November 13, 1997
Combining Business with Theater
Stuart Flack is a communications director by day and a playwrightthe rest of the time
Stuart Flack answers the question a tad testily.
Yes, he is a playwright, whose latest work, "Sidney Bechet Killeda Man," is having its West Coast première at the prestigiousSouth Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa. And, yes, he is also thecommunications director for the international management monolithMcKinsey & Co.
But he likes his day job, he insists.
"Many people have preconceptions about writers combining businessand art," says the 37-year-old Chicago native. "The underlyingassumption is that you hate the business part, but that's simply nottrue."
Speaking quickly and tersely during a rehearsal break, Flack saysthat he enjoys being a Renaissance man. It's given him theversatility to write plays such as "Sidney Bechet," a surreal, blackcomedy about a narcissistic Jewish doctor that is structured like ajazz riff by the legendary soprano sax player Bechet. The musicianonce murdered a man, and so does Dr. Philip Litwin (Tony Roberts);after the protagonist goes bankrupt, he goes on a rampage and killshis financial adviser and best friend.
Flack, for his part, decided early on that he didn't want to gobankrupt while writing for the theater. In 1985, he was 25 andapprenticing for Tony nominee Arthur Kopit, whose "The End of theWorld With Symposium to Follow" was opening on Broadway. Flack hadworked backstage in theaters since he was in high school, but theKopit play was an eye-opener. It was panned by critics and soonbombed at the box office.
"I saw how capricious, how random the theater was," Flack says,"and I went out and got a real job." He worked as a businessjournalist for Forbes and The Wall Street Journal before landing theMcKinsey job in 1990.
All the while, he continued to write plays, which often focused onartists who are also businessmen. "American Life and Casualty"describes an imaginary meeting between Wallace Stevens and CharlesIves, the great American poet and composer, respectively, who weresimultaneously insurance executives. "Both were completelyunapologetic about their business careers," Flack says, "thoughcritics assumed that was a character flaw."
Reading about business, as it so happened, provided the writer hisimpetus for "Sidney Bechet." The play began when Flack wondered abouta real multimillionaire heart surgeon who went broke in the Texasreal estate crash of the late 1980s (but who did not kill hisfinancial adviser).
Actor Tony Roberts, who was Woody Allen's sidekick in "Annie Hall"and "Play it Again, Sam," says that he was immediately drawn to therole. "It's been awhile since I've had the opportunity to emote onthe 'boards,' and this is a very challenging part and quite huge," hesays. "It's about a man who goes off the edge, a successful,brilliant man whose arrogance and blasphemy is that he wants to bepowerful, to have the same power as God and nature."
Flack has no such hubris: He'll settle for writing plays inbetween meetings at his day job. "Writing for income is not the rightway to approach being a playwright," he says. "The right way is justto write what you like."
"Sidney Bechet Killed a Man" plays at the South Coast Repertoryin Costa Mesa through Nov. 30. For more information, call (714)708-5555. -- Naomi Pfefferman, Senior Writer
The Taper Puts Burbank at Center Stage
Theatergoers accustomed to going downtown to the Mark Taper Forummay want to head for the San Fernando Valley this month to check outthe Taper's 10th Annual New Work Festival, running from Nov. 13through Dec. 20th at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank.
The works represented here are not full-scale productions. They'restaged readings and open public rehearsals of promising new theaterpieces from both familiar and lesser-known talents. In this decidedlyless formal atmosphere (admission is free, and seating is first-come,first-served), audiences get an advance look at plays that may go onto become longer-running stage productions.
In past years, the New Work Festival has nurtured many hallmarkproductions (Robert Schenkkan's "The Kentucky Cycle," Tony Kushner's"Angels in America" and George C. Wolfe's "Jelly's Last Jam" amongthem) and played host to blossoming local theatrical talents, such asPaul Linke, Murray Mednick and Luis Alfaro.
The five-week event kicked off on Thursday with "An Evening ofL.A. Running Wild, " which included performer and pop culturehumorist Sandra Tsing Loh.
Taper producing director Robert Egan and director Lisa Petersonare on the festival roster, as is actor Brian Cox, who starred mostrecently in the Taper's critically acclaimed production of DavidHare's "Skylight." Playwrights Kushner, Jose Rivera and David HenryHwang -- all familiar to Los Angeles audiences -- will alsocontribute new works.
Eclectic, fresh, and public-spirited, the New Work Festival makesBurbank the place to be from now through the end of the year.
The Mark Taper Forum's New Work Festival is presented inassociation with A.S.K. Theater Projects, Dreamworks SKG and theFalcon Theatre. It runs Nov. 13 through Dec. 20 at Burbank's FalconTheatre, 4252 Riverside Drive at Rose Street. Open seating and freeadmission. For information, call (213) 972-7389. -- DianeArieff Zaga, Arts Editor