L.A.'s West side will soon have two new large theaters to fill the gap that exists between the 500-seat Geffen Playhouse and the 2,200-seat Shubert Theatre. Plans are underway to convert UCLA's 1,397-seat Wadsworth Theatre into a commercial space and to open a 600-seat house in the Beverly Hills Cultural Center.
The Beverly Hills venue will be the centerpiece of the conversion of an abandoned post office into an arts center. The city-owned property is undergoing a $20 million overhaul that will include a visitor's center, restaurant, television museum and shops as well as a mid-size theatre. Paul Selwyn, head of the Beverly Hills Cultural Foundation, estimated that four or five shows will be offered annually at the center, all of them visiting productions. He believes that stars living in the area "will be tickled to death to do a play here if it's a closed-end commitment."
Martin Markinson, owner of Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre and a commercial theatre producer, is the man behind the Wadsworth's conversion. He has presented a few musical events since taking over the Wadsworth and has scheduled a first play, Arje Shaw's The Gathering, for a February 2001 production. Hal Linden will star in the play, which is set in the Reagan years and deals with the conflict between a Holocaust survivor and his son.
Markinson believes that the Westside has enough theatregoers to support relatively short engagements at the Wadsworth. He also said that he may do seasons -- but not as part of a subscription package.
-- By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent