last week, I learned that complications had delayed the project for at least a few weeks. It seems the tricky part will be fitting the project within Leguizamo's schedule: He heads off to Australia in October to play another artist who died young, Toulouse-Lautrec, opposite Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor in Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge." I hope to have more information on "Pinero" if and when it becomes a definite. ***

Marc Levin has kept busy since directing last year's Sundance fave "Slam." He's already finished a documentary for HBO and the upcoming release "White Boys," featuring off-Broadway regular Danny Hoch in his first major film role. Now Levin is teaming with Anna Deavere Smith on the film adaptation of her monodrama, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. "Twilight," currently filming in New York, may be one of the inaugural efforts of WNET's upcoming "Stage on Screen" series; Smith's previous one-woman show, Fires in the Mirror, also got the PBS treatment back in the days of "American Playhouse." (More on "Stage on Screen" in the near future.) As in the play, Smith will play a variety of characters connected in various ways to the Rodney King trial and the subsequent L.A. riots.

***

Cutting-Room Floor: I can understand showing "Star Wars" via digital film -- George Lucas is a longtime high-tech enthusiast -- but why on earth is Miramax making its digital debut in a handful of New York and Los Angeles theatres with "An Ideal Husband"? ... Keith Nobbs (Stupid Kids, The Lion in Winter) and John Cameron Mitchell are at the Sundance Lab developing the film of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. ... Does anyone else find the preview for "Anna and the King" disconcerting? It certainly looks opulent, and Chow Yun-Fat resembles the actual King of Siam more than Yul Brynner (or Lou Diamond Phillips) ever did. But it's a bit jarring to watch the scenes minus that Rodgers & Hammerstein score, almost like watching The Matchmaker or Green Grow the Lilacs. ... Addendum to last column's mention of the upcoming Peter Gallagher/Donna Murphy film set in the New York ballet world and directed by Nicholas Hytner: Wendy Wasserstein, who worked with Hytner on "The Object of My Affection," has a co-writing credit on the film, which is now titled -- are you ready for this? -- "City Ballet."

-- by Eric Grode is New York bureau chief of Show Music magazine and a theatre critic for Back Stage.