Theatre 40's offstage drama has been resolved. The company, which had been locked out of its long-time home at Beverly Hills High School, will now be allowed back in the building in time to open its new season on Nov. 5 with its mammoth, two-part production of Nicholas Nickleby. The show had been originally scheduled to open Oct. 27, until an inspection team from the Beverly Hills Unified School district discovered "17 life safety" problems in the backstage area and, after a hasty School Board meeting, banned the acting company from the premises.
"We found plastic handguns, empty bottles of hard liquor and cigars," said school board attorney David Orbach. "The concern is that if a student or anybody else walks out of the theatre holding a gun -- and given the recent fear of random attacks on high school campuses -- it's just a recipe for a tragic mistake."
The guns, liquor bottles and cigars were all props for the new show, said Diana Hale, the theatre company's spokesperson. "This is just crazy. I believe that this was used as a pretext to get the company out of the theatre so that it could be used by the school system."
Theatre 40 has been ensconced in Beverly Hills High since 1972, when its 99-seat black-box space was built and donated by patron Ruben Cordova. The space is Theatre 40's own and the school has never had access to it, until it broke into the premises just recently and made its investigation.
Theatre 40 does not pay rent to the school, but offers its services free of charge to BHHS's adult education program, teaching classes in acting and stagecraft. The sweetheart deal has remained in effect for 26 years, but in the last year BHHS has undergone a $28 million modernization, putting everyone on campus under much strain. Many classes are held in temporary huts and space has been at a premium, forcing Theatre 40 to scramble for rehearsal time. Also, the contractors came in and altered power lines and removed theatre property without warning.On Oct. 4, artistic director Artur Cybulski led the district superintendent, members of the board and of the high school facilities staff, and the board's lawyer through the theatre to contest the safety violations or show how easily they could be fixed. The school board will meet this week to discuss Theatre 40's long-range future at BHHS, but permission has been granted for Nicholas Nickleby to be launched in early November for a run through Dec. 19. Tom Quaintance is the director.
Theatre 40 is located at 241 Moreno Drive. For tickets and information call (323) 936-5842.
-- By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent